Japan's special take on a packaged lunch

As we finished my approach by a labyrinth hallways of Tokyo Station, we felt like a traveller creation a staggering journey, before my tangible trip. we was headed to a mecca of ekiben – dear boxed dishes combined privately for prolonged sight journeys. Like a crowds bustling around me, we had a sight to catch, and my final sequence of business was to find myself some lunch for a ride.

Ekiben (??), an shortening of eki (station) and ben (bento), is a prized, and some would contend essential, component of long-distance sight transport in Japan. While eating in a internal commuter sight is frowned upon, travellers on longer rides, such as bullet trains or trains that take reservations, are speedy to take a meal. Every region, and even specific sight stations, has their possess singular offerings tied to a internal cuisine and culture.

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After a few wrong turns, we arrived during Ekiben-ya Matsuri (literally ‘Festival of Ekiben’), that was stocked with stacks of orderly organized boxes, regularly shifted and examined by a crowd of mad shoppers. we legalised long, cosmetic containers in a figure of a shinkansen, or bullet train, filled with several vegetables, meats and rice, and large charming boxes featuring embellished scripts evoking a relate of a mislaid time. we peered over a backs of associate shoppers to accumulate clues about renouned offerings, such as a singular book boxes that outrider a attainment of spring. we was shoulder to shoulder with foodies, travellers and those simply seeking furusato no aji (a ambience of home), all anticipating to find pleasure among a 200 or so varieties on display. In typically respectful Japan, a swarming aisles contained revisit pushes and shoves, indicating that my associate shoppers, like me, had singular time to shop.

Across a country, travellers rest on sight hire bento shops to buy their food and splash for a sole sight trip, typically with choices tied to a area they’re in. But this emporium is different. As good as charity internal ekiben from a Tokyo region, Ekiben-ya Matsuri also sells renouned options from destinations opposite a nation ­­– from Hokkaido in a north to Kyushu in a south, permitting shoppers to abandon a sight outing and burst true to a cherished plate of scarcely any segment they can imagine. The judgment is popular: a emporium sells 10,000 such bento-style dishes a day, and adult to 15,000 on a weekend.

These mobile feasts are a pleasing effect of an efficient, widespread sight network married with extraordinary palates emotional to try dear internal specialties. Sampling special informal equipment from opposite a nation runs low in Japanese culture. The judgment of meibutsu, or ‘famous things’, plays out by dual elements of travel: ekiben and omiyage (packaged souvenirs means to family and friends). While omiyage is a approach to share meibutsu behind home, ekiben is a approach to suffer a specialty object yourself.

Steven R McGreevy, who has lived in Japan given 2000, explains that “Japan’s food enlightenment is impossibly opposite and mostly related to a sole place. Just a thought of somewhere in Japan automatically elicits images of sole dishes that are internal to a place or of a sole turn of excellence or quality. This is, of course, found everywhere in a world, though we would contend a turn of fortitude in Japan is unequivocally high: a 30-minute sight float can move we into a totally opposite food environment.” 

A 30-minute sight float can move we into a totally opposite food sourroundings

Famous examples include gyutan, grilled beef tongue from Sendai; shumai, pig dumplings from Yokohama; and kani-meshi, crab rice from Hokkaido. While many of these equipment have prolonged been partial of a internal culinary scene, a thought to box them adult as travellers’ transport developed along with a growth of a Japanese railway system, that started use in 1872. The initial ekiben seemed in 1885 during Utsunomiya Station (around 130km from Tokyo), consisting of preserved plum rice balls – a unstable food common via a country.

As no dining automobile existed in a early days of sight travel, merchants would make sales to passengers by a windows or during height shops. A decade later, stations began charity sold tastes of their town, and an attention was born. Today, some-more than 2,000 kinds of ekiben are available, mostly from local, family-run businesses.

More than only something to eat, ekiben is another approach to knowledge a locale. Just as we would revisit a church in Kyoto, another must-do is to try Wagyu Bento (or any other of a many famous Kyoto ekiben available) when we leave from Kyoto Station.

