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On March 14, the new extension of the Nagano Shinkansen line will open, connecting Toyama and Ishikawa Prefectures to Tokyo. This is exciting news for Chubu region locals and Tokyoites alike, as the trip from the northern central prefectures to Tokyo will take a mere 2.5 hours, so everyone is preparing for some fun day trips!

What’s the best part of Shinkansen day trips (other than effortlessly speeding through beautiful Japanese countryside)? Ekiben! Ekiben are lunch boxes sold in train stations, specifically to be taken on long train rides. One of our Tokyo-based writers visited a famous ekiben shop, which sells over 170 bento box options and ate the top three kinds. Do they deserve their rankings at the top?

▼ Ekiben-ya Matsuribento shop.


The shop, Ekiben-ya Matsuri, is located in Tokyo Station, a major hub for Shinkansen travel. They are most famous for offering a wide array of lunch boxes, including famous bento styles from around the country, as well as some original creations.

Although everything looks delicious, experience tells us that they aren’t always as good as they seem, but hey, with over 170 options, the shop can’t win them all. Our writer, P.K. Sanjun, decided to play it safe this time around and asked the shop tenant for the top three most popular bento boxes.

#3 Gokusen Charcoal Grilled Beef Tongue Bento (1350 yen, US$11.50)


Okay, don’t let the “beef tongue” part scare you away. Beef tongue is a specialty of Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture and is basically just tender and delicious beef (tongues are muscles after all). The meat is cut into thick slices, grilled over a charcoal fire and served over a bowl of barley rice. Apparently, the charcoal flavor really comes through and it is “wildly delicious.”


While the food itself was great, a pretty awesome part of this bento was the container. For those who have never encountered one before, meet the self-heating container. Although not yet widely used, this new box is gaining popularity in the take-out food community.

▼ All you have to do is pull one string, the box does the rest.


▼ The bento as it self-heats.


No need to eat cold meat when you could just pull a string on the box to set off a chemical reaction in a pouch inside, generating enough heat to warm your food in less than ten minutes?! This is a pretty cool invention!

Anyway, back to the food.

#2 Ebi Senryou Chirashi Bento (1300 yen, US$11.50)


This bento box hails from Niigata Prefecture, which could explain why our Tokyoite, Sanjun, didn’t know what to expect. Upon opening the box he was face-to-face with what looked like just a box of tamago-yaki (Japanese omelet)– the number two most popular bento couldn’t possibly just be tamago-yaki, right?


To his surprise and pleasure, he discovered four kinds of seafood hiding under the eggs: shrimp, squid, eel and kohada (a kind of fish). Despite his first reaction, Sanjun found the tamago-yaki especially delicious, not to mention filling.


The real gastronomic joy, however, came from eating the seafood, the vinegared sushi rice, and the omelet all together in one bite. It might not be the first combination you’d think of, but Sanjun deemed it even better than the beef tongue!


#1 Beef Domannaka Bento (1150 yen, US$10)

Out of all 170 options, this lunch box is supposed to be the absolute best, but does it live up to its title as number one?


Domannaka (literally, “right in the center”) is a specialty bento from Yonezawa, Yamagata Prefecture, which is known for its beef and delicious domannaka variety of rice. Apparently, this rice is particularly good at soaking up juices and sauces, making it a great partner for the secret sauce topped beef.

▼ “There is no one who wouldn’t love the taste of this.”


Although Ekiben-ya Matsuri is not an authentic Yamagata establishment, Sanjun believed it to be the real deal; they knocked it out of the park! The rice was the prefect firmness and soaked up the delicious, yakiniku style sauce. He claims that “There is no one who wouldn’t love this taste,” save for the vegetarians out there. This bento definitely deserves its spot at number one.

Sanjun also got a few other bento just to try.

▼ Otsumami Bento


▼ Otsumami Bento features two layers of side dishes.


▼ Just because he likes it, ika meshi bento (squid stuffed with rice)


▼ For the reasonable price of 650 yen (US$5.50), you could buy two boxes!


Hopefully this review makes you want to hop on a train and eat a delicious bento while whizzing across the country. Between both the new and old Shinkansen lines, you have plenty of destinations to choose from and with Ekiben-ya Matsuri, you won’t run out of bento options either! Enjoy!

Photos: RocketNews24

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