Eki 駅 + Ben 弁 = Ekiben 駅弁
What is an ekiben?
Ekiben plays a big role in why I love to travel by rail in Japan.
It’s a type of bento box you eat while you’re on the road. You buy the 弁当, or bento, at the 駅 (eki), or station, thus 駅弁 (ekiben). In many train stations across Japan, you can buy popular, and/or regional ekiben to satisfy your hunger during your travels.
Ekiben has been around for over 130 years, and there have been thousands and thousands of different types of ekiben. For the most part, they are made daily, and often include very fresh ingredients, like raw fish. There are regional and exclusive ekiben, as well as seasonal ones.
Here are some of the most popular ekiben, as well as some of my personal favorites. Enjoy!
Hipparidako Meshi ひっぱりだこ飯
Available at: Shin Kobe Station, Nishi-Akashi Station, Kobe Station, Osaka Station, Shin-Osaka Station, Kyoto Station.
This bento has been a favorite for many since it came out in 1998. Along with the decorative container, you are treated with several flavorful toppings, including a generous chunk of octopus, served on top of rice.
Hyogo Prefecture is famous for their octopus, and they are commonly caught using a pot, like shown below:
2. Kobayashi’s 網焼き牛たん弁当
Available at: Sendai Station
This bento is ready whenever you’re ready. All you have to do is pull the string, and in a few minutes you have yourself a warm, fresh bento with perfectly grilled beef tongue over rice and some pickles.
Beef tongue, or 牛タン (gyutan) is a famous dish in Sendai, and if you didn’t get a chance to try it at a restaurant, this is a great alternative!
Available: Ueno Station, Shinagawa Station, Omiya Station, Kawasaki Station, Totsuka Station, Shinjuku Station, Shin-Yokohama Station, Tokyo Station, Yokohama Station
Yokohama is known for their shumai, and this hit ekiben is available at various locations. On sale since 1954, this bento consists of rice, five shumai, and other classic bento items like salmon, karaage (fried chicken), and tamagoyaki, (omelette).
Available at: Ueno Station, Shinagawa Station, Ofuna Station, Shinjuku Station, Tokyo Station, Odawara Station
Originally on sale in 1899, this is the first sandwiches offered as an ekiben. These sandwiches are very simple, with just some ham, spicy mayo, and margarine on a soft, fluffy white bread. Real great if you want a light snack!
Available at: Ueno Station, Shinjuku Station, Tokyo Station, Osaka Station, Toyama Station, Kanazawa Station, Takaoka Station, Shin-Osaka Station
Toyama is famous for 鱒寿司 (masuzushi), which is a type of oshizushi, or pressed sushi. Masu, a type of trout, is vinegared, and served on top of sushi rice. It is then wrapped up and pressed within bamboo leaves.
Masuzushi has been around since the edo period, so if you ever get the chance, try this traditional classic out!
Available: Hakata Station, Kokura Station
Fugu, or pufferfish, is known as fuku in Fukushima, as fuku also means luck. The name of this ekiben is “Fuku (pufferfish) calls fuku (luck) - fuku-rice”, so it’s clearly a very lucky. Pufferfish is a delicacy in Japan, as it can be poisonous to humans if prepared inappropriately. However, this ekiben offers cooked and professionally prepared fuku for all to enjoy.
Available: JR Arita Station
Arita-yaki are porcelain products produced in the town of Arita of Shiga Prefecture. Not only do you get one of these beautiful, porcelain bowls, it also comes with an award-winning curry rice. This ekiben was the winner of the seventh JR Kyushu Ekiben Grand Prix.
Available: Asahikawa Station
This Hokkaido exclusive ekiben contains all of Hokkaido’s best seafood: ikura, crab, uni, and scallops. What more could you want?
Maesawa-gyu is a type of cow primarily grown in Iwate Prefecture, and is known for being one of Japan’s most expensive and branded beef. The genius makers of this bento created roast beef sushi with this extremely fatty and mouthwatering Maesawa beef. Truly a luxury you can afford with only 1350 yen.
Available: Okayama Station
This bento was inspired by the Okayama Korakuen, which is known to be one of three best gardens in Japan. With various dishes, it will definitely satisfy all your cravings. The bento changes three times a year to reflect the seasonal ingredients.