The Japanese lunch boxes known as bento as beautiful as they are delicious. Ekiben, the bento sold at Japanese train stations, are bento at their most exciting: they’re usually based on local specialties: up north, you might find a bento featuring snow crab; down near the city of Kobe, you’ll find ekiben featuring that region’s famously marbled beef. There are over 5000 train stations in Japan, and over 1,600 varieties of ekiben. In this gallery—a companion to the story
Beautiful Bento by Kenneth Wapner—feast your eyes on eight of our favorites, all available at Japanese restaurants in New York City this month.
Hakata Tonton: Jidori Meshi Bento
This ekiben in a round wooden container is built around a moat of rice studded with a dice of pickles and crispy ham, topped with shredded omelet and a confetti of nori (seaweed). In the center is a melange of simmered vegetables and grilled meats, including chicken, deliciously tender and sweet bamboo shoots, and a riot of different types of mushrooms.
61 Grove Street
New York, New York, 10014
Kyotofu: Signature Bento
Kyotofu is a Kyoto-style restaurant specializing in a modern fusion of Western elements into traditional Japanese cuisine. It specializes in fresh homemade tofu, which it uses extensively in its deserts. Outstanding in its featured bento is the mini tofu sliders, green tea soba, and wonderfully pungent house-made pickled daikon.
705 Ninth Avenue
New York, New York 10019
Sunrise Mart: Haru no Sakura (“Spring Cherry Blossom”) Bento
This Kyoto-style ekiben centers on chirashi, raw fish on sushi rice. In this case, the chirashi is composed of cooked shrimp, grilled sea eel, lily bulbs (a spring food), and greens. Other compartments hold grilled miso jidori chicken with nanohana (a slightly bitter vegetable that looks like a small broccoli), nimono (simmered vegetables): taro, shiitake mushroom, kabocha pumpkin, mugwort, and carrots; grilled bamboo shoots with broiled sawara (a spring fish) that’s marinated in sake and rice vinegar with white cherry blossom jelly of two types. (One of these “flowers” is made from shiro youkan, white beans, topped with an actual pickled cherry blossom.) _Sunrise Mart
494 Broome Street
New York, NY 10012
212/219-0033 12 East 41st Street
New York, NY 10017
646/380-9280 4 Stuyvesant Street
New York, NY 10003
Sobakoh: Kani Meshi Bento
From Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, famous for the crab that thrive in its pure, cold waters, comes this classic bento of seasoned, steamed snow crab, shredded omelet, salmon roe, and paper-thin slices of lotus root that has been boiled and then marinated with sweet vinegar, and pickles.
309 East 5th Street
New York, New York 10003
Megu: Makunouchi Bento
Makunouchi is a traditional style of bento that dates back to the Edo period (1603-1867), when the bento boxes were served during intermission at Kabuki performances (makunouchi means “between acts”). This version from Megu is an artfully arranged mosaic of minute, exquisitely arranged, bite-sized treats: There are traditional dishes like grilled fish, Japanese pickles, and a tender slice of dashimaki (Japanese omelet), as well as bites of some of the restaurant’s signature dishes, such as fried asparagus tips battered with crushed senbei (rice crackers) and a skewer of grilled Tajima beef.
845 U.N. Plaza
Trump World Tower
New York, NY 10017
Ronin Bar and Grill: Anago Meshi Bento
This bento is inspired by ekiben from Hiroshima on the southern coast of Honshu island, and consists of grilled sea eel in a special sweet, soy-based sauce topped with sesame seeds. The eel rests on a bed of shredded Japanese omelet and rice with tart, salty Japanese pickles on the side.
Ronin Bar and Grill
9 East 37th Street
New York, NY 10016
Restaurant Nippon: Makunouchi Bento
There’s a little bit of everything in this box: an outstanding Japanese egg omelet, gently simmered vegetables in the Chikuzen (northern Kyushu) style, negamaki (beef wrapped scallions), broiled filet of salmon, vinegary rice in sweet tofu skins, rice rolls sprinkled with black sesame seeds, and breaded shrimp with spicy mayonnaise on fresh greens.
155 East 52nd Street
New York, NY 10022
Hi Collar: Omu Rice Bento box
A special local breed of chicken wrapped in a fluffy omelet anchors this regional ekiben from Nagoya, the major automotive powerhouse and rail hub south of Tokyo on the East coast of Honshu. Pan-fried rice with fresh tomatoes and pork katsu (breaded, fried pork cutlet) mini sandwiches, and a kabocha pumpkin salad round out the meal.
214 East 10th Street
New York, NY 10003