14 Select Regional Ekiben Lunch Boxes from All Over Japan
Ekiben lunch is a culture that is unique to Japan. There are so many different varieties that there is no saying how many kinds there are. There are some that have become famous throughout the years and some that are unique. We took the liberty of selecting 14 ekiben that we recommend that you buy and try if you find them during your travel throughout Japan. Photo: https://www.g-mark.org/
The History of Ekiben
Ekiben mainly refers to packed lunches that people traveling by railway eat on the train. It is said that the first ekiben started in 1885, when two rice balls and takuan pickles were packed and sold at Utsunomiya Station of Tochigi Prefecture.
1. Masu no Sushi (Trout Sushi)
ますのすし, Toyama Station, Toyama Prefecture
Masu zushi (a type of pressed sushi) is a representative local dish of Toyama. It was sold as an ekiben for the first time in 1912 and now it is a famous ekiben that everyone knows. When you open it up to eat, you unfold the bamboo leaves one by one so it looks beautiful visually as well.
2. Tori Meshi (Chicken Rice)
鶏めし, Odate Station, Akita Prefecture
3. Kaisen Kowappa (Small Lunchbox of Seafood)
海鮮小わっぱ, Morioka Station, Aomori Prefecture
Generous serving of seafood such as salmon roe, uni (sea urchin), abalone, and crab is piled on a bed of rice. You get all the popular seafood toppings all to yourself. It is an ekiben that is luxurious and satisfying.
4. Daruma Bento (Dharma Bento)
だるま弁当, Takasaki Station, Gunma Prefecture
The bento is filled with mountain vegetables on top of shoyu-seasoned rice. The lunchbox is shaped like a Daruma doll and once you finish eating the contents, you can use it as a piggybank; a special memento from your trip.
5. Inro Bento (Pillbox Bento)
印籠弁当, Mito Station, Ibaraki Prefecture
Inro, the nesting pillbox that is a symbolic item of Mito Kōmon (former vice-shogun and retired second daimyo of the Mito Domain) is what inspired the shape of the lunch box. The dishes are seasoned with plum, which is also associated with the Mito area. Enjoy with a serving of seasoned rice.
6. Ebi Senryo Chirashi (Chrashi Sushi with Shrimp)
えび千両ちらし, Niigata Station, Niigata Prefecture
When you open the box, the first thing you see is the fluffy sheets of cooked egg. What?! You may think at first, but underneath the eggs there lays hidden other toppings such as unagi (eel), kohada (gizzard shad), squid and shrimp. The sushi rice which has walnuts mixed in is a distinct flavor.
7. Uji-ie Kaki-meshi (Oyster Rice)
氏家かきめし, Akkeshi Station, Hokkaido
Plump oyster and rice cooked in the brine of the oyster is filled with rich flavors. It is one of the famous ekiben of Hokkaido along with the Ikameshi that will be introduced later on.
8. Toge no Kamameshi (Rice in a Kettle)
峠の釜めし, Yokokawa Station, Gunma Prefecture
The idea of trying to serve a hot meal on the go was what gave birth to the idea of serving in a heavy mashiko-ceramic kettle. It was first sold over 50 years ago. At the time, this ekiben in the kettle was innovative and got a lot of attention.
9. Gyuniku Domannaka (Beef Right in the Center)
牛肉どまんなか, Yonezawa Station, Yamagata Prefecture
This is another famous ekiben that you may have heard of. They use a generous amount of Yonezawa beef that has been seasoned with a special shoyu based sauce. They have recently started selling a curry flavor version as well.
10. Ika Meshi (Squid and Rice)
いかめし, Mori Station, Hokkaido
This is a long loved ekiben since its launch in 1941. 2 pieces of squid that is packed with sticky rice on the inside; it tastes good even when it’s cold.
11. Tamano Ontama Meshi (Rice and Ontama Style Eggs)
たまの温玉めし, Okayama Station, Okayama Prefecture
There is the creamy ontama (egg cooked in hot springs to produce soft silky egg whites and custard like yolk) on top of anago (conger) rice. The aroma of the sweet soy sauce-based kabayaki-sauce is mouthwatering.
12. Gyutan Bento (Beef Tongue Bento)
牛タン弁当, Sendai Station, Miyagi Prefecture
The flavors of Sendai, Miyagi – where gyutan originated, are reproduced as an ekiben. The combination of gyutan and barley rice is addictive. There is a unique little feature; when you pull the string that is coming out of the bento, the bento immediately becomes heated up.
13. Hipparidako Meshi (Octopus and Rice)
ひっぱりだこ飯, Kobe Station, Hyogo Prefecture
Tako or octopus is an indispensable ingredient in Japanese cuisine (sushi, takoyaki). That very ingredient is used in this ekiben. The ceramic that is shaped like a vessel used to capture octopus is a distinct feature of this ekiben. The humorous ekiben is what you would expect from the humor-loving people of kansai area.
14. Bokoi Meshi (Meal from Bokoi)
母恋めし, Bokoi Station, Hokkaido
When you open it, you are surprised by the large surf clam inside. Inside the shells of the clam are rice balls made with the surf clam meat cooked in it. You can enjoy the texture of the pieces of clam. This is said to be a phantom-ekiben as they only sell 15-40 servings a day. Nowadays, it seems there are people that come to Japan from overseas just for this bokoi meshi.
*The ekiben introduced in the article are not always exclusive to the stations that are indicated. In some cases they are available at neighboring stations as well.
Ekiben Store Matsuri
And here, a specialty shop for ekiben that sells a variety of local ekiben from all around Japan. It is the Ekiben Store, Matsuri, located inside of Tokyo Station. They offer over 170 types of ekiben. Some of the ekiben we have introduced today can be purchased here in Tokyo as well! We invite you to stop by! As you can see, it was extremely crowded when we visited. Information: Map