Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Review: My Japanese Table, by Debra Samuels

"Actions speak louder than words".  I remember learning this saying as a child and at that time, it didn't mean much to me, however as time went on and I grew older- I realized more and more how wonderful this idea was.  In my world, of course, food is the best expression of love.  Making a nourishing meal, or a delicious dessert for someone is a simple way to show that you care about their well being, and their happiness.  We all know that full bellies are happy bellies right? 

The other night I had the opportunity to attend the book launch party for My Japanese Table, written by Debra Samuels.  Samuels has spent extensive time in Japan, living and learning the culture.  One of the most fascinating lessons she learned, was of the Bento Box.  Bento Boxes are, in practice, similar to school lunch boxes, but what differentiates them is what is inside.  While an American lunch box may typically contain a PB&J, some fruit, and maybe a cookie or two, the Japanese Bento Box contains a myriad of foods, each element creating a balance with each other.  The Japanese believe in eating from color groups rather than the Pyramid structure the US is just now rethinking.  The idea is to fill these boxes with foods that are shades of red, green, yellow, black and white- these colors represent the five parts of the body and are hand in hand with the five elements.  

Each Bento is created to maximize nutrition and energy for the school day, so mothers in Japan take their time to ensure that these needs are met- creating a beautiful display in the process.  Samuels stressed the amount of time that does go into making these boxes-these are not quickly thrown together, but rather require time and patience to make each element stand out.  Bento boxes truly are a labor of love.  They are a way that mothers in Japan let their children, and husbands, know how much they care without saying a word. 

More and more we are starting to see these types of ideas filter into US culture.  The USDA did away with the Pyramid structure earlier this year, and have replaced it with a plate method that starts to look at food colors rather than their constitution.  Beyond that, restaurants have begun to truly invest in the idea of smaller portions of several dishes and the tasting of several flavors to create a full meal.  My Japanese Table offers well thought out and extremely well explained data on the ideas behind the Bento Box, and, more importantly, the ways that we, here in America, can incorporate this idea into our own families.

Samuels outlines simple recipes that combine perfectly with each other to provide nourishment for a full day.  These recipes are laid out in outlines for Bento Box ideas, and are even separated into age appropriate boxes as well.  More and more we are seeing the benefits of eating smaller portions, concentrating on strong flavors and fresh ingredients.  The Bento Box is the perfect way to formalize this idea in our own homes and ensure that those lunches eaten away from the home are jam packed with everything we need to get through the day.   


Melissa said...

I've been very intrigued by the idea of Bento Boxes for awhile. And have wanted to find a source that could help me translate the ideas into something that would work for me, perhaps this book is a good place to start. Thanks for your review of it.

Jen said...

What an interesting concept for a book. I completely agree that cooking for someone is the best way to show them you love them!

Restaurant Reviews: A dead art?

Last December I declared 2023 the year I would return to food writing.  It was a bold statement (even now as I look at my last published dat...