Tokyo Station Ekiben

Getting a bento 弁当 and riding on one of the express trains from Tokyo station is a ritual that is comes with traveling in Japan. Even on a short ride, like the hour ride to Narita on the Narita Express, we take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a bento. Above are some bentos that we recently purchased for the Narita Express.

The bento on the top right included many delicacies from the sea like asari clams, ikura salmon roe, and simmered anago sea eel. The bottom right bento is made with 50 different ingredients. It was fun to follow the menu and check off each item.

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Our five-year old loves the shinkansen bento, which come in a variety, based on actual running shinkansen 新幹線. The bento boxes themselves are quite sturdy so we wash them and reuse them at home. The shinkansen bento are about 1,200 – 1,300 JPY and are filled with kid-friendly bites like kara-age chicken, sausage, and fruit jelly. I am reminded by Twitter friends that adults also enjoy this bento.

The above bentos were all purchased at Bentoya Matsuriya 弁当屋祭, a bento shop inside of Tokyo Station. As it is in the station, you will need to purchase a ticket to access the shop. If you are traveling from Tokyo Station to another destination, then you will have access to the shop. If you are already near Tokyo Station and just want to come in to see the shop, then yes, you will need to purchase a ticket to enter the station. It is at Tokyo Station Central Street, between the stairs leading to platforms 5/6 and 7/8. Matsuriya sells over 170 different ekiben 駅弁. Ekiben are bento sold at different eki (stations) throughout Japan. It’s a popular shop and usually very busy. On the wall of the shop is a sample of the different bento for sale, which are brought in from all over Japan.

*Note, the Matsuri website says that it is open from 5:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.

For beverages we like to go to Hasegawa Saketen which inside Tokyo Station in the basement in an area called GranSta. There is also a counter for drinking saké if you have the luxury of time on your hands.

*** Note – Hasegawa Saketen has moved to a new location while their original shop in the station is under construction. There is still a shop in the station, about a 1-minute walk from the original location. (The photos above are from the original shop.)

Hasegawa Saketen sells full bottles of sake, shochu, umeshu, and wine. For drinks for the train, look to the far left of the shop where there is a big selection of tea, beer, and smaller servings of sake, beer, and shochu.

If you are riding at a time that is between meals and don’t need a full bento, Hasegawa Saketen sells small bites and saké-friendly snacks.

*Note, the Hasegawa Saketen website says that it is open from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Monday – Saturday) and 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Sunday.

Other good places to pick up bento are throughout Tokyo Station, including in the depachika-like area across the aisle from Hasegawa Saketen, GranSta. Daimaru department store is also next to Tokyo Station and has the biggest selection of bento. If you have time, then come here, and allow yourself time to carefully peruse the options.

* The GranSta website says that it is open from 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. (Monday – Saturday and holidays -except for the last day of a string of holidays). 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. Sunday and last day of a string of holidays.

* Daimaru website says it is open from 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m. on weekdays. 10:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. on weekends and holidays.

Once you are on the train, wait for it to depart the station before drinking and eating. It’s part of the ritual. 🙂

When you are done eating, the trains have trash cans for bento and for your drinks.

Enjoy partaking in this fun eating and drinking part of traveling in Japan.

 

 

 

Tokyo Station Car Bento

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I love shopping for bentō boxes. Bentō are convenient meals, be it for a picnic, while traveling on a train, or when I am too rushed to put a meal together. Japanese schools are now on their summer holidays and Tokyo station is busier than usual with travelers. Inside of Tokyo station there are several areas that sell a wide variety of bento boxes, especially in the basement GranSta area. I also like going to Daimaru department store and the basement depachika that is next to Tokyo station. This fun, kids bentō is from Daimaru at a shop called eashion. It was only 600 JPY. The company’s website even gives some basic information about the bentō including ingredients and calories.
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Bentō usually include five different colors: red, green, yellow, black, and white. A colorful meal ensures a healthful meal. And, often the different dishes are cooked in a variety of methods, giving different textures and pleasure to the palate.DSCN6203If you are traveling with your kids through Tokyo station on summer holidays, look out for fun kids’ bentō. I also saw a Hello Kitty bentō and a panda bentō. Some bentō, like this one, can be recycled. We just wash the removable white partitioned plastic interior and the blue car exterior.

