Keio Department Store's 54th Ekiben Festival
The massively popular Ekiben Festival of Keio Department Store in Shinjuku has returned for its 54th edition!
From January 9th to 22nd, head to the 7th floor of Keio Department Store, located near the West Exit of Shinjuku Station, to get your hands on some of the rarest and most exquisite made-for-the-train bento boxes that were gathered from all over Japan. The event starts from 10 AM every day and the event finishes at 8 PM (exceptionally finishes at 5 PM on Jan. 15th, and at 6 PM on Jan. 22nd).
There are over 300 ekibens sold at the event, so you're bound to find something you like among the seafood, meat, and colourful vegetable assortments. Ekibens range in price from about ¥700 to ¥2,000.
You'll be amazed by not only the food but also the actual container it is served in. Some box designs are so iconic that ekiben enthusiasts give more importance to the container than the content when deciding which one to get.
And by the looks of it, ekiben enthusiasts in Japan abound! With waves of people dashing into the 7th floor as if it were an American Black Friday, it took literally 10 minutes for the whole floor to be packed on the opening day.
Note that the diehard fans come prepared, knowing exactly what ekiben they'll get, so that they can start waiting in line in front of the right booths the moment they get to the venue.
If you want to avoid the crowds, better come after the morning rush which tends to recede around noon.
Four Different Flavours In One Ekiben
This year's special theme is "four different flavours to compare", hence you'll find plenty of ekibens compartmentalized into four different variations of the same food. The ekiben pictured here contains beef that is seasoned in four different ways (miso, soy sauce, salt, and curry seasoning).
This ekiben from Hokkaido contains king crab, snow crab, horsehair crab, and hanasaki crab. You might have to wait in line a bit to get yours because it's one of the most popular ekibens. You'll understand why when you try it - nothing compares to the sweet taste and the deep umami of these crabs!
From Hyogo Prefecture, you can also get their regional specialty, anago (conger eel), prepared in four different ways: simmered and boiled, steamed in sake, grilled, and stuffed with rice inside tofu skin.
Not every ekiben follows the four flavours theme but sometimes the staples are the best.
If you're a seafood fan, be prepared to be spoiled, thanks in good part to Hokkaido's amazing contribution. Japan's northernmost prefecture is known for its wealth of oceanic delicacies. You'll find so many ekibens that contain ikura (salmon roe) uni (sea urchin), and crab. All of these are must-try foods in Japan!
These simple rice-stuffed squids, also from Hokkaido, are the most popular item at the Ekiben Festival. They're pretty cheap at ¥780, so why not make them your appetizers?
The Saga beef ekiben is year after year a reliable hit. It's a bit on the expensive side at ¥1,998 but you get some delectable steak made from one of Japan's finest beef. Japanese wagyu is known for its supreme tenderness. You can't go wrong with this one!
If you're a wagyu fan, you also might want to try the "Miracle 4%" bento box made from Kagoshima black beef. The name comes from the fact that when "Miracle 4%" was first launched, only 4% out of the whole Japanese beef met the brand's standard.
An interesting element of the Ekiben Festival is that plenty of the lunch boxes are made on the spot, so as if the beautiful wagyu ekibens weren't tantalizing enough, you'll get to see the meat being grilled right before your eyes too.
Get The Bowls!
You'll notice that some booths have particularly beautiful bowls that come along with the great food. This one is actually shaped into what is traditionally used for fishing octopus in Hyogo prefecture.
The octopus bowl comes in a Godzilla version as well! The Godzilla version has grilled octopus inside instead of it being boiled the traditional way. More exciting than the food to some, you'll get a cool black Godzilla bowl to bring back as a souvenir if you get this one!
The bowls aren't cheap either. This Doraemon-themed curry ekiben comes in nothing less than a Japan-made Arita-yaki bowl.
You can get the Doraemon one, along with many other interesting ekibens, at the "yuso" ekiben corner, which consists of the prepared ekibens from all over Japan that are directly delivered to the event (so not prepared at the event like some of the ones at the booths).
Whether you want to grab a lunch box before you head somewhere exciting on the Shinkansen or whether you just want to try some local specialties from all over Japan on the spot, Keio Department Store's Ekiben Festival is totally worth the go. One thing's for sure, you'll be amazed by this intriguing part of the Japanese food culture!