Join us on the bullet train as we uncover hidden treasure from Niigata.

Our Japanese-language reporter Masanuki Sunakoma was up in Niigata the other day, and before hopping on the Shinkansen back to Tokyo, he did what many passengers do — he stopped by a store at the station to buy an ekiben for the ride back home.

Ekiben, or train station bento, are a delightful part of travel culture in Japan, with different regions packing local specialties in exclusive meal boxes so that visitors can enjoy a taste of the region while they travel. There are always a huge variety of ekiben to choose from, so at the store Masanuki visited, he kept an eye out for the bentos that were low in stock, as this would indicate a popular seller.

That led him to the Ebi Senryo Chirashi, which, as it turns out, was voted the winner by travellers in East Japan Railways Company’s 2017 Ekiben Grand Prix.

▼ Ekiben buying tip — look for the one low in stock.

The ekiben was beautifully presented, with images of squid, shrimp, amberjack, and eel painted elegantly on the card on top of the box.

▼ The card acts as both part of the packaging and, once you’ve removed it, you can use it as a postcard.

Masanuki was already impressed by the ingenious packaging, but when he lifted the lid on the bento he was impressed again — look at all that egg!

Ebi Senryo Chirashi translates to “Shrimp 1000-ryo Scattering“, with “ryo” referring to the oval-shaped gold coins used in the pre-Meiji period and “chirashi” commonly used as a term for dishes scattered with a raw fish topping.

▼ While Masanuki was able to see some thinly sliced shelled shrimp on top of the egg, he wondered where the squid, amberjack and eel from the postcard were hiding.

▼ Lifting one of the egg slices, which was designed to loook like a gold ryo coin, Masanuki discovered…

▼ …seafood treasure!

Kelp had been spread over the rice, acting as a bed for the eel, which was coated in a delicious soy-sauce based kabayaki sauce, and the amberjack, which had been marinated in vinegar and wasabi soy sauce.

Beneath the top cluster of egg “coins” was squid, prepared ichiban-boshi style (salted and dried overnight), alongside some bright-looking peeled shrimp, which had been marinated in vinegar. It was like searching for hidden treasure, and Masanuki enjoyed every second of it.

Every morsel was delicious, with an elegant balance of flavours that showcased the best of Niigata, and it was made all the more special by the fact that Masanuki could gaze out the window at the idyllic Niigata countryside while he ate it.

Priced at 1,580 yen (US$11.24), this ekiben was the perfect way to end Masanuki’s trip to Niigata, and he’s glad to know that if he’s homesick for the area again, he can always stop by Tokyo Station to buy it. Because at Ekibenya in Tokyo Station, you can get pretty much every ekiben there is, including ones shaped like freight containers.

Related: Shrimp Senryo Chirashi
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