eashion also had a great selection of adult bentō as well, so great for one-stop shopping. If you are going to ride on the bullet train, then be sure to stop by the saké department and pick up a beer or a small bottle of saké for the trip. Ask the cashier for small plastic cups.

I stopped by recently to buy a bentō during the week and did not find it. I was told that it is only sold on the weekends.

Bon voyage!

Hanami 101

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Each spring cherry trees around Tokyo blossom while friends, families, and co-workers gather under the blossoms to enjoy the ritual of hanami. If you are lucky to be in Tokyo this week, it is the quintessential Japanese experience. A few tips on how to best enjoy hanami.

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Most essential is to pick up a bentō. The best place to select from a wide variety of bentō is depachika, the epicurean basement food floors of department stores. Here is my list of the top ten depachika in Tokyo. But, if a depachika is not on your way to the park, no worries, a convenient store will have lunch boxes or sandwiches, chips, and other snacks.

The bentō above comes from AEN at Shinjuku Isetan, which came in a beautiful bamboo box and had genmai (brown rice) with two types of grilled fish, croquette, pickles, and more. The saké is a junmai ginjō from Shoutoku in Fushimi, Kyoto. It was only 12% alcohol, lighter than most saké which is about 16%, so perfect with lunch. And, I couldn’t resist the packaging.

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Another bentō company I love and can’t get enough of is Yonehachi, which has branches in almost every depachika. Yonehachi is famous for its okowa, a mix of mochi-gomé  (sticky rice) and uruchimai (regular rice) that is steamed with different vegetables and meat or fish. You can select what kind of seasoned rice you want with your bentō. This one here has takénoko (bamboo shoots) and fuki (a type of spring mountain vegetable), both seasonal spring vegetables.

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Yonehachi bentō, again, as it is my favorite. This one with the takénoko and fuki rice and the kuri (chestnuts) and red beans okowa. The saké with this bentō is from Masumi, a great saké brewery in Nagano. Masumi has an excellent portfolio of saké, including this junmaishu Okuden KanzukuriThis saké is light on the palate and perfect for sipping under the cherry blossoms. I’ve also had this warmed up and it is lovely hot or cold.

Once you’ve picked your bentō and drink, stop by a convenience store to get a plastic sheet to sit on. For some reason these are usually blue.

And, then get to your hanami spot early as the choice spots tend to be taken early in the day.

Be sure to do some research on where to go. I was surprised to see that Shinjuku Gyoen doesn’t allow alcohol to be brought in. There are security guards who check your bag on your way in. Guards are walking throughout the park as well to make sure everyone is abiding by the rules.

Enjoy and have fun enjoying food food and saké under the cherry blossoms.

Autumn Lunch at Nihonbashi Yukari 日本橋ゆかり

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga

Iron Chef Kimio Nonaga

Nihonbashi Yukari is just a few minutes’ walk from Tokyo Station’s Yaesu exit. This third generation restaurant is one of my favorites in Japan for many reasons. For the quality of food it is a great bargain. The Yukari bento lunch here is about 3,675 JPY. A kaiseki multi-course dinner starts at 10,500 JPY. At this price it is amazing.

Second, the chef, 2002 Iron Chef champion, Kimio Nonaga, is very passionate about Japanese food and sharing it with anyone who is curious. No matter how many questions I ask about ingredients or preparation, he is always full of passion in teaching me.

Third, the atmosphere is very friendly. Some kaiseki or sushi restaurants feel like a temple and diners may feel awkward even if they sneeze. Here, diners are warmly welcomed and the whole dining experience is pleasant.

