NOURISHING ESSENTIALS (September 2022) - Ekiben: Take a Trip to Japan with Train Station Bentos (駅弁)


Producer: Nagaike Konbu

Denbu is a type of tsukudani (foods simmered in a sweetened soy sauce) typically made from codfish that has been seasoned and dried into flakes. It’s often found in bento boxes as a colorful and flavorful addition to rice and onigiri (rice balls).

This special denbu is made from honkarebushi or “true” katsuobushi (dried skipjack tuna that is shaved into thin flakes known as bonito). To make honkarebushi, regular katsuobushi is fermented for up to 6 months before being shaved, a tradition that is less common nowadays given the lengthy, time consuming process. The result, however, is a richer, more flavorful katsuobushi.

Nagaike Konbu was established in 1864 and is currently in its fifth generation. The shop maintains the personal spirit and pride of retailers who sell their own products, with an aversion to mass production. They use high-quality local ingredients and create handmade, traditional foods made by skilled craftsmen.

Ingredients:Bonito (skipjack tuna) (Kagoshima Prefecture), soy sauce, sugar, sesame seeds (includes soybeans and wheat)
Suggested uses:Sprinkle on freshly cooked rice or to make onigiri (rice balls). Use in omelets (as in theKatsuo Denbu and Cheese Omelet recipe provided), in salads, as a seasoning for cooked vegetables, as a topping for pizza or mix with mayo to make a sauce for boiled vegetables. 
Storage: Refrigerate after opening.



Producer: Maruai Foods

Sansai (lit. “mountain vegetables”) include a wide variety of local plants which are foraged based on seasonality. This mix includes wild edible vegetables (mizu, warabi, fuki, and bamboo shoots) found domestically in Akita Prefecture, which are carefully seasoned to showcase the true natural flavors and texture of the ingredients. 

Maruai Foods is committed to making products grown domestically in Japan without any additives. They believe in the importance of food as the starting point to nurture the body and mind and hope their foods will be the centerplace of “food memories” that make you smile!

Ingredients:Mizu, soy sauce, bracken, Japanese butterbur, bamboo shoots, sugar, rice-based fermented seasoning, yeast extract, ume (Japanese plum) vinegar, bonito extract (includes wheat and soy)
Suggested uses: In a rice cooker:Put 300g of washed rice (1.5 US cups or 2 Japanese rice cups) in a rice cooker. Add the liquid from the package and 300ml of water and mix with the rice in the rice cooker. Top with the mountain vegetables and cook as per usual.On a stove top: Add300g of washed rice (1.5 US cups or 2 Japanese rice cups) to a medium sized pot. Add the liquid from the package and 300ml of water and mix with the rice. Top with the mountain vegetables, cover and cook on medium heat until boiling. Turn to low heat and simmer until there is no longer any steam coming from the pot for another 1 mins. Turn off the heat and let sit for 5-10min with the lid on before fluffing and serving. 



Producer: Marutsu Food

Tsukemono (lit. “pickled things”) are found in almost every meal or bento in Japan. Older generations made tsukemono as a way of preserving food with each region having its own flavors based on the local seasonal vegetables.

These special tsukemono are made from domestic burdock (a Japanese root vegetable known as gobou) which are marinated in a dark soy sauce-based seasoning from Saitama Prefecture that uniquely includes a local sake to bring out the flavor of the ingredients. Black sesame seeds and black pepper are then added to create a truly regional, and additive-free, pickle.

Marutsu Food creates over 150 different kinds of tsukemono with a focus on preserving the natural flavors of the ingredients. In doing so, they reflect the great care in which the farmers grow their vegetables. 

Ingredients:Burdock root, black sesame seeds, black pepper, pickling ingredients (soy sauce, sugar, sake, vinegar, salt, fish sauce, bonito flakes extract, fermented seasoning, kelp extract, yeast extract) (includes soybeans and wheat)
Suggested uses:Enjoy as is as a side dish or snack (pairs great with sake!), with rice or cut into tiny pieces and mixed with mashed potatoes, in a potato salad, or added to rice prior to cooking. Can also be rolled in thin slices of pork or beef and pan fried to make a meat roll (niku maki).
Storage: Refrigerate after opening and use as soon as possible.



