All of my regular readers will know the name Kentaro Kobayashi. I have reviewed another book of his which had its focus on Donburi, an underrated Japanese dish. He has now turned his attention to the evocative bento box.
Most of us would only have encountered a bento box via our TV screens. They are the stylish packages that are found on Japanese railway stations. No self-respecting documentary about the land of Nippon is complete without the western presenter opening his lunch to discover a savoury and attractive array of rice and accompanying dishes. All very exotic and exciting, but on analysis we are talking food on the go, which needs to be delicious and sustaining.
Kentaro has fond memories of the lunch boxes prepared by his mum. As a growing lad he craved flavourful meat. He was sometimes lucky but whatever the contents of his bento box he was always excited by it, and well fed. He has taken the opportunity with Bento Love to indulge his dream of meat-laden lunch to present some fine recipes, but he has also included dishes that would be craved by both vegetarians and those who prefer fish.
This chef has a knack for recipe selection. He has, once again, chosen dishes that will be tempting for the Japanese reader but equally for those of us who are not so familiar with Japanese food. There is nothing here that is bizarre, no ingredient thought delectable only by the Japanese. This is an accessible and delightful twist on a packed lunch which is a million miles away from a boiled egg sandwich and a bag of salt and vinegar crisps (chips).
The first recipe is that for Deluxe Steak Bento with Simmered Shiitake Mushrooms and Sautéed Watercress. That’s no surprise considering Kentaro’s love of protein. The Pork Steak Bento with Sautéed Snap Peas and Shimeji Mushrooms is served with Shiba-style Pickles. Use your favourite European mushroom if you can’t find the shimeji variety, but you will likely find all traditional ingredients in your nearest Asian supermarket or online.
Cashew Chicken Stir-fry is a Chinese classic but is included here because this is a book about contemporary Japanese cooking. It’s a dish that works well for the lunch box, as does Japanese-style Chicken and Potato Curry, and there is even Fish and Chips Bento which includes some broccoli and rice balls.
My favourite recipe is Simmered Croquette Bento. This is a dish made from leftovers but I think it’s worth the effort of cooking from scratch especially for lunch. It’s a moist and flavourful dish and real comfort food. It’s hearty and would be welcome as a substantial lunch on a grey winter’s day.
We all need to eat and we should want to eat well. The credit crunch has forced many to consider a packed lunch from home. It’s a great notion and would save you cash but if that aforementioned lunch is unappetizing then you’ll soon be back to a curly, dry sandwich or a pie and a pint at the nearest pub. Consider some Japanese-inspired bento and be the envy of your colleagues. But don’t forget that you can eat all these dishes at home. They work just as well on a plate as in a box.
Bento Love – Easy Japanese Cooking is another Kentaro Kobayashi success. Well-written recipes, stunning photography by Hideo Sawai and great value for money. This volume is to be admired but also used. Hope we have many more books from this chef.
Bento Love – Easy Japanese Cooking
Author: Kentaro Kobayashi
Published by: Vertical, Inc.
Price $14.95US, £10.99
Asian cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018