Review: “Simply Bento” by Yuko Yagi and Noriko Yura

It’s been more quiet than usual around here this week, and that has two reasons. For one, I’ve started my new job, which is cutting into both reading and writing time (as jobs tend to do). Secondly, I’m a bit under the weather at the moment. The queue doesn’t simply read itself, however, and there is already another little surprise for my readers in the making, so stuff needs to get done.

I thought “Simply Bento” would be a great title for review, since I’ve been looking for easy lunch options to take with me. Authors Noriko and Yuko also run the popular blog Japanese Cooking 101, which features a huge variety of recipes, many with videos. Their new cookbook begins reasonably with an explanation of what bento is and its history. It turns out that as a meal, bento has been enjoyed for far longer than I would have thought! The seven key points in “How to Make Bento” reemphasize the fact that you are taking a meal for the senses, something that should be prepared with a bit more care than a baloney sandwich wrapped in cellophane, while keeping in mind as well that raw meats or fish and dairy require certain food safety practices.

Next, you learn about essential utensils and accessories for bento, like choices for containers, then move on to find out which staples make regular appearances in Japanese cooking. Finally, as bento aims to provide a balanced meal, there are some notes on how to create exactly that. Now you’re ready to delve into the recipes!

Altogether, there are twelve recipe chapters that cover topics like Classic Japanese Bento, Noodle Bento, Low-Carb Bento, Bento for Special Occasions, Bento at Home, and even Side Dishes. There is even a separate section on Vegan Bento, although I don’t need a whole cookbook to tell me to pack a falafel lunch. On average, the sections feature seven recipes each, some a few more, some a few less. Every recipe is laid out the same way: after a brief recipe introduction, there is a box titled “How to Make this Bento” in which you find a main dish, plus suggested side dishes. The next line tells you the estimated prep time, cooking time, and number of servings for the main dish, immediately followed by the recipe for the main. For people frequently finding themselves in a time crush, there is a very helpful box titled “Plan Ahead” to make quick assembly a snap. This layout makes the book very easy to use. The recipes are accompanied by full-page color photos.

Overall, I think this is a great book for omnivores who are curious about Japanese food. There certainly is a great variety of different dishes in here. Personally, I find it disappointing and, frankly, a bit lazy to say that a lot of the dishes can be adjusted to fit a vegan diet without concrete tips on how to do so, and that is why I would not get this book for myself. The only cookbook I have come across so far that actually tries and succeeds quite well in providing both vegetarian and vegan variations of the vast majority of recipes included, is Kathryne Taylor’s “Love Real Food.” Still, I am at least motivated to check out Yuko and Noriko’s blog for ideas.

“Simply Bento” is published by Race Point Publishing. I received an advanced reader copy from the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own, unless otherwise stated.

simply bento