When I was in Japan this summer, I bought an “ekiben” for my 2 hours train trip. Ekiben is a shortened word for eki bento, which means train station (eki) lunch box (bento.) In Japan, you can find a prepacked bento everywhere just like you can find prepared sandwiches here in the US, but the special one that you can get at a train station typically for a long trip (not for commuting) is called ekiben. You carry it, and often times you will eat in the train. Although many stations sell ekiben, certain stations are well known for their specialized ekiben since they use their local specialties or unique ingredients that are hard to get elsewhere. If you travel in Japan by train for a long distance, this is something you can look forward to.
In my case I was at Tokyo station, and there were just too many choices. There were at least ten different shops selling several different kinds of ekiben each. I really wanted to spend a lot of time searching for the best one, but I had to pick one quickly to catch my train. So I grabbed one that had fried tuna with sweet soy sauce and ran to catch the train.
Once I sat in the train, I relaxed and enjoyed my ekiben. In the box were a spring roll, pickles, simmered root vegetables, potato salad, fried tuna with sweet soy sauce, and rice with dried shiso leaves sprinkled on top. I was just so impressed with how tasty everything was and how many kinds of things were in such a small container. Especially I enjoyed the tuna with the sweet sauce because I used to get the same at school when I was little. As I was feeling a little nostalgic about my ekiben, the train’s food service cart was passing by. You can buy a basic ekiben, snacks or drinks including beer. I bought a cup of coffee, and just relaxed for the rest of the train ride thinking what a perfect the train ride it was. The two hours just flew by so enjoyably.
Since I had eaten the ekiben during the trip, I was craving for the fried tuna again; so, pretty soon after the trip I made one at home. My family liked it very much just as I had. I think this dish was originally created to use the less expensive leftover end pieces of tuna that are not used for sashimi or sushi. For this you don’t need to use sushi quality tuna since you are not eating it raw. These days I think this can be nice change from sushi or seared tuna. Using fried chicken with this sauce is actually more common, so you can try that as well. Here is the Japanese fried tuna recipe if you are interested. I was so glad that I encountered this particular ekiben because I had completeky forgotten about this meal from my childhood.
Recipe: Fried Tuna with Sweet Soy Sauce
1 1/2 lb tuna, cut into 1 inch cube
canola oil for frying
roasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoon mirin
2 garlic, grated
1″ ginger, grated
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoon sake
1/4 cup mirin
3 tablespoon sugar
Mix marinade ingredients in a bowl. Add tuna pieces, and stir to coat. Let marinate for 20 minutes.
Drain tuna pieces, and coat with cornstarch, one piece at a time.
In a large skillet or deep fryer, heat oil to 365 degrees F (185 degrees C). Place tuna pieces in hot oil, and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with remaining tuna pieces.
In a large skillet, add all ingredients for sweet soy sauce, and cook over medium heat until it thickens. Add fried tuna pieces, and coat with sauce.
Sprinkle sesame seeds, and serve.