5 ekiben to try on your subsequent Japanese rail journey

Masuno Sushi
Toyama Station in Toyama Prefecture, 1,400 JPY

Toyama’s Masuno Sushi is an oshizushi (pressed sushi) plate finished of anniversary trout. Boxed in a turn bamboo enclosure and wrapped in uninformed bamboo leaves, this plate is meant to be cut into wedges like a delectable cake. A specialty of a Jinzugawa River area a plate has a prolonged history, dating to a Heian duration (794-1185). This plate has been sole as an ekiben given 1912, with a direct that reflects a considerable legacy. 

Hipparidako Meshi
Nishi-Akashi Station in Hyogo Prefecture, 1,080 JPY

This bento is sole in a brownish-red ceramic pot, combined to resemble the internal attract vessels, called takotsubo, traditionally used to constraint octopus. Inside is a tasty brew of octopus, conger eel, anniversary vegetables and rice. 

Tokyo Bento
Tokyo Station, 1,650 JPY

Tokyo Bento is a dear plate finished adult of beef, salmon, unfeeling and egg dishes from several epicurean restaurants opposite a city. From time to time, a enclosed dishes get altered up, though this ekiben will always underline a best of Tokyo’s many eminent restaurants.

Daruma Bento
Takasaki Station in Gunma Prefecture, 1,000 JPY

The Takasaki area in Gunma prefecture is famous for a Daruma doll folk art. The enclosure is in a correspondence of Bodhidharma, a owner of a Zen group of Buddhism. He is decorated though limbs and eyelids following an extended duration of meditation. After a plate of duck and and stewed vegetables on chameshi (rice boiled in tea) is finished, a slotted mouth allows a enclosure to be reused as a silver bank.

Sake Harako Bento
Tohoku Region, 1,150 JPY

The Sake Harako bento is an instance of an ‘everything’ character plate featuring one partial served opposite ways – in this box salmon, served grilled and flaked, along with rice and salmon roe. This bento takes a evidence from harako-meshi, literally ’salmon child rice’, a normal and dear autumnal plate from a north-east Tohoku segment of Japan.

Hatsuko Matsumoto, who works in Tokyo, adds, “Ekiben can be a kind of memory device of travel… It reminds we when, where and with whom we ate, even after returning home.”

Unlike quick food in a Western world, where cost mostly trumps peculiarity and options tend to be standardised, ekiben thrives on a internal elements of a hometown. Heirloom vegetables, singular cooking methods, specialised rice varieties, internal crafts and even folktales play a partial in an ekiben’s appeal. Seasonality is also important. In his article, Savour Slowly: Ekiben: The Fast Food of High-Speed Japan, Paul Noguchi, former highbrow of anthropology and sociology during Pennsylvania’s Bucknell University, writes, “A certain unfeeling might be in or out of deteriorate and a sole class of fish is only commencement or finale a run. Thus ekiben yield a excellent internal dishes available, though always during a sole season, and by doing so mix a best of time and place.”

I had been warned about this – even underneath a same name, an ekiben’s essence mostly stagger according to a season. A series of ekiben suggested to me were out of season. Frankly, we was relieved to have my choices whittled down for me ­­– as it were, we had about 100 options too many.

I found assistance with my preference during a shop’s ekiben showcase wall. Here, a same containers found on a shelves were open to illustrate a essence inside. Unable to review Japanese and not wanting to make a ‘wrong’ choice, we complicated my options really carefully.

Noodles, sushi, beef on rice – any fathomable Japanese culinary specialty was there, along with several cosmetic newness containers mimicking icons sole to certain areas: a cosmetic crab containing a bed of famous Tottori crab meat; a snowman evoking a good snows of Niigata, pressed with minced beef and stewed vegetables on Koshihikari rice. we could see some of a some-more innovative ekiben packaging, like ones that play a strain when a lid is carried or feverishness adult on pulling a fibre (almost all ekiben is served cold, nonetheless shops will feverishness ekiben on request).

However, a time was ticking and my sight was expected scheming for a departure. My eyes darted between appealing colours and tastes. In a end, childhood nostalgia and a idea of a ‘souvenir’ won out. we boarded my sight only in a scrape of time, with a can of exhilarated Nescafe coffee and a cute, pinkish Hello Kitty samurai enclosure filled with teriyaki duck and rice, that was brought to me all a approach from Okayama Station.

I’d found a good meal, and a means to remember my travels, only as a Japanese have finished given a emergence of trains. 

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