Ekibens are boxed meals sold at major train stations or onboard long-distance trains like the Shinkansen (bullet trains). Filling, convenient, and delicious, each box usually consists of rice, a main viand, and side dishes, and sells for as low as 700 yen to above 3000 yen. However, more than just your usual food on the go, it is also reflective of Japan’s culinary world. Ekibens represent local culinary specialties of a specific region – its best cooking put together in a take-out box.

When in Tokyo, a great place to go on an Ekiben-hunting is Tokyo Station. It carries the largest selection of Ekiben, including popular ones from around Japan. There are more than 200 varieties to choose from, sold at specialty markets and depachika (mall food courts) within the station premises. You might get overwhelmed with the range of choices; so in case you have a hard time deciding what to get, we recommend that you choose as the locals would.

Here’s a list of the 15 most popular Ekiben items you can buy at Tokyo Station:

1. Yonezawa Beef Domannaka Bento

Price: 1,150 yen (tax included)

This is Yamagata Prefecture’s most popular Ekiben. It is made of a hearty portion of thinly sliced and minced Yonezawa beef – considered to be one of Japan’s finest, cooked Sukiyaki style (flavored with sugar, soy sauce, and sake) and partnered with the equally special Yonezawa Domannaka rice. What makes this combination superior is the rice’s quality to absorb the juice of the meat. By the time you open this Ekiben, the rice would have soaked up a lot of the sauce, which make for a richer beefy taste.

Website: http://www.shinkineya.com/bentou/ (Japanese only)

2. Niigata Ebi Senryou Chirashi Bento

Price: 1,300 yen (tax included)

This Ebi Senryou Chirashi Bento from Niigata Prefecture is a pack full of surprises. On the surface it looks like just an ordinary egg omelet bento, but beneath its egg layer lies vinegared sushi rice and four kinds of seafood: boiled shrimps, dried squid, Kabayaki eel (fillet grilled with sweet soy sauce-based sauce), and Kohada (a type of fish usually served as sushi). When these three elements are combined in one bite, flavorful happiness is guaranteed.

3. Tokyo Bento

Price: 1,650 yen (tax included)

Tokyo Bento is a luxurious sampler of various food products prepared by some of the city’s well-known restaurants. It includes the following signature dishes: Uokyu’s Salmon Kasuzuke (pickled fish in sake lees), Asakusa Imahan’s Beef Tsukudani (meat braised in sweet and salty sauce), Tsukiji Sushi Tama Aoki’s special omelet, and Nihonbashi Daimasu’s braised vegetables. Having the best of Tokyo in one box, consider this a great bargain!

4. Miyagi Sparkling Sea Bento

Price: 1,000 yen (tax included)

Sockeye salmon roe with rice bento is a gift all the way from Miyagi Prefecture’s seas. This bowl is literally swimming with generous servings of large Ikura (salted salmon roe) and salmon fillets. Served fresh and ultimately delicious.

5. Gunma Mountain Pass Kamameshi Bento

Price: 1,000 yen (tax included)

This attractive Kamameshi Ekiben is basically a seasoned rice dish with various toppings, boiled and served in a single-serve ceramic pot, where the extra ingredients like chicken, shiitake mushrooms, boiled egg, green peas, burdock, and apricot are reminiscent of Gunma Prefecture’s mountainous regions. Its taste has not changed since it was first sold in 1958.

As an added treat, you can have your lunch and bring home a souvenir with this bento. The pot is actually reusable at home for cooking rice.*

*Directions for cooking rice using Kamameshi Bento’s pot can be found here. (Japanese only)

Website: http://oginoya.co.jp/oginoya02/tougenokamameshi/lunch/index.html (Japanese only)

6. Meat Yazawa’s Kuroge Wagyu Hamburg Bento

Price: 1,680 (tax included)

This Ekiben may have just one patty, but it is a Meat Yazawa wagyu hamburg patty. Yazawa Meat is a popular steak restaurant in Shinagawa, Tokyo known for serving A5 rank (the highest grade) black-haired wagyu. You can buy this premium lunch at the depachika of Daimaru Tokyo Department Store.

