Similar in so many ways, except one which sets them apart.

Ekiben (train station bentos) are a popular choice of meal for travellers on the Shinkansen bullet train in Japan, but it’s not the only place in the world where you can get a cute onboard meal. According to our Taiwan-based reporter Yui Imai, they have them on board the Taiwan High Speed ​​Rail as well, and to show us just how great they were, she purchased one while she was on the train from Taipei to Tainan.

The bento was sold from an onboard cart, similar to the ones on the Shinkansen in Japan that are soon to be discontinued on 31 October. Eating and drinking is prohibited on the MRT subway and buses, but food and drinks are allowed on the Taiwan High Speed ​​Rail, with the sales cart selling items such as drinks, sweets, ice cream, and bread.

Passengers wanting to make a purchase from the cart can either ask to see a menu or peruse the menu online. In August, when Yui was travelling, there were three different types of bento available:

・Taiwanese-style pork cutlet bento
・Pepper-flavoured chicken cutlet bento 
・Vegetarian lunch box with vegetable rolls

All the bento were priced at NT$100 (463 yen [US$3.14]), and when Yui purchased the Taiwanese style pork cutlet bento and a bottle of water (NT$20), made in collaboration with Taiwan High Speed ​​Rail and Japanese illustrator Kanahei, her bill came to NT$120.

The bright pink bento box had an illustration of a bear sightseeing in Taiwan, and it had the word “pork” written on it in English and Japanese (“ポーク”).

▼ The cuteness extends all the way to the sides of the box.

The pink hues of the bento were perfectly matched by the pink hues of the bottled water, which featured an illustration of Pisuke & Usagi, two of Kanahei’s characters, wearing caps like railway employees.

Lifting the lid on the bento revealed a beautiful spread of meat and vegetables, with half a boiled egg on the side and rice beneath it all.

The star of the show was clearly the huge pork cutlet, and while everything was beautifully laid out in a similar manner to a Japanese bento, there was one thing that made it entirely different — it was served warm. 

Unlike Japanese ekiben, which are usually sold cold or at room temperature, Taiwanese ekiben are toasty and warm, and Yui says this makes them even more delicious. The meat was thick and juicy, with a strong soy sauce-based seasoning  that went well with the rice, and the vegetables added colour while creating a well-balanced meal.

If Yui’s bento has you salivating for a train station bento in Taiwan, there’s one thing to keep in mind — they can only be purchased on trains departing from Nangang and Zuoying–Jiucheng Stations, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., which are essentially lunch and dinner times.

You can also purchase ekiben at stores inside stations on the line (like the one pictured below), where they’re sold under the name “High-speed Railway Bento”. However, sales are only limited to the same hours — 10:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

So if you’re ever travelling on the Taiwan High Speed ​​Rail, be sure to keep an eye out for the bento boxes. They’ll charm you with their warmth and their cuteness, just like the bent postboxes in Taipei.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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