Autumn Bento in Battery Park

Fall Bento Box

I’ve never considered myself especially Japanese. I grew up in a largely Caucasian and Hispanic agricultural community in California, cooking meat and potatoes like everyone else. I never liked following the rules, and math was definitely not my strong suit — both of these, decidedly un-Japanese traits. Still, there are some aspects of myself that are undeniably Japanese.

When it comes to food, Japanese people are fanatical about seasonal and local delicacies. It’s like a DNA coded timer, signaling birds to migrate south, or driving bears to find a cozy hole to curl up in. Something just clicks in your head, and the next thing you know, you’re on a bus to New Jersey to pick up the tastes of fall.

Newly dug Satsumaimo (sweet potato), sweet orange Kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), gingko nuts, and chestnuts are just a few of the earthy toned flavors that define fall. When the days start growing shorter, I crave these foods like a tree yearns for the first cool gust of autumn. It’s not logical, but it’s a call that must be answered. That’s why I prepared a bento box chock full of seasonal goodness to take on this post-summer picnic.

Autumn Bento Lunch

Bento (弁当) is a centuries-old way of packing a boxed meal. Over time, it’s evolved from a practical way to carry lunch, to an artform, complete with extensions of popular culture. Every region of Japan has a signature bento which changes with the seasons, and they can be found in train stations, depachika (department store food courts), and specialty restaurants all over Japan. But despite being widely available for purchase, many home-makers still take pride in assembling bentos for their loved ones every day. There’s even a rivalry amongst school kids on who brings the coolest kyaraben (character bentos), which are edible dioramas depicting characters from popular cartoons.

While the contents and containers may vary, one thing they all have in common is that they contain a wide assortment of seasonal delicacies. Perfect for an ADD eater like me, who bores of a dish after just a few bites. I’m always on the lookout for the next tasty bite to please my palette, and there’s something very gratifying about having one bite of something and wishing there was more.

Bento Bako - Japanese lunch box

Before I made my bento, I had to find a bento bako to put it in. A bento bako is a box, with compartments to store rice and a variety of okazu (side dishes). There’s no rule that says a bento has to contain rice though, and yōshoku, or western style bentos come with sandwiches, and sometimes even pasta. The bento bako I ended up getting at Korin in Tribeca, had two tiers, and cute little critters painted on top.

Autumn Bento Box

When you open up the lid, you’re presented with the first tier. I filled it with a mix of grilled, fried, pickled, and simmered items with flavors varying from sweet to savory to spicy. Starting from the top left and working clockwise, there’s a stick of immitation crab, a skewer of edamame fishcake, pickled burdock (the long orange sticks), spicy konnyaku, sweet chestnut, sweet beans, simmered turnips with carrots and snap peas, tamagoyaki (rolled omelette), sauteed turnip greens, and grilled salmon.

Bento Bako with Gomoku Gohan

I filled the bottom tier with Takikomi Gohan (recipe here). It’s the Japanese version of pilaf, with mushrooms, veggies, and rice cooked in dashi. I topped this one with some Shimeji mushrooms sauteed in butter, carved carrots and ginko nuts, to make it present like a patch of fall mushrooms, surrounded by fallen leaves and acorns.

Daigaku Imo
Crunchy Sweet Potato and Honey

For dessert I fried up some Japanese sweet potatoes (satsumaimo), until they were crunchy and then tossed them while they were still hot in honey and sesame seeds. This caramelizes the honey, giving each crunchy morsel a sweet nutty coating and a pillowy soft interior. A couple bottles of green tea and we were good to go.

Since I was in the kitchen all day cooking, I realized there wasn’t much daylight left to have a picnic. Thankfully, I live in New York City, and there’s a beautiful riverside park just blocks from my apartment. If you’ve never been, the waterfront along the Hudson in the Battery Park neighborhood is the perfect place to get away from the city. With your back to the city, there’s a watery vista highlighted by the Statue of Liberty to the south, Ellis Island ahead, and Hoboken, New Jersey to the north.

Ireland in Manahattan - The Irish Hunger Memorial

One area in particular that literally sticks-out, is a chunk of land that looks like it was torn from the Dingle Peninsula and transplanted into the heart of Manhattan. It’s a little too crowded to have a picnic in, but there are lawns and benches just around it, and it makes for a great sunset stroll.

World Financial Center

After our picnic and stroll, we stopped by the movie theater in the World Financial Center to catch Wall Street: Money Never Sleep, which was full of scenes depicting a very different take on the neighborhood we’d just spent our afternoon in.

