Short on time to pick which bento to buy before your train leaves? Let us help you choose.

One of the great things about traveling by train in Japan is the opportunity to try different ekiben, boxed lunches (bento) sold at train stations (eki). Packaged to-go and packed with local delicacies, ekiben are a great way to sample regional cuisine as you’re making your way to your next sightseeing destination.

However, there’s one unique difficulty that comes with the ekiben experience: with so many tasting boxed lunches to choose from, it’s often hard to make up your mind about which to buy in the short amount of time in which you’re transferring trains. So to help you narrow down the field, here are East Japan Railways’ five best ekiben, as rated by a survey of 26,251 participants in the categories of taste, presentation, and packaging. Oh, and you can purchase all of them at Tokyo Station.

Best taste score: Hakuyoken Seared Flounder Sushi (1,250 yen [US$11])

A specialty of the northeastern Tohoku region’s Miyagi Prefecture, underneath the lightly grilled flounder is a bed of vinegared sushi rice and shiso (Japanese basil) leaf.

Best presentation score: Aomori Luxurious Bento (1,300 yen)

Another ekiben originating in Tohoku, the highlights of this beautifully arranged meal are four pieces each of Hachinohemae Okisaba mackerel and Kaikyo salmon, both caught in the waters off Aomori Prefecture.

Highest packaging score: Fukkokuban Gotaimeshi (880 yen)

Coastal Kanagawa Prefecture can be seen on the covering for this sea bento containing sea bream and rice cooked together. This particular bento has been popular since it first went on sale in 1907, and the wrapper being used now is a recreation of the one that adorned the ekiben in the 1910s.

Second-highest overall score: Torimeshi Bento (880 yen)

It’s back to Tohoku again (this time Akita) for the home of the deceptively named Torimeshi Bento. Like taimeshi, torimeshi is a dish of chicken, rice, and vegetables cooked together, but the Torimeshi Bento also has sweet stewed scallops and fish sausage.

Highest overall score: Ebisenryo Chirashi (1,300 yen)

Chirashi refers to a mix of sushi ingredients, and that’s definitely the case with this offering from Niigata Prefecture. Open the bento box, and you’ll see a thick sheet of tamagoyaki Japanese-style egg, and waiting underneath are shrimp, squid, kohada (a saltwater fish), and unagi (freshwater eel), with vinegared sushi rice at the bottom.

▼ Ebisenryo Chirashi packaging

Ordinarily, regional ekiben are only sold within their respective prefecture of culinary origin. But as we mentioned above, you can find all of these bento for sale at Tokyo Station’s ekiben specialty shop, which is located inside the gates and called Matsuri.

▼ We tried the Ebisenryo Chirashi for ourselves…

▼ …and it’s definitely deserving of the title “East Japan’s best ekiben.”

However, even Matsuri only stocks so many ekiben of each type, so if you’re going to be passing through Tokyo Station on your travels in Japan, we recommend hitting up Matsuri as soon as step through the gates.

Top image: JR East
Insert images: JR East, SoraNews24
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he’s always happy to see Kanagawa Prefecture get some love.

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