What is Ekiben?
Eating while traveling doesn’t have to be stressful with Japan’s ekiben tradition. Based on the timeless bento box approach to meals, these dishes consist of Japanese cuisine served in a portable container. Consisting of rice, vegetables, and a small amount of meat or fish, the dishes are also made to be filling and nutritious – not your typical traveling fare.
The name ekiben itself invites you to eat while riding the long-distance trains: the word eki translates to “station”. Train stations often have large booths filled with a variety of affordable ekiben to choose from. Found in all over the country, ekiben make eating delicious, traditional food on the go easier than ever.
Examples of Popular Ekiben
Ekiben can come in all shapes and sizes, and with a seemingly endless variety of components. When traveling the country, you may encounter booths filled with delicious options to choose from. Some stations even have entire stores dedicated to this unique Japanese tradition! Here are some of the more popular types of ekiben you might find during your journey:
Shinkansen E7 Kei Bento
This bento box, found in Tokyo Station, is shaped like a bullet train. Because the bento is reusable, you can take the train home to pack lunch in again! The meal is a classic one, with rice balls (onigiri) pickled radish, and more.
Yonezawa Beef Domannaka Bento
The most popular ekiben in Yamagata Prefecture is the Yonezawa Beef Domannaka, consisting of thin slices of juicy, seasoned beef over rice that soaks up the sauce for a delicious, umami meal.
Masu No Sushi
This style of ekiben is arguably the most classic of the bunch, dating back over 300 years. Pressed salmon and trout sushi is served with rice and wrapped in bamboo leaves for a super portable and traditional meal. Usually found at the Toyama Station, it can be sliced and eaten like cake!
Sparkling Sea Bento
Found in the Miyagi Prefecture, this bento is a salmon lover’s dream. With thick filets of juicy salmon sushi over rice and heaps of sockeye salmon roe (ikura) that pop in your mouth, you can’t go wrong with the Sparkling Sea Bento.
If eel is your thing, look no further than the Anago Meshi ekiben found at Miyajimaguchi Station in Hiroshima. With rice cooked in eel broth and roasted eel layered on top, this bento box is also served with three kinds of pickles!
Imagine having a hot meal that you brought yourself while on a train! Some ekiben come with a string you pull to create a chemical reaction in a pouch located below the bento box, which heats the food. These can be found in many train stations across the country.