  • http://kalynskitchen.blogspot.com Kalynskitchen

    What a great post. Your bento picnic looks fantastic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janbenn Jan Bennett

    I have been to Battery park and I love it – Great post and video!
    Your bento box picnic looks amazing!
    Ps: I’m doing a giveaway on a Bento box book over at my blog.

  • Joan Nova

    I don’t think there will be another entry with Japanese food and Irish music. Way to go!

  • Anonymous

    About Japanese DNA– you are so right. I’m getting ginkgo nut cravings this second.

  • http://www.tastewiththeeyes.com/ Lori Lynn

    Hi Marc – this is so cool! Your food and the setting, way to mix it up! Love the colors in your dishes and the scenery, very Autumn! Good luck, this is very special indeed.
    LL

  • http://twitter.com/foodieskitchen homeladychef

    Look at those pictures! Your bento makes me fall in love with food! and autumn! Amazing! Definitely following your blog. ;)

  • Lisa~Koreanamericanmommy

    Lovely post! And I was actually thinking of making that sweet potato desssrt too, called go moo mah tang in Korean. Asian food is perfect for picnic lunches. Your photos are amazing.

  • http://www.nancymatsumoto.blogspot.com Nancymatsumoto

    Thank you, Marc! I’m feeling the same seasonal fall food cravings, too, so your beautiful bento-bako & post provided a vicarious thrill.

  • http://twitter.com/bodaciousgirl Heather ツ

    Mmm I love Bento lunches. they looked almost too beautiful to eat. You have my vote.

  • http://cook-eat-love.com/ cookeatlove

    What a great idea with the bento boxes. My vote is yours.

  • junebu8

    Those sweet potatoes look amazing :)

  • Oui, Chef

    Beautiful food and photography as always, your fried satsumaimo look perfect! Off to vote you forward to round 7! – S

  • Megan @ Stetted

    Looks delicious as always! I have a Mr. Bento that I really need to use more often. Great job!

  • Claudia

    Lovely presentation and I’d share that picnic with your anytime.

  • Amelia from Z Tasty Life

    Bento! nice. That’s unusual and well presented. Love the photo with the grass and the skyscrapers.

  • Chef E

    Ummm, this looks great, and that tofu looks even more delish!

  • http://gingerbreadcake.wordpress.com/ Lindsey Morlock

    I love the idea of bento boxes! Your food just looks soo delicious and as always, your photos are just so colorful and gorgeous. Great job and best of luck! :)

  • http://twitter.com/sippitysup sippitysup

    I have probably told you this before. But your posts often make me regret giving up our apartment in New York. But living full time in LA, it just became impractical. Of course that means we never go anymore. Which is the downside. I love LA and there is so much to do here, but certain things, like Battery Park just don’t exist here. GREG

  • http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/6/view/1465 jacobskitchen

    Gorgeous as always! Those bento boxes are packed perfectly, and the food looks mouthwatering as usual. nicely done. I voted for you yet again!

    Good luck! Hope to see us both in round 7!!! =)

  • http://ediblecville.blogspot.com Libby

    I loved this…and it was so cute to hear your voice, loved the video. one of the reasons I love New York is all the unique places there are to have picnics. Cheers! Just voted!

  • http://www.slim-shoppin.com Jenn@slim-shoppin

    Marc!! I voted for you again. Awesome job!! Love the bento box idea, your food looks amazing as always!

  • Hot Polka Dot’s Mom

    Bento brilliance! Loved your video. You have my vote.

  • http://cookin-log.junkoco.com/ junkoco

    Wow! What a beautiful bento!!
    Placing the food in such small boxes is really hard. You did great! Your bento shows beautiful coming of fall.

  • http://foodnouveau.com Marie (Food Nouveau)

    I like the short videos added to your posts. I gives us readers a great feel of where you are. Clearly, round 7 will be easy for you to get through (because, of course, round 6 is a given…) You’re a really professionnal food blogger, in my top 5 since the very beginning. I hope you’ll get to the end!

  • Froandafork

    Mmmm bento box. I love the creativity that goes into each and every bento box (including yours) whenever I get one I feel like the chef made a special little gift for me :) You’ve got my vote!

    Kashia of Fro and a Fork

  • http://kathdedon.wordpress.com/ Kath

    Nicely done! I’d like to learn the art of preparing bento lunches to take to work. Your post is inspiring! You’ve got my vote!

  • http://www.abalancedkitchen.com Mindy

    What a lovely picnic. I’m not Japanese, but probably should have been given my love affair with the cuisine, and often have bento boxes for lunch. However, I tend to buy them. I should take a hint from you and start preparing them.

  • Lisa

    I now feel I must go and prepare a bento box. So wonderful, I am sending you a vote.

