Ekiben is a type of boxed meal or bento that is traditionally purchased at long distance railway stations in Japan. Some of my favorite YouTube foodies have videos of themselves eating ekibens and I’ve always wanted to try them. The containers can be made from plastic, wood or even ceramic. I’m sure the ceramic containers can get pricey. The food inside is definitely a work of art. The meals can be as simple as ham sandwiches to sushi. Please Google ekiben so you can see what they look like and how elaborate they can be.
I have not had the pleasure of eating an ekiben on a train in Japan, but I came as close as I can for now. My family went to a Japanese restaurant today that had ekiben on their menu. Of course I had to order it.
I ordered the Chashu ekiben or marinated pork belly with different pickled veggies. It was served in a wooden bowl which is traditional.
Look at all the colors! Underneath is seasoned rice. You can kind of see it peaking through at the bottom of the picture. There was a liberal sprinkle of nori flakes on top of it.
Let’s take a look at everything that came with my meal. We have the marinated pork belly and shrimp tempura of course. At the very top of the picture you have seaweed salad. There’s some white pickled radish in there as well. The purple in the middle is shibazuke, which is a mix of cucumbers and eggplants salted and brined with red shiso. Right next to it in green is kyurizuke. Kyurizuke is made with Japanese cucumbers and soy sauce. At the bottom of the picture you have squid salad. So much going on in this bowl!
This wrinkled looking ball is umeboshi. It’s a pickled plum. It was really salty. You’re supposed to eat it with rice and it offers a nice contrast to the delicate flavor. I actually like to eat dried, preserved plums that are covered in this salty and sweet seasoning powder. Do you know what I’m talking about? It’s an Asian snack.
The marinated pork belly was the best thing I’ve had in a while. I’m not sure if you can see it, but there’s three layers there. The top layer is obviously the fat. It was melt in your mouth good, but probably not so great for the cholesterol… The middle layer is white meat and the third is dark. Is that even right? Does pork have dark and white meat?
Anyway, the pork was so tender and because of the marinade had a sweetness to it. It was really rich, which explains why you get so many pickled vegetables with your meal. This ekiben was delicious! It doesn’t look like there’s a lot of food, but I couldn’t finish it. Abe has many other types of ekiben. You can get tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlet) or grilled unagi (eel) to name two. I think next time I may try the unagi.
The next time you’re at a Japanese restaurant try ordering an entree that isn’t sushi related. There’s so many wonderful Japanese dishes and this marinated pork belly is definitely one of them.