These ekiben are a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

Our Japanese-language reporter K. Masami loves train station bento, or “ekiben” as they’re known in Japan. Not only do these delightful boxes of food evoke a sense of travel, they also offer a rare chance to try specialties exclusive to particular regions, so Masami always picks up an ekiben whenever she gets the chance.

The past six months have been particularly great for Masami, as she’s been able to buy an ekiben at Kyoto Station once a week. This has given her an extensive knowledge of what’s available, so she’s compiled a list of her top five recommendations for us that are all around 1,000 yen (US$7.20). If you’re passing through Kyoto Station, these are the top five ekiben to keep an eye out for, especially during the autumn season.

Autumn Taste (950 yen) by Awajiya

This particular ekiben is only available until 30 November, as the chestnuts, sweet potato, and momiji (maple leaf)-shaped carrots inside all have a very autumn flair. Awajiya is a famous producer of exceptional ekiben in the Kansai region in and around Kyoto — other specialties they’ve produced include the JR Freight Container Bento — so you’ll never go wrong with any of their offerings.

▼ With takikomi gohan as the main dish here, along with a plethora of side dishes in vivid colours, this ekiben is a feast for the senses.

Uzumasa Noriben (970 yen) by Kyoto Bento Specialty Store Hokusai

Noriben is a classic bento for any day of the week, and usually contains a few staple ingredients like fried fish, bonito fish flakes and a sheet of grilled nori (seaweed). However, this noriben is a classy one that includes some exceptionally made ingredients like namafu dengaku, a Kyoto specialty made with wheat gluten and short-grained mochi rice (pictured top right in the box below).

▼ Plus, the packaging has a beautiful old-school feel to it.

Toritenju Permeated with the Deliciousness of Omi Local Soy Sauce (790 yen) by Nanyoken

“Tori” means “chicken”, “tenju” is a boxed lunch with tempura, and this tempura chicken meal is complemented with brewed soy sauce from Omi Province, known today as Shiga Prefecture. It’s not always sold at Kyoto Station so if you see it, don’t miss the chance to try it. First of all, the price is reasonable, and the brewed soy sauce is absolutely delicious, complementing not only the fried chicken but the layer of minced chicken beneath it.

Incidentally, the “Kyoto-style Dashimaki and Beef Sukiju” (1,090 yen) by the same company is also worth a shout-out, as the dashimaki rolled egg omelette  is light and fluffy, while the beef is soft and delicious.

Okame Bento (980 yen) by Maneki Foods

The Okame Bento makes a great impact with the image of okame — a smiling Japanese woman derived from the goddess of mirth who brings happiness and good fortune — on the lid of the bento.

It’s not only the outside that’s beautiful, as the inside is gorgeous too, with seasoned rice topped with conger eel, minced chicken, and beef. It’s a hearty meal that’s rich in flavour, delivering a sense of happiness with every mouthful.

Railway Opening’s 150th Anniversary Commemoration “Reissued” Ekiben

The final item in our top five is a “reissued” ekiben, which replicates the bentos of yesteryear, and there are nine types available to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the opening of the railways.

Companies like the aforementioned Awajiya, as well as Nanyoken, Maneki Shokuhin, and Abe Tottori-do, famous for “Crab Sushi”, have all made bento boxes under the reissued theme, complete with old-school packaging.

The retro designs on the boxes are beautiful, and customers who purchase these commemorative ekiben also receive a free commemorative mini plastic file while stocks last. Masami only tasted the Awajiya version, but she says it’s one that shouldn’t be missed, especially if you’re someone with a nostalgia for old-time rail travel.

So there you have it — the top five ekiben to buy at Kyoto Station. All of them were purchased at around 8:00 a.m. at Ekiben Nigiwai (pictured above) on the north-south passage at Kyoto Station, and according to staff, there’s even more bento available just after noon to cater for the lunchtime crowds.

It’s a great place to pick up a cheap and cheerful meal while you’re travelling in the area, and don’t forget you can also pick up some souvenir cake cans for the journey home too!

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