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What is Ekiben?

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

I know you’ve always wondered what the heck an Ekiben is. Okay, maybe you weren’t wondering until now, but at least you can win this question at Jeopardy. More importantly, you will now know a very important piece of Japanese culture. An Ekiben is actually two words combined: “Eki” means train station, and “ben” is short for “bento,” which is a Japanese box full of one meal’s worth of delicious food. So you’ve probably guessed by now, an Ekiben is a box meal you can buy at the train station.

For many Japanese people, Ekiben is very special because it symbolizes the beginning of a fun and exciting trip. My parents love to travel. Since I was very young, we traveled all over Japan. I especially loved getting my Ekiben. My mother let me choose mine and it made me feel like a grown-up. It’s common to have meals on a long-distance train. Having your favorite food with your family watching golden rice paddies passing by and the shining blue ocean suddenly appearing after a long dark tunnel was just incredible. We associate Ekiben with fond memories. That’s one of the reasons people buy them at food halls even when they’re not traveling. That’s how special they are to us

Ekiben isn't your typical fast food. Every region in the nation takes pride in its special meal boxes. Train stations are literally a gastronomy journey in itself. The food and packaging can offer a glimpse into that region's culture. All are conveniently wrapped, but some can be preserved as distinctive keepsakes. Some Ekiben ingredients/styles have lasted for hundreds of years, while others have been popular for decades. Why don’t you pick up Ekiben while you’re in Japan and create unforgettable memories?

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