Producer: Koujiwadaya

Rice koji is the secret ingredient used to enhance flavors of any dish as it marinates, tenderizes, and draws out the umami in foods. It’s typically made from just three ingredients: salt, water, and rice koji (also known as aspergillus oryzae - the live mold behind miso, soy sauce, and sake), and has a salty flavor with a subtle underlying sweetness. This traditional, handmade Soy Sauce Koji also includes domestic soy sauce, which adds a rich depth of flavor and umami. 

Despite other producers using machines to make their koji, Koujiwadaya remains committed to making theirs by hand even though it is more time-consuming and requires more effort. They use the traditional koji lid manufacturing method, which relies on the skilled judgment of experienced makers and a great deal of care to manage the product. The koji is aged in wooden containers, resulting in better rice koji mold growth, more active enzymes, and a deeper aroma and flavor. 

Ingredients:Soy sauce (includes wheat and soybeans, manufactured in Japan), rice koji (rice (domestic), koji), sake
Suggested uses:Extremely versatile, use as a substitute for salt or soy sauce, in dressings/sauces, or as a marinade for meat/fish (as in theSoy Sauce Koji Oven Baked Chicken Wings provided). Create a dressing by mixing with vinegar, olive oil and honey or make a garlic steak sauce by mixing 1 tbsp Soy Sauce Koji with 1 tbsp sake, 1 tsp mirin, 1 tsp of garlic and heat until the garlic becomes fragrant. 
Storage: Refrigerate after opening



Producer: Takahashi Shokuhin

Travel to Japan’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido and you’ll come across some of the country’s best seafood, including locally caught scallops nourished by the plankton-rich Oyashio current and surrounding cold waters. Here the scallops are artfully simmered in traditional Japanese seasonings to make a type of tsukudani (simmered foods).

Unlike other manufacturers that use additives and huge steam kettles to make their tsukudani, Takahashi Shokuhin’s small batches are made by hand using traditional methods and only the finest ingredients. Without using chemical seasonings, ingredients are cooked in pots over an open fire which evenly distributes the heat and helps to intensify the flavors. Impurities are also skimmed off to remove any odor. It’s a time consuming process, yet results in a rich, pure umami taste. By using these methods passed down through generations, Takahashi Shokuhin is helping to preserve Hakodate's food culture, a city known as the “city of gourmet food”. 

Ingredients:Scallops (Hokkaido Prefecture), sugar, soy sauce, hon “true” mirin (includes wheat and soybeans)
Suggested uses:Enjoy as is, in ochazuke (tea with rice) by pouring tea on top of a bowl of rice and adding the scallops as a topping, as a filling for onigiri (rice balls) or in pasta.
Storage: Refrigerate after opening and use as soon as possible.



Producer: Kuwanosato

Mulberries (known as kuwa) are flowering plants that look similar to blackberries and are one of Japan’s oldest medicinal herbs. In recent years, mulberries have reappeared in the spotlight for their potential health benefits and high nutritional value (with many nutrients found in higher amounts than in kale!).

This Brown Rice Mulberry Tea includes the whole nutritious mulberry leaf which is combined with organic brown rice powder to create a refreshing, high-quality tea with slightly nutty undertones. It’s the perfect companion to your ekiben ​​and embraces Kuwanosato’s philosophy of living each day with a full heart.

Kuwanosato grows and harvests 100% domestic mulberry leaves in Ichikawa Misato-cho, Yamanashi Prefecture. Yamanashi is known as the birthplace of “ichinose mulberries” which have large leaves, thick flesh and won the top award at the 5th Mulberry Garden Fair in Taisho. They do not use any pesticides or herbicides in their soil and the mulberry leaves they harvest in the morning are made into tea that very day.

Ingredients:Mulberry leaf powder (Yamanashi Prefecture), organic brown rice powder
Suggested uses:Combine one packet with 30ml of water. Mix thoroughly then add 200ml of water (cold or hot). Adjust to desired strength.

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