    Lisa

  • http://www.completelydelicious.com Annalise

    Great post! Love the pics, you have my vote!

  • http://www.tiffintales.com Heena @ Tiffin Tales

    I’m in love with that picture with the grass and skyscrapers!

  • http://twitter.com/Cuisinerd The Cuisinerd

    How awesome is that park – I’m checking it out on my next trip. Another fabulous post!

  • http://www.wheelsandlollipops.com/ Wheels and Lollipops

    Great job !!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/pierresun Pierresun Thavong

    love your taste!!!! A reward for awesomeness!!!

  • http://danasfoodforthought.wordpress.com/ Dana

    Looks great! I love all of the vibrant colors in your bento box!

  • http://wildeinthekitchen.blogspot.com Vicki @ Wilde in the Kitchen

    Those bento boxes are so cute! I’ll have to stop by that store next time I’m in Tribeca! Your picnic looks amazing as well, great job on this challenge!

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnandrewwalsh John Walsh

    What a great post. Growing up in New York, I loved sharing a bag of roasted chestnuts from a street cart with my dad. It was his favorite treat, and the smell of them on a cold afternoon still makes me smile.

  • Anonymous

    Nice work Marc. I for one knows how much work can go into making a bento like that. I wished they give up more time to prepare for these challenges. Good luck in this round, I am looking forward to your submission for the video challenge.

  • http://www.wearenotmartha.com Sues

    I love the video!! And, of course, the bento is absolutely beautiful :)

  • Peterg

    So striking Marc! The colours and ingredients really stand out here…and as usual, it’s very creative coming from you. Good luck in this round!

  • http://www.thedailyspud.com DailySpud

    Nice choice of venue for your picnic Marc, I approve of course :)

  • stacey snacks

    Loved the info-mercial in the park.
    At first it looked like Ireland! Very nice bento boxes!

  • Marla

    Your bento boxes are so beautiful, colorful & healthy. Love that you used seasonal ingredients and my all time favorite sweet potatoes.

  • Soos

    I’m hungry! Looking at your photos makes me want to eat that rice and those gingko nuts!

  • Daydreamer Desserts

    Sounds like you had a wonderful afternoon. I love your bento boxes, very sharp! Oh, and that last shot of the sweet potato held up with chopsticks looks mouthwatering! YUM!

  • http://twitter.com/sugarbardiva davina

    What gorgeous little bento bako! I hope you wrapped it in furoshiki before heading to the park. Informative post. I can so imagine the school kids showing off their lunchsets just like we did when we were kids. Of course, ours weren’t bentos but just regular lunchboxes with some funky stuff in there. And then it got cooler to have money in your pocket to buy some yummy stuff in the canteen. Lovely!

  • http://www.youfedababychili.com/ Ben

    This also made me homesick for New York. Beautiful bento box, and great video. I’m a little freaked out about maybe having to do video for next round, but it is really nice to see my fellow bloggers in a way that doesn’t come across in text. Great work!

  • Sharlene

    I love Bento boxes and yours look better than any I’ve ever had at a Japanese restaurant. Good luck on making it to the next round!

    By the way, I took your advice and used your braised pork belly recipe and adapted it for short ribs. Turned out wonderfully. Thank you so much for your help!

  • Lickmyspoon1

    I’m ogling your bento right now, everything looks beautiful. It may look a bit out of place in an Irish pasture, but that’s not going to stop me from voting for you! Good luck this week!

  • http://www.passion4food.ca jen cheung

    Congratulation for making to challenge #6!!! You’ve got my vote again this round! Congrats & Best wishes to making to next round :)

    Have a great week
    jen @ http://www.passion4food.ca

  • http://jennaseverythingblog.wordpress.com Jenna

    Amazing pix! I’m voting for your entry now . . . I would love to have this for my lunch. =)

  • joni

    Such a cute lunch box! I’m hungry again. *sighs

  • http://popartichoke.blogspot.com/ Megg @ PopArtichoke

    I love it! I am a bento maker myself and when I saw this “road trip” challenge I KNEW someone had to do bento! This is such a well-rounded and gorgeous bento.. and I love you term “ADD eater”.. that is so me too! ^_^ You’ve got my vote, good luck in the contest!

  • http://www.kats9lives.com Kat’s 9 Lives

    The bento looks simply AMAZING! Loved all the great photos! Good luck on the competition! ^_^

  • http://twitter.com/caus2000 Calian

    A few days I watched Japanese TV show about “Bento sold in Japanese trains.” Variouse bentos in Japan. They looks fantastic and yummy. One of the most impressed is they are made by local ingredients. I sometimes make Korean style bento for my daughter.

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