Finally, the location can not be beat. Very close to Tokyo station, and a good excuse to stop by Nihonbashi Takashimaya which is just a few blocks away.

Here is a recent Yukari bento lunch, featuring autumn seafood and vegetables. This has to be ordered in advance as only a limited amount are made daily.

If you do go here, please tell him that Yukari sent you. And, when making the reservation, request to sit at the counter so you can watch chef Nonaga at work.

Nihonbashi Yukari

Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi  3-2-14

03-3271-3436

www.nihonbashi-yukari.com

Anago Chawan Mushi 穴子茶碗蒸し

Anago Chawan Mushi 穴子茶碗蒸し

It was a very cold and rainy day that we went so the first course was a warm, savory egg custard with tender anago. A great way to warm up and to start the meal.

Nihonbashi Yukari Bento 日本橋ゆかり弁当

Nihonbashi Yukari Bento 日本橋ゆかり弁当

While this is given the humble name of a bento, it is quite an elaborate meal as you can see. It is also a lot of food. If you are looking for a more simple meal, there is also an a la carte menu. Our neighbors had a nice simmered tai head with gobo that looked very appetizing. The a la carte menu for lunch starts at 2,100 JPY.

Autumn at Nihonbashi Yukari

Autumn at Nihonbashi Yukari

Inside of the bento are these four lovely dishes.

Otsukuri お造り

Otsukuri お造り

The sashimi course was katsuo, hotate, and tako tataki with oroshi ponzu. Over the sashimi was julienned vegetables of daikon, carrots, myoga, kaiware (daikon sprouts), kikuna (chrysanthemum flowers), and baby shiso leaves. What really makes this dish special is Nonaga-san’s unique oroshi ponzu. Typically this is grated daikon with a ponzu dressing but the Iron Chef takes 30 different vegetables, grates them, squeezes out the excess juice and then adds the ponzu. It really elevates the dish to a new level.

Tempura 天ぷら

Tempura 天ぷら

Everything at Nihonbashi Yukari is made from scratch, including the yuba in this tempura course. Today’s tempura was of wakasagi (smelt), shishitou, shiitake, and yuba surrounding a hotate shinjo served with a momiji oroshi (grated daikon with togarashi pepper) and a dipping sauce.

Simmered Pork 豚の角煮

Simmered Pork 豚の角煮

The pork was simmered with kurozato (brown sugar) and Mercian kouso wine. It is served with simmered daikon, snap peas and a lovely nama awafu that has a great mochi mochi texture.

Autumn 秋の旬

Autumn 秋の旬

Here is the artistry of an Iron Chef. Grilled kuri (chestnut), grilled ginnan (ginkgo nuts), shrimp stuffed with ikura (salmon roe), salmon wrapped in thin layers of daikon, ground duck meatball,  dashimaki tamago (Japanese omelet), grated yamaimo topped with karasumi, and grilled sawara (Japanese Spanish mackerel) marinated in Saikyo miso.

Kuri Gohan 栗ごはん

Kuri Gohan 栗ごはん

The rice course was one of Shinji’s favorite, kuri (chestnut) gohan served with nuka kabu pickles. Shinji got a second serving of the rice.

Mozuku Miso Soup

Mozuku Miso Soup

The miso soup had mozuku (a type of sea vegetable), mitsuba, and futama (wheat gluten).

Kinako Ice Cream きな粉アイス

Kinako Ice Cream きな粉アイス

Very rarely will you find a Western-style dessert at a kaiseki restaurant like Nihonbashi Yukari. Nonaga-san makes my favorite dessert in Japan. Kinako (roasted soybean powder) ice cream studded with Kyoto Tanba Kuromame (black beans), topped with kuromitsu (brown sugar syrup) and puffed rice. It is not too sweet and has great texture – mochi mochi beans and kari kari from the puffed rice. The perfect end to an amazing meal.