Ekiben from Otaru, Hokkaido

Ekiben

Ekiben (駅弁) is a special type of bento which is only available at long-distance train stations like the famous Shinkansen (bullet train). It’s a bento that’s meant to be eaten on the train while traveling and it features local delicacies in the area you’re at. It’s not just a bento, but a really cool Japanese boxed lunch with different local specialties. I really wanted to eat one during our trip to Otaru so I told my better half to save some stomach space for it.

Featured Ekiben

This is the selection we saw at JR Otaru station. You’ll usually find the ekiben at a specialty shop only selling ekiben or a konbini/department store closest to the train entrance. There will always be one “featured” ekiben – this is the bento that is most representative of the region you’re currently in. Otaru is well known for its fresh seafood (especially uni) and the flagship ekiben is a beautiful uni and ikura ekiben.

Otaru Train

The ekiben boxes are really nice lacquer boxes too. Some of them can even be reheated instantly using the same technology in military MREs (Meal, Ready-to-eat). There were a wide variety in a refrigerated corner of the shop and my dear wondered if anyone actually bought them. Well, her question was answered when we were about to go back to Sapporo – there were only a few ekiben left! I picked up the featured ekiben while she chose one that caught her eye to eat on the train.

Otaru Ekiben

This is my ekiben. It’s the signature ekiben of Otaru, grandly named 海 の 輝き or “Sparkle of the Sea“. This 1,580 JPY (about RM 65) bento totally deserved the hyperbolic designation though. It was the most delicious bento I’ve ever had in my life! I’m a little embarrassed to say that it was actually one of the best things I’ve eaten in Hokkaido. Haha!

Uni Ikura Ekiben

It’s filled to the brim with uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe), Shiitake mushrooms, flying fish roe and Japanese rolled egg. I used chopsticks to grab a mouthful and was surprised to taste just how well the creamy uni goes with the popping, salty ikura. The savory umami mushroom slices and crunchy flying fish roe is offset by the sweet Japanese egg and blends the multitude textures and flavors together into one orgasmic experience.

Uni Ekiben

I hesitantly said “Dear, do you want some?” hoping she’ll say no. I’m kidding (or am I? smirk). I’m always happy to share with my better half. I cleaned every single morsel from the wappameshi (わっぱ飯 – thin, bent wooden box) and regretted not getting two.

Oyster Ekiben

My dear went for the 1,080 JPY (around RM 45) Otaru oyster ekiben. I had just eaten Otaru oysters at the 1 Michelin Isezushi and I loved the freshness of their local oysters. This was a full complement of five (5) pieces of oysters on top of a bed of rice with some tsukemono (pickles) on the side. The juicy oysters were really flavorful – all the braising liquid seeped into the oysters so they pack a flavorful punch!

Otaru Oysters

The best part about her ekiben is the rice. The rice has been cooked with Shiitake mushrooms, scallops and oysters and resulted in a beautiful golden brown that tasted wonderful! It’s really very good.

Japan Ekiben

You won’t find ekiben at train stations with only regional commuter lines or subway lines. Ekiben are only sold at stations with long-distance trains going in and out. I really enjoy this cultural quirk of Japan and I hope to try more ekiben when we go back next year. There are so many special ones like Yamagata domannaka featuring local beef to Ibaraki raised Rose Pork ekibens. I’m really looking forward to eating one while traveling by Shinkansen in Japan again.

Bento in Japan

Bento Japan

Bento boxes are sold in every department store, grocery store and convenience store in Japan. It’s one of the most common items around, especially when there’s a konbini on every street corner. They’re priced very competitively too, but of course there are more premium versions which costs even more than a sit-down meal. We got ours at a huge multi-level shopping mall called Sapporo Factory.

Bento God of Discounts

I’ve actually watched an anime called Ben-To so I know that the best bento box that’s still unsold will get a special sticker. There’s also someone that comes out every day to put a discount sticker on the overdue products. This is the person that comes out at Sapporo Factory. They call her the “God of Discounts”. We waited until she did her thing to see if we could get discounted bento. HAHAHAHA. The ones we wanted didn’t get a discount though, it was only for certain items.

