martedì 21 ottobre 2008

Face Food - Christopher D Salyers

"Face Food - The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes" 80 pages by Christopher D Salyers is as cute in size and presentation as the bentos are themselves.

This is the first book I found that deals with the actual philosphy and modern use of making lunch boxes. The book is a testimonial of many Moms (and one Dad) who prepare their kids some kind of lunch at least twice a week. It shows their work (and artwork) but more importantly it asks the real questions of why they make these fab lunches for their children.

I read for the first time the term "charaben" which refers to using manga or other characters in creating the bentos. There is no real explaination of technique but lots of images that give you a fantastic idea of the dedication and creativity behind the bentos. One mom even said her kid had become critical of her bentos when she makes some slight mistakes in the character representation. Another Mom described making the charaben for her kid as " A communication tool between my child and I and between my child and his classmates." It's not just an expression of love but also an attempt to improve the status of the child in school. There is actually competition between children for who would have the best o-bento. And strangely enough, according to the author, the moms are not competative. They actually have get togethers where they exchange methods and secrets on creating and executing the best charaben possible.

The author has his own blog spot as well ( which I suggest you check out as he is constantly on the look out for face food as well as reviews of his book. Overall, I enjoyed the book but I do have a few points on where the author could have improved it. For example, the format is great (quite small) and the actual material of the cover gives a feeling of an old household recipe book. But the pages are printed on some kind of paper which does not render justice to the intricate photos they present. It seems like recycled paper but I was unable to find anywhere which mentions if it is. (ok, I admit, if it were recycled then I guess it's ok that the images are grainy...) The typeset works fairly well (altho at times difficult to read) yet it gives the impression of reading someone's diary entries or their kitchen journal where they document their bentos. The ingredients lists for each bento are not accurate as far as I can guess. But that may be due to the fact that each Mom who filled out some kind of form had to summarise overall ingredients or the translation fell short.

Anyway, without a doubt, for a person who is just getting into charaben and bentos it's definately a book to check out. After reading this one you can probably convince yourself that making a bento is not just fun but possible.

mercoledì 15 ottobre 2008

Mona Lisa Bento

Today's book is quite extraordinary.

I don't even know what it's titled (お弁当アートの作り方 (単行本) ) which should stand for "Really Artistic Kick-ass Bento's" by Junko Terashima. It's 78 pages of sheer shock and surprise.

Different from my previous blog's book, this is less everyday bento and more extreme Bento. This is not to say it's better - only that you can go to a higher ground when creating bentos.

If you google images with her name, you will definately find an infinite number of images to check out. Here are some of the most amazing :

Here is one that uses food in the most amazing landscape. There is cabbage for the mountains, colored rice and egg for a setting sun. Not to mention the rolls and well organised food to give the entire bento not just visual content but nutritional as well. I don't know much about her. All I know is that she does alot of classes in bento-ing as she does this mostly for her kids. There are pics in her book of her kids eating the most intricate bentos like no big deal. I'd almost feel terrible to see hours worth of work go into their mouths. I guess the true testimonial to dedication to your children.
Here is another :

This one is great since it shows an incredible sense of humor. I don't suspect her kids ate this one. Or maybe they did. And here for your enjoyment :

I wonder whose stomachs would turn and who would eat it hungrily.
Check out the contents. Lots of seaweed but lots of pumpkin, egg rolls wrapping everything from imitation crab leg to okra, beans and carrots, there are strawberries, apple slices - basically the most balanced meal a kid could ask for. And they would eat it all up.

I wish I was able to read her book - also again in kanji - since there are sections devoted to how she transfers facial designs to the ham or bologne slices. I'll just have to wait until a friend of mine translates it for me.

And in closing....

Mozart (notes on an egg !!) and

A take-off from a famous woodblock print with Mount Fuji in the background.

I wish I could find her internet site but I couldn't. So, navigate....and let me know if you find something.

domenica 12 ottobre 2008

Bento Books

Over the past year or so, I have purchased a few books about bentos (as previously mentioned below for recipes) and bento making. But a few books have ended up being for inspiration more than anything also because I was able to find them only in Japanese (of which I cannot read). In any case, I am seeing that many of these types of books are becoming available as bento and lunch boxing becomes more popular in western cultures.
So, for a few posts, I will dedicate some time to the people who have dedicated their time to their kids and then to passing on ideas and advice to others when it comes to bento building.

First up is Mari Miyazawa who's internet blog e-obento was one of the first I came across. With the help of Babelfish, you can understand quite alot on her site. But more to the point I discovered she has written a few books. The one I purchased is called "Fantasic Lunchbox" (111 pages), and I found it only on (amazon Japan).
What makes this book fun is that even though I was unable to understand what has been written, I could easily get tons of ideas on how to create new and interesting combinations of food. Some are quite straight forward whereas others are almost impossibile to understand or replicate since not all kinds of food stuffs are available where I am (or maybe where you are).

The book is very well organised. It starts out by presenting bentos by season meaning first lunch boxes with a spring theme (for example certain flowers or events which take place in the spring time), then into summer (with a fantastic bridal bento), into fall with it's harvest themes then finally into winter with christmas symbols and santa too.

There are then sections dedicated to color and all the different foods used to achieve certain chromatic additions to the lunch boxes. Chopped up pickles and avocado for two different tones of green, chopped up ham for pink and scrambled egg for yellow and so on.
Then she divides the book into special events such as the first day of school complete with boys or girls in school uniforms and backpaks. Birthdays, sports events, anniversaries, arrival of a newborn, housewarming and holidays. Each is presented as an actual bento in that one part is often full of food with no particular design and the other half of the bento has the design or is the visual part of the presentation. As I've shown in previous posts, most bentos are two-tiered so it makes sense that the two parts are shown in the book to complete the idea of the entire lunch.

Part of the book is techniques and tools as well as particular ingredients. She shows how to use the same cookie cutters to achieve different shapes or animals. She has an entire section devoted to eggs, meat cutlets and another to fish paste. Here is one of those ingredients which is tough to find. Fish paste is usually white fish pressed into a block. It's sold in many shapes and sizes and even pre-prepared manga characters. Here is an example of Hello Kitty fish paste used in making sushi (thanks to Hello Kitty Hell - this guy really hates Hello Kitty)
The fish paste is pressed into blocks. When cut one way it will come out as the manga face or whatever the design is but if cut horizontally can be used for other color combinations. Mari shows many ways to use it - even as minature bento kimonos. Really fantastic.
An entire section is then dedicated to the most important staple of the japanese diet - rice. Even here the creativity in the presentation of mundane rice onigiri is amazing.

I highly reccommend purchasing this book and have high hopes that these books will be translated one day. A new book has come out and to be honest I'm quite tempted. Will have to wait till Christmas I suppose....
and here is today's bento (from Mari's site e-obento - please check it out !)
Nothing better than Halloween themes !!!!!!!! Boooo!