The food available on Japanese trains is called ekiben, which is a specific type of bento boxed meal sold on board and at train stations. These boxed meals usually come with disposable chopsticks or spoons.
Unlike the types of food offered on many other countries' trains, ekiben are rich in variety, exquisite, and delicious. They have, in fact, become part of train travel culture in Japan.
One of the unique pleasures of traveling in Japan is to enjoy a local train bento while enjoying the scenery outside the window.
Most train stations in Japan have shops or vendors that sell ekiben, which are all delicately packed and have a wide variety of ingredients. It is said that there are as many as 5,000 kinds of ekiben in the country.
The shape and material of the bento boxes, the origin of the ingredients, and even the cooking method will vary depending on the location of the station. You can learn about the local food culture and taste the local flavors when you try the ekiben.
The most famous ekiben shops are at Tokyo Station — these are known as the "bento museums" in Tokyo. They are located on the first and underground floors. These shops offer about 200 kinds of ekiben from all over the country.
The Beef Domannaka, Kiyoken Shumai Bento, Meat Yazawa Kuroge Wagyu Hamburg Bento, and Takimoto Zeitaku Mille-feuille are among the most popular ekiben, which are considered essential purchases before getting on a train.
Another impressive feature of Japanese ekiben is the creative packaging and containers. Ekiben containers are made from plastic, wood, ceramic, or even handcrafted lacquerware. The packaging is often made in a variety of exquisite shapes.
Ekiben are very affordable. The price of each one ranges between 700 and 1,200 yen, or US$7–12.
Japanese trains don't have a dining car. Some long-distance trains have vending machines or refreshment trolleys selling ekiben as well as snacks, beer, and soft drinks. The vending machines and trolleys accept both credit cards and cash. The choice of ekiben on board is limited, however.
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