There’s only one station in Japan where you can find these canned versions of famous boxed lunches.

If you’re looking for evidence to support the statement that what makes travel truly special isn’t the destination, but the journey, you’ll find plenty of it in the form of Japan’s ekiben. A contraction of eki bento, meaning “station boxed lunches,” ekiben are pre-packaged meals featuring local delicacies. For foodies, grabbing an ekiben from a station shop and then enjoying it on the train, watching the scenery drift by as you eat, can be as memorable as any sightseeing spot on your itinerary.

Since just about every part of Japan has a special representative ingredient or recipe, there’s a wide variety of different things you’ll find inside different ekiben. The one thing all ekiben have in common, though, is that they’re boxed. So imagine our surprise when we came across…ekiben in cans?!?

▼ 駅弁缶 = ekiben can

We found these inside Tokyo’s Shimabashi Station, at a canned foods specialty shop called Cannederful (Japan will never pass up an opportunity to make a pun), which is the only place they’re available. There’s a certain logic to that, since Shimbashi was the first station on Japan’s very first passenger train line, which opened in 1872 and connected Tokyo with Yokohama, two cities to the south.

▼ “Shimbashi exclusive” says the text on the base of the cans.

However, the inspiration for the contents of the canned ekiben doesn’t come from Tokyo or Yokohama, but rather from two popular station boxed lunches sold further west. One of them is Nagoya Kochin Tori Meshi, a chicken and rice bento sold in Nagoya that uses kochin, a local chicken breed prized for its meaty texture and sweet succulence. The other is Tajima Beef Gyumeshi, a beef and rice ekiben popular in Hyogo Prefecture (the same prefecture as Kobe). Like Nagoya kochin, Tajima beef is known for its delicious and well-balanced flavor.

The canned ekiben sell for 899 yen (US$6) each or 1,799 yen as a set. After taking a moment to appreciate the whimsical steam locomotive illustrations on the labels, our reporter Mr. Sato, who’d drawn taste-test duties, cracked them open, starting with the Nagoya torimeshi.

Ordinarily, a Japanese boxed lunch consists of a main dish, rice, and some sides. In the case of Cannederful’s canned ekiben, though, you just get the main dish and the rice. Still, the visuals immediately got Mr. Sato’s mouth watering, with more chicken than he’d been expecting.

The flavor delivered on the promise made by that delicious appearance, too. For torimeshi, the rice and chicken are cooked together, and this means the subtly sweet notes of the kochin7s flavor profile had seeped into the rice. Add in the bonito and kombu stock seasonings, and it makes for a simple but very satisfying eating experience.

Moving on to the Tajima gyumeshi, this too is a dish where the meat and rice are cooked together. Neither Nagoya kochin nor Tajima beef are particularly cheap, so once again Mr. Sato was pleasantly surprised by how much meat there is.

The flavor is a little fancier here, with sake, mirin (a sweeter sake used only for cooking), and soy sauce moromi (a sort of fermented soy sauce). Still, it’s a delicate mix of flavors, each coaxing your taste buds into noticing them without aggressively demanding their attention.

Though the canned ekiben didn’t deliver the variety you get with an actual boxed lunch, Mr. Sato was more than pleased with both of them. They’re not flashy or decadent, but they both have an old-school, rustic simplicity to them. He could imagine these being the kinds of meals he’d have eaten had he been travelling across the country back in the old days, riding a train like the ones on the cans’ labels, and if a tin of canned food can take you on that sort of imaginative mental journey, it’s a taste trip he’s happy to make.

Related: Cannederful official website
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