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VINE VOICEon 15 July 2013
For years, I'd taken the same old boring lunch to work - ham sandwich, crisps, yoghurt, maybe some fruit. I knew that Japanese bento lunches were fare more exciting than my usual midday fare, but like many other people, I'd always been daunted by the effort. Looking online seemed to justify my fears - if I tried this, would I spend my days decorating rice balls with faces and cutting out sandwiches in animal shapes?

Nonetheless, I decided to give it a go, and it was fortunate that I took a chance on Makiko Itoh's Just Bento Cookbook. Ms Itoh's philosophy is that you shouldn't spend hours on the presentation - what you really want is something that tastes delicious.

Which is not to say that the bentos presented in this book don't look great, but that the focus is quite rightly on a selection of recipes that aren't too hard to make. Yes, there is some startup cost involved in buying a few bits of equipment and sourcing Japanese ingredients (although over the past couple of years more supermarkets have begun stocking the essentials), but once you taste a few of the recipes, you'll realise that it's worth the effort. The book offers a range of both Japanese and non-Japanese bentos, usually consisting of several components. There are plenty of variants to try out, and having worked my way through the book, there were only a couple of recipes that I really didn't get on with. In fact, for the most part, it's taught me new dishes that I don't just rely on for lunch - I've served them to friends for dinner as well.

Of course, preparing a bento is always going to be more effort than making a sandwich, but none of the recipes in this book are particularly long or complicated, and most of them can be made a night or two in advance, or even put in the freezer so you have a ready supply of bento dishes for busy weeks. And don't worry if you feel like you've done the book to death - Makiko Itoh also runs a Just Bento website packed with even more recipes to try.

All in all, this is probably my most-used recipe book, and certainly one of the best investments I've made. If you're considering trying out bento, or even if you just want to try a few easy Japanese recipes, this is definitely the place to start.
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on 21 April 2011
I actually follow this japanese lady's blog, so was delighted to see her recipe book published. Its set up in a slightly odd but very sensible way -- bento meals are basically 'takeaway' meals, eaten as school or work lunches, or for picnics or similar get-togethers, casual or very grand. (The western equivalent might be a scandinavian smorgsbord, lots of little goodies, beautifully arranged -- you can buy scandinavian versions of bento boxes, to hold your open sandwiches safely for transporting to school or work!)

She's organised things very sensibly, starting simply and breaking things down into the various bento components, then ringing changes from the basic to the fancy, all set out quite logically. There is a lot to take in, but this book is full of the 'how to', not just a collection of pretty photos. Also lots on where to get ingredients (including bento boxes!).

Its a nice way to eat, actually, even if your lunch isn't particularly 'japanese' -- its more about presenting your food in a varied and appetising way (which IS very japanese!).

I'd make only one complaint, that the typeface is a bit small and the designer was too interested in striking colour contrasts -- not always suitable if your eyesight is poor. (But worth the struggle I would say!)
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on 10 February 2016
This book is fantasic. My husband and I were fed up of eating the same lunches most days and wanted something healthy but different to eat each day. This book has loads of ideas for bento style lunches which are quick and easy to make. We have been using it for several weeks and we feel healthier and much more satisfied! Highly recommended!
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on 7 May 2013
I was not expecting this book to be that good, but i was totally wrong. I'm a single father from the UK and i learned to cook from an early age. i own a lot of cook books and this is easily up there with the best. That's because its absolutely crammed with very imaginative and very fast to prepare meal ideas. i don't have much time to prepare food so quick healthy meals are important. mow i have a hundred plus new ideas for myself and my children.
A lot of the recipes are actually cooked (which is why i am classing it as a cook book) and they can be eaten as regular meals not just cooled and used in a bento. and im fusing many of the recipes with my own way of cooking to encourage my kids to eat healthier foods. my kids are now trying lots of new foods and i have a new enthusiasm for preparing my work lunch.
Getting into bento was a good decision. when i get in to work i cant wait to eat my lunch!
A fantastic book and very well presented. the only minor quirk is that some of the ingredients cant be found easily here in the UK, some alternatives would have been nice. for example 'mirin' is hard to come by, but a little research on the net was all i needed to find out an alternative such as sherry or dry vermouth with added sugar can produce a similar product.
I highly recommend this book for its fresh ideas and fast preparation times! a little slice of every day Japanese food!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 December 2013
Browsing through the various Bento books on Amazon confirmed my suspicion that most included recipes which had rare ingredients & emphasised a very Japanese style of presentation. Indeed one which I saw was almost entirely dedicated to cutting root vegetables into cute panda & teddy bear shapes. Just Bento, however, is a very practical guide for the non-Japanese cook living in Europe.

The author has assumed no prior experience & provides lots of genuinely useful information on the type of boxes available & how to pack them. The recipes are incredibly simple & while most have a Japanese influence, they don't require rare ingredients. For instance, there's a recipe for simple Tamagoyaki (sweetened, rolled up egg) which only requires egg, sugar & a bit of oil. The ham & cream cheese vegetable rolls are also clearly influenced by what Non-Japanese readers may have in their kitchens & are as simple & delicious as they sound. There's also ideas for salad- & omelette-based bentos. Sushi is generally avoided because Makiko sensibly points out that leaving raw fish on your desk all morning is not the best idea. But there are a couple of 'safe' recipes provided.