Website: http://www.kuroge-wagyu.com/dt/meatyazawa.html (Japanese only)

7. Kiyoken’s Shumai Bento

Price: 800 yen (tax included)

Kiyoken is a popular shumai shop in Yokohama with over 80 years of history. Although shumai is the highlight, Kiyoken’s bento combines its staple with other complementing items for a more satisfying meal. These additions include chicken karaage (deep fried chicken), tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelet), teriyaki tuna, and vegetables.

Website: http://www.kiyoken.com/products/obento/shiben.html (Japanese only)

8. Takimoto’s Zeitaku Millefeuille

Price: 1,728 yen (tax included)

Takimoto’s Zeitaku Millefeuille is one indulgent heap of a sushi feast. It has layers upon layers of sushi rice, salmon, shrimp, crab, salmon roe, herring roe, and pickled vegetables filling up to the brim of its container. Definitely for the sushi lover! You can score this seafood goodness at the depachika section of Daimaru Tokyo Department Store.

9. Yonezawa Chargrilled Beef – Superfine Sparerib Bento

Price: 1,600 yen (tax included)

Another variation of the Yonezawa beef from Yamagata Prefecture. This time around, the beef is grilled over charcoal, served as tender, well-seasoned, sparerib cuts on a bed of rice. It also has side items like shumai, egg omelet, and vegetables.

Website: http://www.yonezawaekiben.jp/index_menu.html (Japanese only)

10. Hiraizumi Sea Urchin Rice Bento

Price: 1,200 yen (tax included)

Not for everyone, but this is something uni (sea urchin) fans will love. This is a specialty Ekiben from Iwate Prefecture, served with salmon roe, seaweed perilla, and burdock to further enhance the flavors.

Website: http://www.ekiben.or.jp/saitho/type/seafood/2009/09/001061.html (Japanese only)

11. Echizen Kanimeshi Bento 

Price: 1,150 yen (tax included)

There’s indeed a lot of crab inside this crab-shaped container. Echizen Kanimeshi Bento is from Fukui Prefecture and is made of rice steamed with ovaries and innards of female snow crabs then topped with huge servings of flaked crabmeat.

Website: http://www.banjyo.jp/kanimeshi/lineup.php (Japanese only)

12. Asakusa Imahan’s Kasane Sukiyaki Bento

Price: 1,620 yen (tax included)

Asakusa Imahan is an important fixture in the Tokyo dining scene serving the public their signature Sukiyaki recipe since 1895. Of course, a sit-down dinner is always ideal, but if you’re on the go, their bento box will surely deliver the same premium goodness associated with Asakusa Imahan’s prestigious brand.

13. GranSta Tetote’s Seaweed Bento

Price: 1,080 yen (tax included)

GranSta Tokyo depachika is always a safe place to get reliable bento. Its items on offer deliver value for money without scrimping on quality. Straightforward meals like this seaweed bento is considered one of the floor’s bestseller. Portions are filling. Ingredients are fresh. And most of all, it’s an enjoyable and delicious meal.

14. Shinkansen E7 Bento

Price: 1,300 yen (tax included)

This special bento is loved by train addicts in Japan. Food, toy, and a souvenir item all rolled into one. The Shinkansen E7 Bento is a nice way to commemorate your bullet train ride, especially if it’s your first time to do so.

Website: http://www.nre.co.jp/ekiben/tabid/236/pdid/E551/Default.aspx (Japanese only)

15. Maisen’s Tonkatsu Bento

Price: 1,058 yen* (tax included)

When it comes to having Tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlets) in Tokyo, pretty much everyone will point you to Maisen. If tonkatsu is what you crave, then there’s no need to look elsewhere.

*Price varies depending on the quality and amount of pork for each bento.

NOTE: Price details provided above are as of July 2016.

Thumbnail image is from Flickr