Part of the fun of traveling on long-distance trains in East Asia is eating the lunch boxes that they sell within the train network, called ekiben in Japanese. Everyone knows how outstanding Japanese ekiben are, and Taiwanese ekiben are just as delicious. The other day, I hopped on a Chinese bullet train and prepared to find out where the Chinese version stacked up!

Just as in Japan, a lady pushes a cart full of ekiben up and down the aisles of the bullet train, calling out for customers who answer back if they want to buy something.

My ekiben cost 35 yuan (about 420 yen), and I added a 5-yuan (60-yen) cup of instant noodles just for the heck of it. I expected something pretty exquisite since China is the land of 6-won (71-yen) fried rice.

The cart lady handed over the piping hot ekiben. The plastic film over the top bore the China Railway High-speed “CHR” logo, leading me to believe that it must have been an ekiben you could only buy on the high-speed lines. Little by little, I peeled back the stubborn film and came face-to-face with my ekiben.

My ekiben consisted of rice, spicy simmered beef, seasoned boiled eggs, some kind of mincemeat, and a fish and vegetable side dish. It looked tasty at first glance.

The first bite, however, was . . . not good.  All right, I’ll just come out with it. I nearly threw up in my mouth. Everything tasted like plastic, vinyl, or some kind of other sickening chemical flavor.

Even my instant noodles were gag-worthy and tasted of some unspeakable chemical abomination. I tried to finish the entire thing, but I valued my health and sanity too much to see it through.

I rode around on three different CRH bullet trains and, though I scoured the crowds, I saw hardly anyone eating the ekiben. It might have been because they were expensive, but I think that everyone already knew about the revolting taste.

Picture: RocketNews24