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Let's Support Ekiben! -Winter-

Let's Support Ekiben! -Winter-

March 25, 2019
No trip by rail in Japan is complete without "ekiben."Since olden times in Japan, it has been customary to bring a "bento" along on outings such as cherry-blossom or autumn-leave viewings. With the start of railroads in the latter half of the 19th century, the selling of bentos at train stations, "ekiben," began. With the increase in train speed came a boom in traveling by train for private vacations.This brought about an increase in ekiben brimming with local flavor that reflected the ingredients, dishes and tourist spots in each region.Passengers could enjoy gazing out the train window and talking with other travelers as they ate foods only available in that area. Ekiben aren't just meant to fill your stomach. They themselves are one of the joys of traveling.At present there are several thousand kinds of ekiben sold in Japan. They come in an infinite variety, making the most of the local character, and made from select ingredients.What's even more surprising is their level of freshness. The ingredients in ekiben are incredibly fresh, even ones that are difficult to keep fresh, such as seafood. Japan is probably the only place in the world where such foods can be purchased safely. This is the result of the ekiben industry's food sanitation control technology.However, in recent years the number of ekiben has unfortunately been decreasing rapidly. There are many reasons for this, such as the expansion of convenience stores and fast food restaurants, and restaurants inside stations.If this continues, is it possible that Japan's ekiben will disappear? No! That will certainly never happen! Ekiben are a proud part of Japanese food culture. This little part of Japan is infused with Japanese history, culture, and the devotion of the Japanese people. There are countless people striving their hardest every day to maintain Japan's ekiben culture.Let's all join in as well to enjoy and support Japan's ekiben.

Illustration: Eri Nakada
In cooperation with Japan Railway Sales Central Association

Ekiben for winter

Ekiben for winter
Everything from seasonal seafood to delicious fried foods and self-heating piping-hot ekiben

Eri Nakada: The woman who's eaten ekiben all over Japan
A pro's select ekiben
Reporting & illustrations: Eri Nakada
Born in Iwate Prefecture. Currently, she is based in Tokyo, drawing and writing essays having to do with travel and ekiben. She has had about 300 different ekiben, and writes about around 100 different ekiben and travel spots in her book, Ekiben Joshi, Nippon Zenkoku Tabi Shite Tabete. Among her other books are Otona Joshi Yokubari Shumatsu Tabitecho and Kisseki no Ippon Matsu, Otsunami wo Norikoete.
 

石川県: Kagaonsen Station and others "Kanisushi"

石川県: Kagaonsen Station and others "Kanisushi"
かにすし
1,080 yen Takano Shoten

Fall & winter limited edition bento, October to April - Sea of Japan flavor
This bento is packed with Japanese-produced red snow crab popular for its sweetness and freshness. Much time and labor is spent brewing the apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar used in the vinegared rice, which is made from Reiho Hakusan spring water from 120 meters underground. This is exceptional pressed sushi, combining the fine sweet and sour vinegared rice with crab meat. The impressive box has a retro tourist map of Kagaonsen, with old-fashioned slogans about train manners and illustrations.
 

TOYAMA:Toyama Station, Takaoka Station "Buri Kamameshi"

TOYAMA:Toyama Station, Takaoka Station "Buri Kamameshi"
ぶりかまめし
1,100 yen Masunosushi Honpo Minamoto

Winter limited edition bento, late November to mid-March
This bento contains the Toyama specialty, kanburi. Wappameshi topped with a tremendous portion of soy-sauce stewed yellowtail collar that looks like it's from an izakaya or small restaurant. Slowly stewed for a whole night, the thick, fatty meat is moist and tender, and is nicely matched with Naruto wakame and wasabi-flavor vinegared rice. This powerful bento brings to mind the sea around Toyama. It's a superb meal, with unquestionable originality and flavor.
 

HOKKAIDO:Akkeshi Station "Kakimeshi"

HOKKAIDO:Akkeshi Station "Kakimeshi"
かきめし
1,080 yen Akkeshi Station Ujiie Machiaijyo

This bento is packed with seashore smells and rich flavor
It's an old-fashioned bento of rice cooked with mostly oysters, plus other seafood such as whelks, asari clams and hijiki, and garnished with wild vegetables like fuki and shiitake mushrooms. This meal was for cafeteria servers, but was turned into a bento at the request of customers. During operating hours, they'll make it for you fresh if you contact them two hours ahead of time. It's a heartwarming service in this cold region. From December to February they sell them in self-heating containers upon prior notice.
 

