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Sunday, October 2, 2016

Ekiben and Japanese Train Stations

Southern California does not have the best public transportation, especially where I live in the suburbs of Orange County. When I lived with my parents, we didn't even have street lights or sidewalks, let alone a train or subway system.

Japan, on the other hand, has amazing public transportation. I can see why so many Japanese don't have cars. It's like New York City, it's almost a bother to have a car. The shinkasen, or bullet train, was possibly the coolest form of transportation I've taken in quite a while. The only train that I had ever taken prior to this trip to Japan was the train at Disneyland (no, stop laughing, I'm not joking).

The shinkasen reached top speeds of 200mph but was so smooth and quiet I fell asleep on it quite a few times. I was worried about getting motion sickness as I'm prone to it in cars and I was still a bit jet-lagged when I stepped on my first shinkasen to head to Hiroshima, but it was so butter smooth I was able to read without any headache.

We were all very excited to try ekiben (駅弁) as well. We had heard of the delicious train bentos sold at the train stations that showcased local cuisine, and I made sure to take tons of pictures.

I apparently missed the golden age of ekiben, which occurred in the 1980s. Back then, the trains were slower and plane rides were so expensive, a lot of people traveled by train. And since the trains were slower, more people relied on ekiben as a meal while traveling. Now, with the shinkasen reaching top speeds of 150-200mph, you might not get to finish that meal! Despite this, ekiben are still a thriving aspect of most train stations in Japan and I made a point to snap some pictures to share with you.

Tons of Hiroshima souvenirs!
In Hiroshima, we also had our first taste of the the delight that is Japanese train stations. They have souvenir shops filled with local goods, bakeries, restaurants, ekiben shops, and more. One place even sold decorated cakes in the shape of totoro and hello kitty!

A beautiful bakery in the station
Compared to our very underdeveloped and utilitarian public transportation stops (the train station near us has a vending machine that has been vandalized and abandoned, but hey it at least has a restroom), this was a fun place to explore, people watch, and try some local food without getting lost.

We had two ekiben in hiroshima: an anago (salt water eel) bento and a supercool Hiroshima Carps baseball bento.

My brother and I were deeply entertained and endlessly entertained by the baseball bento, which was huge and featured a baseball decorated rice ball and even a custom kamaboko (fish cake) with the Carps symbol on it. It even came with baseball cards and a wet napkin. It was an awesome ekiben and we couldn't get over how big it was.

The anago bento was a good example of showcasing local cuisine as anago is a speciality of hiroshima, compared to the more widespread and popular fresh water eel, unagi. We enjoyed finding the ekiben that showcased the regional flavor of city we were in. Of course, you can find ekiben that aren't decorated with cartoon Carp players, but what's the fun in that?

In Kyoto (to skip ahead a bit), we shared a ekiben filled with their local specialty of lightly pickled mackerel sushi, called sabazushi, in a bento that also had some complementary maki rolls and some inarizushi for a very tasty trio I featured as the top photo.

In addition to the ekiben sold outside the train, I enjoyed the fact that the train attendants sold snacks in a little cart they wheeled down the aisle. I tried some beer snacks on the way to hiroshima and they were delightful! The peanuts and slightly spicy-sweet rice crackers were nothing new, but the addition of pumpkin seeds was a novel idea! Perhaps I'll have to recreate this mix for a post?

All in all, I didn't think I would have so much fun waiting at a train station, or traveling across the nation, but I certainly did! Ekiben were a great way to easily explore the unique tastes that each region boasted. We were on such a time crunch, I wish we could have gotten lost and explored some neighborhoods and tried more tiny restaurants, but this was a great way to quickly try some specialties while on a whirlwind trip.
A quick snap of the snack cart!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like it was fun! I love how the Japanese get really into it, like the Baseball ekiben!