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Japan Tourism / Hokuriku Region Train Stations Offer Various Ekiben Ahead of Shinkansen Extension

Toru Miyagawa / Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
Tai no Mai (Dance of red sea bream) ekiben (¥1,600)

A hot topic among railway enthusiasts these days is Hokuriku Shinkansen bullet trains, which will extend its service from Kanazawa, the current western terminus, to Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, in March 2024.

The new section of truck is part of the JR Hokuriku Line, which currently runs between Kanazawa and Maibara, Shiga Prefecture. The operation of this section will be transferred to a joint public-private venture.

With the change, the Thunderbird and Shirasagi limited express trains, which connect Kanazawa with Osaka and Nagoya, respectively, will no longer go to Kanazawa but terminate at Tsuruga Station. Passengers going to Kanazawa will have to change to the Shinkansen.

Now let’s go to the Hokuriku region, which will undergo major changes, and eat local ekiben train station lunch boxes which contain fresh seafood.

I took the limited express Shirasagi from Maibara Station and was able to see Lake Biwa around Nagahama Station in Shiga Prefecture. It took me about 30 minutes to reach Tsuruga Station, where there is an ekiben outlet of Shioso Co. inside the shopping and communal facility Orupark.

Shioso is a bento and dining company founded in Tsuruga in 1903 and is the manufacturer of Ganso Taizushi, a long-selling ekiben sold at Tsuruga Station. Another notable choice is Tai no Mai (Dance of red sea bream), which uses renkodai yellowback sea bream sourced locally to make high-grade taizushi (sushi with salted and vinegared sea bream). The outlet is the only place where this ekiben is regularly available.

“We maintain the taste designed by trial and error by my grandfather and culinary workers before my time,” said Shobei Tone, the company’s chairman and the seventh-generation head.

I had my first bite of the ekiben and found the pale pink skin of the fish very soft. The thinly sliced fish meat tasted pleasantly light, refined and sweet. When I chewed it a bit longer, I could detect more of the flavors with mild umami, a bit of sourness and sweetness. The rice and the fish meat were put together at just the right amount of pressure. The rice used, which includes the Koshihikari brand, was grown in Fukui Prefecture and cooked with groundwater obtained at the company, which is committed to using locally produced ingredients, including rice vinegar.

In autumn 2022, a new hotel and commercial complex called Tsuruga Polt Square Otta opened in front of JR Tsuruga Station. Renovation work on the station building is under way at a fast pace ahead of the opening of the extended Shinkansen services. The platforms for limited express trains will be moved to below the Shinkansen platforms, so passengers changing from a limited express train to a Shinkansen train, or vice versa, will either go up or down between the platforms to transfer.

Red bento vending machine

Toru Miyagawa / Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
An ekiben vending machine at JR Fukui Station

Then I arrived at JR Fukui Station. I walked down the stairs from the platform and headed to the ticket gate. Then a bright red vending machine jumped into my sight. The machine sold products from established ekiben maker Banjo Honten.

The company founded in 1902 is known for Echizen Kanimeshi crab meat bento. In the autumn of 2022, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company launched a new product to widen sales. The new bento is called Tojinbo Ebi Kani Kaisen Chirashi (Tojinbo prawn crab seafood sushi). Tojinbo is the name of a famous scenic spot by the sea in Fukui Prefecture.

Toru Miyagawa / Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
Tojinbo Ebi Kani Kaisen Chirashi ekiben (¥1400)

I pressed the button on the vending machine, and the bento of my choice was brought to me on a conveyor belt. Some people were taking pictures apparently finding the sight curious. I could feel the high level of interest it inspired.

An illustration of the Tojinbo cliffs adorns the package of the bento, which contained chirashizushi — an assortment sushi with a variety of toppings on vinegared rice — packed with local seafood. It may not be very big, but it is filled with lots of ingredients.

While viewing the elevated Shinkansen railway under construction from the window, I traveled to Kanazawa on the limited express train Thunderbird. At Kanazawa Station, there is fierce competition among various ekiben, and the one that takes pride in maintaining popularity is Aburi Nodoguro Bozushi (grilled nodoguro fish pressed stick sushi) from Takano-Shoten, based in the Kaga Onsen hot spring resort in Ishikawa Prefecture.

Toru Miyagawa / Ryoko Yomiuri Publication
Aburi Nodoguro Bozushi ekiben (¥1800)

I opened the bento’s bamboo skin wrapper to find the grilled fish visible beneath the transparent pale jade kombu, which looked very appetizing. I put the kombu, nodoguro and vinegared rice in my mouth and felt very happy. Thinly sliced ginger between the kombu and nodoguro removes the smell of fish and enhances the delicious taste.

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Japan Tourism is presented in collaboration with Ryoko Yomiuri Publication, which publishes Ryoko Yomiuri, a monthly travel magazine. If you are interested in the original Japanese version of this story, click here.