This excellent book makes lunchtimes fun & healthy. It covers everything & is full of practical advice.
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on 17 October 2012
I purchased this book because I wanted a cook book to inspire my lunch boxes to university. Most of the other books I flipped through are not that inspiring and doesn't allow you to enjoy what you make and eat. I can stick to all the cold pastas and sandwiches and save myself the money. However this is one of the most well-written cook books I have ever seen.

Makiko's instructions are easy to follow, her plans are well laid out and simple. Her writing style is honest and reassuring, while the photos of the bento boxes are simple divine. The combinations and the variations on the recipes are mind-blowing. Considering it's quite a thin book of 127 pages, it is a fantastic value for money.

Not only have I become a fan of her recipes, I found her advice on planning, time management, equipment and stock control helpful. The recipes are flexible in that they don't necessarily require expensive Japanese ingredients that you have to purchase from specialist shops. However you can learn a lot about basic principles of japanese cooking without feelign overwhelmed. The re-interpretation of western dishes for the bento principles are inspirational if you wanted to make other cuisines to fit into a tiny box.
In simple terms:- I don't see why someone shouldn't purchase this book!
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on 26 November 2012
This book it is great. A good selection of lunch suggestions, with easy to make recipes.
This will take longer than making a sandwich, but that is part of the point. We aim to have a bento lunch once a week and everyone always comments when I do.
The book generally suggests making lunch in the morning but I don't have time so generally make it the night before but it has all been good. I do have a bento box from Japan but often pack the lunch into Tupperware depending on what it is.
I have tried quite a few of the lunches now, and my presentation is not always as good, straightening prawns takes a long time and did not really work out for me, but they have all tasted great and are healthy as well. Each dish is very quick and easy but the idea is you have three or four things in each lunch.
If you like this book also check out the justbento website, it is the same author and has hundreds of bento lunch suggestions.
I have a couple of other bento lunch books but this is my favourite. If you want lovely lunches and are happy to spend a little time to have them you will not regret this book,
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on 19 January 2015
Delighted with this book. Having recently come across Miss Itoh's blog which I've really enjoyed, I decided to purchase this book and am really glad I did. The book is laid out as complete bento lunches with substitution and alternative ideas. She also offers some basic guidelines for creating nutritious lunches as well as safety precautions, plus helpful tips, timings and suggestions for what you can prepare in advance to speed your bento prepping in the morning. The recipes are simple and easy to make. Most are Japanese, but there is a section that covers non-Japanese alternatives. To be honest, you can put whatever you like in your bento. Mostly I use the book for inspiration, and to generate ideas. On a footnote, some of the ingredients may be difficult to come by if you don't live in a large city but you can always order online and the book provides some suggested online resources. All in all, I'm very pleased. If you're a fan of bento or just want to be inspired to do something a bit different, it's a great resource.
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on 1 October 2013
This book is a must-buy if you are considering trying to make your own bento. The instructions are clear and well written and the pictures are mouthwatering!

This book would be worth it for the recipes and lovely presentation pictures alone - but there's so much more packed in here! What I especially love about this book is the practical advice from the author on how to make things easy. She includes helpful shopping lists of things both Japanese and not-so-Japanese to stock up on and things that can be prepared in advance and frozen/defrosted/nuked in the microwave as needed. The author also gives great advice on substitute ingredients if you can't get hold of the real deal. Additionally there is a little guide on different types of bento boxes and how to care for the more expensive types.

There are plenty of clear pictures demonstrating the techniques described and I thought the book was well laid out and presented. It's fantastic value for how much you will get out of this book, especially if like me you are new to making bento lunches. The author's blog (justbento.com) is a wonderful additional resource that's well worth checking out too.
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on 9 February 2011
Since I became pregnant, I grew a much bigger appetite and the old thrown together lunch sandwich is no longer enough to keep me through the day at work. I decided to pack my own bento lunches that are nutritious, but kind on the budget. Justbento is one of the food blogs I followed, but I have never attempted to make any of the lunches before.

This book is filled with recipes on how to create a varied and delicious lunch box. There are also packing and food safety tips. Bentos in Japan are eaten at room temperature. Therefore, the recipes in the book taste good cold, without a need to reheat in the microwave at work. (I personally don't like over-cooked reheated chicken or vegetables. Therefore this is a plus point for me). You also don't need a fancy Japanese style box to start packing bentos. I use a 600ml square lock and lock box I got from the supermarket.

I've been following the book, packing my own bento lunch box everyday for around a month now. The bentos take around 10-15min to pack/cook in the morning, with some pre-marinating, cutting and washing the night before. There are also recipes suitable for freezing, which I made in batch in the weekends. I'm a fairly competent cook, and can make dinners from scratch every night in around 15-30min. So if you aren't comfortable with cooking, this book probably isn't for you.
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