Japanese Bento

This is my bento. It costs 518 yen (about RM 22) and has 9 different containers. I believe this is what they call makunouchi bento (幕の内) which is a meal with everything. I love how everything is separated in Japan. They don’t mix stuff together so the taste will not combine – each item is separated by design, either using a separator (a fake plastic green leaf) or in a different part of the container.

Sapporo Bento

It has three (3) types of rice – plain Japanese white rice with ume (plum), soy sauce rice, and multi-grain rice. The six (6) different sides are steamed vegetables (middle – this is the best tasting one, surprisingly), tsukemono (pickled items), iwashi shoyuyaki (sardines sauteed in soy sauce – very nice too), tonkatsu (Japanese fried pork cutlet – hidden under the tamago/egg), and several other things I couldn’t identify but tasted delicious. smirk

Salmon Bento

This is what my better half chose for her bento. Hers is 406 yen (around RM 16) even though it’s smaller coz it has more meat. There’s a HUGE square of nori (dried seaweed) separating the rice from the sides. It has a generous slice of salmon, a pumpkin tempura, a pork tonkatsu, a piece of karaage (Japanese fried chicken) and some other condiments, including a piece of tamagoyaki (sweet Japanese rolled egg omelet) for dessert. I tried it and it was very nice.

Sapporo Factory Bento

I actually put on more than a couple of pounds in Hokkaido. I wanted to try so many different things so we had multiple meals per day. I told my dear, “We must try their bento boxes” and I learned that there are two kinds, the ones I wrote about here and the ones that’s only sold for long distance trips like on shinkansen called ekiben which we also had in Otaru. I’ll write more about the special ekiben soon coz it’s a separate topic. :)

Shokudo – Little Treasures of Fusion

shokudo

Shokudo is the Japanese-Thai Fusion eating
establishment located at Mid Valley Megamall. It is a franchise
operation – the other sister outlet is located at Suria KLCC and it’s
called Shoku-Thai (or something to that effect). Shokudo is essentially
a quick service eatery featuring Japanese style presentation and
Japanese-Thai Fusion food.

There is a large banner menu mounted on the wall of Shokudo and it
was interesting enough to attract my attention. There are various
photos and descriptions of Shokudo’s portfolio, with the flagship item
featured prominently in the middle – the Shokudo Fusion Bento.

shokudo fusion bento

The Shokudo Fusion Bento retails for RM 18.90 and
there are options to add on items, which reminded me of a fast food
establishment (which is what Shokudo essentially is). I went for Add On
A, which comes with miso soup, free flow drinks and dessert.

shokudo free refill

The other interesting parallel with fast food outlets is the Free
Refill feature that’s becoming more common in fast service franchises.
True to the roots of it’s Japanese fusion cuisine, there is green tea
(iced and hot) in addition to the various sodas available from the
dispenser and a self-service ice machine.

shokudo interior

This is what the seating arrangements at Shokudo looks like – there
are various configurations of different seating designs. There is also
a notice to warn patrons about the elevated floor, which I did not
digest until I nearly tripped on the outcrop. I nearly lost my balance,
but luckily I managed to realign the center of gravity and mustered
what little dignity I had left to nonchalantly take a seat. ;)

shokudo bento

This is the Shokudo Fusion Bento, the flagship of Shokudo.

shokudo bento box

Here’s a closer look at the Shokudo Fusion Bento Box – I’ll go through a run down of the items in the bento box.

shokudo bento rice

The main item of the Shokudo Fusion Bento is the fragrant rice sprinkled with black sesame seeds (?) for flavoring.

shokudo bento curry

There is a spicy Thai curry chicken dish beside the rice. Shokudo
serves Japanese-Thai Fusion food and true to the claim, the Thai curry
was very spicy. It’s good.

shokudo bento salad

The top left container of the Shokudo Fusion Bento contains
“Japanese salad mix” and it comes with a small container of Thousand
Island dressing (on the side, obviously).

shokudo bento main

The top right corner of the Shokudo Fusion Bento Box is filled with
the mains. It’s chock full of all sorts of goodies. There’s pandan
chicken (the ones wrapped in leaves), gyoza (deep fried dumplings) and
a whole fish head.

Shokodo seems like a promising fast service Japanese fusion
franchise. There are a lot of menu items that looks interesting but I
just managed to sample the flagship tonight. I’ll be heading back again
to try out the other dishes.

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