In my recent visit to Japan, I was very priviledged to be received and hosted by Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co Ltd to visit their Ekiben-ya Matsuri store at Tokyo station and also an exclusive behind-the-scenes trip to their NRE Daimasu Factory (read Part 2).
Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co Ltd (NRE) is the comprehensive food business of JR East Group.
It was such an amazing day to be able to exchange our thoughts on bento and ekiben culture.
I mentioned very briefly about Ekiben on my blog about one and half years ago. Ekiben ‘駅弁’ translated into English means train bento (eki= train station and ben=is the short form of bento). Some of you who have been to Japan might have been seen some of these stores around at train stations, especially at Shinakansen (bullet train) stations.
The variety of ekiben solds across Japan is in the range of thousands, in fact over 3000 different types of ekiben! And new ekibens are added to the menu and plus seasonal limited editions mean that it is quite impossible to taste all the ekibens in Japan!
There are even guidebooks about ekibens too, in which the more famous/unique ekibens across Japan is introduced to the readers.
As shinakansens and trains are very much an integral part of many living and working in Japan, it is common to enjoy ekiben lunchbox meals during the journey.
Next time when you are taking the shinakansen, remember to check out the ekiben sold and get some for yourself.
It is also very interesting as the different prefectures/train stations have their well-known and popular ekibens! Many of these ekibens also showcase the local food produce and specialities. For instance, you will find crab ekiben at Hokkaido, or unique Persimmon Leaf Sushi ekiben at Nara. There are also seasonal options like sakura theme ekiben during the spring season. Some of the ekibens are also made by famous old established restaurants in that area.
Not to mention that some of these ekiben comes with really cool and unique boxes, some of which can even be reused! Some of their wrapping paper also depicts the scenery, season or a specialty of the particular town.
I remembered that being so excited when I first visited Ekiben-ya Matsuri back in 2013. A trip to Japan is never completed until one has tried ekiben.
Ekiben-ya Matsuri is one of the largest retailers of ekiben boxed meals sold on trains and at stations for travelers. It offers a lineup of over 170 specialties from Hokkaido in the north to Kyushu in the south. Part of their appeal is that they invite regional bento makers to come and cook at the shop so that customers get to taste regional specialties in the freshest way possible.
Check out the delicious looking ekibens in the sample display! I want to eat all of them!
Open as early as 530am selling freshly made ekibens and bento, this store is always so busy and popular with customers. An interesting board that charts the different ekibens and where they are from.
Each bento comes with a small write up and visual explaining the contents, price and a visual representation of what to expect in the yummy lunch box.
What to eat? I personally like to go for the seasonal limited edition ekibens, or popular ones.
One must-try is this special Tokyo Station 100th anniversary bento.
This special lunchbox was created in collaboration with restaurateurs and employees working at Tokyo station. For just ¥1,800 ou will get to enjoy 9 Edo dishes, including kasuzuke (pickled in sake) flounder and traditional umani (sweet simmered vegetables and fish).
Want to see more ekibens?
Just check out these mouthwatering pictures of the beautiful ekibens by NRE. Photos are courtesy of NRE.
What I appreciate the most is the amount of effort and care put into to ensure freshly made, hygienic, yummy ekibens and bento. Check out what goes behind making these delicious beautiful ekibens and bento!
Menu site (selected listings, there are so many more in the actual store)
Address：Central Street, 1st floor inside the ticket gates of JR Tokyo Station