I don’t think the Japanese invented the High Speed Railway (HSR). But they have perfected the meals that you can bring on to one of these HSR trip. Every stop along the way, they serve a specialty bento 便当. The noun actually made it to Chinese, to represent a really simple lunchbox.If you think that the Japanese Bentos are simple, then you are completely wrong. They are elaborate, pieces of art, meticulously assembled and balanced in nutrients.
Right below the Tokyo Station are shops that sell ready to go meals, mostly bentos. They can be simple single ingredient bentos for less than ¥800 to extravagant Wagyu bentos upwards of ¥3000. Depending on the size of your wallet, every traveller needs to eat.
Even at the lower end of the price scale, a ¥800 bento was not anyhow assembled 杂菜饭 (Singapore Rice and Veg type) lunchboxes you get here. The one we got had an Onsen braised egg, teriyaki chicken, unagi, pickled vegetables (not salted, pickled like kimchi) and seasonal vegetable. And served on mixed grain rice – didn’t the Govmen ask us to eat more brown rice? The Japanese went one step better – they have mix grain rice.
My favourite, which I will never miss if I went on one of these HSR trips, was Unagi from this century old shop from Nihonbashi. They specialise in Unagi and only Unagi. This was considered a high end food and three type of eels were offered based on the size of the eel. They only use wild caught Japanese eels and costed ¥2,700 (SGD 35) to ¥3,800 (SGD 45) for the unagi alone. Add ¥200 to make it a bento. I bought a piece to add to my bento – well, you only live once.
I was attracted to the ¥1,400 bento that was round and came in two layers. The food was packed in really high quality styrofoam and separated into two layers, one for the rice and smoked fish, and the other for the cooked and simmered food. The idea was to separate the tastes and sauces so that the simmered stuff will not affect the chirashi. And the plastic model did justice to what was delivered. Did I mention that this was the #1 Bento among ladies?
And we need some greens. There were several salad bars that offered either set boxes or a la carte orders by weight. Most ranges from ¥180 per 100g, so we thought it would not be expensive. Oh boy! These four that we chose came up to ¥1,800.
My little princess loved Wagyu and picked the Wagyu bee yakidon. Fantastic little bento that was filled with Japanese Wagyu beef – no the top grade stuff but good enough at ¥1,500. And it was delicious. The sauce seeped into the sticky Japanese rice as we waited for the train and mealtime. Still warm when we opened it, but somehow, it did not dry out the beef. The bento was assembled a la minute the you ordered and not mass produced in this store. That’s how they maintained that standard.
And after the train set off, we waited longingly for lunch time. It’s totally up to you when you want to partake the nourishment. We waited when the train left Yokohama (that’s express stretch to Nagoya before Kyoto) and started to take our lunch. Little surprised with the Unagi that it was still warm as it was packed in heat insulation to keep it warm. Also the shopkeeper reminded us to keep the unagi horizontal and not tilt it when carrying it. That kept the sauce on the unagi intact. Great advice, obasan.
And with a view like this, this was a great meal. Total damage, ¥6,000, extravagant. You can get the same view with much less food, but did I say you only live once?