After all those read-a-thon updates on Graasland it’s about high time I posted my latest bentos. And what better motivation than to find a mail from Hapa Bento telling me I had won the September B.O.M.B. challenge?!

*blush* I am so honoured!

Bento #116 served as dinner on my train journey to an evening about ‘Foodies, Foodporn & Foodblogs’ in The Hague on Wednesday September 22nd. That day it was mid-autumn and the Chinese were celebrating their Moon Festival. On Thursday the 23rd there would be a full moon — the brightest and most beautiful moon of the year according to Japanese people!

Tsukimi

Watching the full September moon is a special celebration in Japan, called Tsukimi (moon-viewing), tsuki being moon. It’s about honouring the moon and being thankful for the harvest. So, what could be more fun than to take an early Tsukimi Bento to the food event?

That meant I had to use seasonal produce (which is traditionally offered to the moon) and use ‘pampas grass’ for decoration. My organic CSA veggie bag came in handy! I really wanted to bring traditional foods, but no way I was having another attempt at making dango! I tried that on my first Holland Hanami (cherry blossom viewing, the spring counterpart of Tsukimi) and it made us gag! #fail

Thankfully I had recently bought some green tea mochi. But what am I doing, starting with dessert?

Tsukimi Bento (#116), 22-09-2010

Front tier

  • Buckwheat soba noodles (traditional) with leftover stir-fry of Swiss chard, silver onions, leek, carrot, corn kernels and chili pepper (all seasonal vegetables), braised in the soaking liquid of dried mushrooms.
  • Large shiitake mushroom (‘dark side of the moon’).
  • Slice of corn cob (‘full moon’).
  • Potato patty (no traditional sweet potato but hey, close enough).
  • Red pepper rabbits (tradition).
  • Fennel green ‘pampas grass’ for decoration, plastic sushi grass and flat leaf parsley for baran (dividers).
  • Slice of braised carrot, mini gherkins and pickled silver onions.
  • All on a bed of lettuce.

Background tier (which can be seen more clearly in another picture)

  • Edamame (traditional).
  • Apple – first local harvest!
  • Dried fruit: apricot & mango.
  • Green tea mochi (traditional).
  • Dollop of ketchup for potato patty.

But there’s more to it…

I didn’t get round to writing this blogpost because I wanted to tell you more of the thoughts behind bento #116.

In the Chinese Moon Fest round forms symbolize unity, completeness, togetherness. It reminds me of the circle of life, autumn being the season in which ‘the fruits’ get harvested. Of course the moon is round too. So I’ve used a lot of round foods in my round tsukimi bento :) Mix & match is what I say! ;) A lot of Chinese heritage became Japanese culture as well. Hey, I’m an European making bento, so what are we talking about anyway?

It’s interesting to know that the box that I used for this train bento is even officially called Tsukimi. The depiction of a moon-watching rabbit can be found in many Japanese decorations. All around the world people see things in the moon; here in Holland it’s a face and we’re calling it the Man of the Moon. Ancient Chinese saw a hare or rabbit pounding herbs for elixir, the Japanese believed it was pounding rice to make mochi. Making mochi is called mochitsuki (餅つき), which sounds similar to the word for full moon: mochitzuki (望月)!

Green tea mochiNow do you see the importance of my green tea mochi dessert? First flush (green) sencha tea is supposed to be best when kept till September, so that makes it even more appropriate.

Both moon and rabbit symbolize a long life. That probably originates from the Chinese life elixir myth — and the way rabbits know how to ensure eternal life through their offspring ;)

But there’s also a Buddhist story associated with this all, the story of Jade Rabbit. On a day of Uposatha — Buddhist Sabbath — an old man asked for food from a monkey, an otter, a jackal and a rabbit. The monkey collected fruits and offered them to the old man, the otter brought him a fish and the jackal a lizard. The rabbit didn’t have anything to bring, because the herbs constituting his food weren’t good for humans.
Then the rabbit decided to offer his own body and jumped into fire. Surprisingly his body did not burn, because the old man was the deity Sakra. And for people to remember the rabbit’s sacrifice, the old man drew the rabbit’s image over the moon.

If you look at Google images of ‘tsukimi rabbit‘ you’ll see the cutest rabbit-shaped sweets… I wish I could have had some! Still, I had so much fun making & eating this thematic bento! It’s wonderful it was awarded with a B.O.M.B. badge :)
Tsukimi Google logo 2009

Home-grown: red hot chilli peppers
Local & organic: Swiss chard, leek, carrots, corn, lettuce, potato, parsley, fennel, apple
Organic: sōmen, shiitake mushroom, egg, paprika, ketchup