HOKKAIDO:Hakodate Station & Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station "Nishin Migaki Bento"

HOKKAIDO:Hakodate Station & Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station "Nishin Migaki Bento"
鰊みがき弁当
880 yen Hokkaido Kiosk Ekiben no Hakodate Mikado

Prepared the same way for 50 years since first sold in 1966
Herring fishing was at its peak in Hokkaido around 1900. Migaki nishin (sun-dried sliced herring) and kazunoko (salted herring roe) are made as preserved foods. This bento is a combination of traditional migaki nishin seasoned sweet and salty, and stewed until even the bones are soft, plus seasoned kazunoko and seaweed stems. The variation of flavor and texture is what makes it so enjoyable. Thanks to the good luck symbol kazunoko, it's good for eating on New Year's too. It comes at a reasonable price as well!
 

MIE:Matsusaka Station "Kurogewagyu Umai Dondon"

MIE:Matsusaka Station "Kurogewagyu Umai Dondon"
黒毛和牛うま~いどん丼
1,200 yen Aratake

A self-heating container that brings out all the flavor of Japanese beef
This bento is rice covered in grilled sirloin and seasoned ground Japanese black beef from its place of origin, Matsusaka. This combination is called "dondon". It's also named this out of a desire that customers eat a lot, "dondon meshiagare." The flavor of Matsusaka beef is said to be so good that the fine marbling melts from your body heat when placed in the palm of your hand. Aratake takes pride in Matsusaka beef, and uses only beef with certified traceability.
 

HYOGO :Kobe Station, Shin-Kobe Station, Nishi-Akashi Station "Acchicchi Akashiyaki Takomeshi"

HYOGO :Kobe Station, Shin-Kobe Station, Nishi-Akashi Station "Acchicchi Akashiyaki Takomeshi"
あっちっち明石焼たこめし
1,080 yen Awajiya

Warm up with two specialties of Akashi, where the octopus is caught
This bento allows you to enjoy both akashiyaki and takomeshi at one time. Akashiyaki (egg and flour balls) have a nearly 160-year history, and are known as tamagoyaki where they're from. They are said to be the ancestor of the takoyaki of Osaka. Enjoy these cute, round, golden balls lined up on the plate, plus plump, juicy and firm octopus. Awajiya is said to be the originator of the self-heating steamed ekiben that is activated by the pull of a string.
 

NIIGAYA :Naoetsu Station "Amaebi Tendon"

NIIGAYA :Naoetsu Station "Amaebi Tendon"
甘海老天丼
1,050 yen Hotel Heimat

A rare tempura ekiben with delicious Niigata rice
There are few ekiben that are made from mainly tempura. This lively tempura bento has five pieces of sweet shrimp tempura, vegetable tempura and unusual spicy cod roe tempura. Both the cold tempura and Niigata rice are delicious with the sauce poured on. This ekiben store is particular about using local ingredients, including fish and vegetables as well as soy sauce, miso and sake, and pays special attention to seasonal Joetsu foods that can only be had during each season. They also sell several other seasonal ekiben made with seafood from the Sea of Japan. *Sold only upon reservation after 10:00 a.m.
 

FUKUI :Fukui Station "Fukui ga Ichiban Sauce Katsudon"

FUKUI :Fukui Station "Fukui ga Ichiban Sauce Katsudon"
福井が一番ソースカツ丼
1,050 yen Banjyo Honten

Aged pork loin marinated in a special sauce
Containing three thin slices of pork loin cutlets that gets better with every bite, in a sweet and sour sauce, these cutlets are better suited to ekiben than thick slices of meat. The self-heating container makes it nice and hot. Generally, around Japan, katsudon uses a Japanese-style broth. And sauce katsudon is a specialty in Aizuwakamatsu, Fukushima Prefecture and Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture. But this bento is named confidently "Fukui has the number-one sauce katsudon." They are also famous for their Echizen Kanimeshi.
 

