Before boarding the Shinkansen, it’s common to grab one of the many ekiben on sale at Japanese train stations. Ekiben are traditional lunch boxes that come in many different types and are equipped with delicacies from across the country depending on where you board your train. ‘Eki’ means station in Japanese, and ‘ben’ comes from bento, or a lunch box. Sampling your destination’s local food while riding the comfortable bullet train is definitely the best way to start your journey.
Usually eaten as is, this could be slightly odd to foreign visitors who are accustomed to warm meals. However, Japan wouldn’t be one of the nations with the highest technical standards if they couldn’t find a remedy to that problem.Therefore, some of the delightful ekiben contain self-heating pouches below the lunch boxes. By pulling a string attached to the side of the box, a chemical reaction starts inside the pouch and the meal starts to heat up. After five minutes you can open the lid and dig into a hot and fresh meal – microwaves not needed!
In other words, you can enjoy a freshly made bento anytime and anywhere. This describes Japanese thoughtfulness in its best way, serving only high-quality meals to their precious customers – teinei-culture at its best.
One of the best stocked ekiben shops is Ekiben-ya Matsuri on the first floor of Tokyo Station’s central passage. They offer approximately 170 different kinds of bento lunch boxes from all over Japan that will set you back between ¥600 and ¥1,200. One of the most popular bentos at this shop is the self-heating beef tongue bento, a specialty of Sendai in the Miyagi Prefecture. Enjoy thick slices of grilled beef placed over warm and fluffy rice in a matter of minutes.