Ekiben that goes good with sake

Ekiben that goes good with sake
These delicious ekiben are a perfect match with sake, making for an enjoyable train ride♪
 

SHIMANE :Matsue Station "Gokigen Bento"

SHIMANE :Matsue Station "Gokigen Bento"
ごきげんべんとう
1,550 yen Ichimonjiya

Matsue local cuisine and local sake tasting from along the Izumoshinwa Kaido
Even the name of the bento, "Feeling-good bento" is like a dream-come-true for sake lovers. And there are two bottles of local sake inside this ekiben! Inside are vinegared crab-leg meat, kanroni stewed pond smelt, stewed eel, agonoyaki, stewed ark shell, fried whitebait, shijimi shigureni, tonbarazuke, and stewed Yasugi bamboo shoots. The choice Matsue sakes are Kokki, which is a rich-flavored sweet sake, and Kojonotsuru, which is a mellow and brilliant dry sake. Eat, drink and feel good. Two sake cups are included. Each bottle is 100 ml. *Reservations required.
 

YAMANASHI :Kofu Station "Koshu Wine de Sodatta 'Gyu to Buta no Bento'"

YAMANASHI :Kofu Station "Koshu Wine de Sodatta 'Gyu to Buta no Bento'"
甲州ワインで育った「牛と豚の弁当」
1,200 yen Marumasa

Beef and pork raised in the leading region for Japanese wine
This filling bento is split into two sections, with both beef and pork inside. The Koshu Amakara Gyudon uses Koshu wine beef that was raised eating the grape dregs that the wine has been squeezed out of. The Koshufu Sauce Menchi Katsudon uses juicy wine pork that was raised drinking white wine. You just know this goes well with wine. At Kofu Station you can also easily purchase wine in a cup. *Reservations required.
 

NIIGATA: Niigata Station and others "Masaka Ikuranandemo Sushi"

NIIGATA: Niigata Station and others "Masaka Ikuranandemo Sushi"
まさかいくらなんでも寿司
1,100 yen Shibata Sanshinken

Deliciousness you have to get a photo of
This sushi bento was named using the first letters of the sushi in it: "ma" from masu (trout), "sa" from sake (salmon flakes), "ka" from flaked kani (crab) meat, and "ikura" (salmon roe). With small amounts beautifully arranged in a row, it's also a feast for the eyes. This unique long and narrow bento is popular with men and women of all ages. The shop also has a wide variety of delicious and original products. This bento has been its number one seller since being introduced in 2000.
 

FUKUOKA :Hakata Station "Nagasaki Kaido Shumai Bento"

FUKUOKA :Hakata Station "Nagasaki Kaido Shumai Bento"
長崎街道焼麦弁当
930 yen Chuoken

Two characteristic tastes of Kyushu: shumai & kashiwameshi
Half of this bento is mainly shumai dumplings, with grilled fish and stewed vegetables, and the other half is kashiwameshi (chicken, egg and nori on rice) in a bold, three-color, eye-catching design. In the ekiben world, the two yokozuna of shumai are Chuoken in the west, and Kiyoken in the east. In addition, kashiwameshi was first sold in Japan in 1913, and spread throughout the ekiben shops in Kyushu, and is now a standard style. The best part is that this filling meal comes at a reasonable price!
 

FUKUSHIMA:Koriyama Station "Omotenashi Joshi Ekiben"

FUKUSHIMA:Koriyama Station "Omotenashi Joshi Ekiben"
おもてなし女子駅弁
1,100 yen Fukumameya

The edible tourist pamphlet
This ekiben is a collection of dishes prepared by women from 12 cities and towns around Fukushima Prefecture, and is made for women. Divided into 12 compartments, each has a specialty in it. The female director of Fukumameya gathered women active in tourism and food, and developed an ekiben that makes the most of Fukushima ingredients. This ekiben is an opportunity for learning more about Fukushima. It was made with the desire to get people to visit the towns where the ingredients were produced. What's more, the wrapping paper uses an illustration by me. *Reservations required.
 

TOTTORI :Tottori Station "Sanin no Shun no Aji Tottori no Izakaya"

TOTTORI :Tottori Station "Sanin no Shun no Aji Tottori no Izakaya"
山陰の旬の味 とっとりの居酒屋
1,390 yen Abe Tottorido

Find yourself in an izakaya when you open the lid and see the Sanin Tottori foods
This superb bento is made carefully, taking much time and labor, using plenty of unusual ingredients from the mountains and ocean. Even the descriptions of the foods on the back of the wrapper are like in an izakaya. There are Chinese yam tempura, stewed baby squid and Welsh onions, fried ago plum and shiso roll, fried pond smelt in sweet and spicy vegetable sauce, tofu chikuwa in vinegared miso, ago chikuwa, sweet & sour scallions, crab claw, stewed Tottori beef, and more. I recommend having this with the local sake, which is made from the distinctive Tottori Gouriki sake rice, called Inabatsuru.