To learn “what is an ekiben,” let’s break the word down. Eki (駅) means “train station.” Ben is short for “bento.”
A bento (弁当) is a lunch box.
So what’s so special about train station bentos? Other cultures have train meals too right?
Ekiben are different by region, featuring delicacies, and are often seasonal.
Or use special containers using unique craftsmanship from the region.
Some Japanese even collect ekiben, or purchase as gifts for the family upon returning from trips.
A souvenir is called “omiyage (お土産).”
There are various competing theories as to what counts as the first ekiben, as is often the case with an idea whose time has so obviously come. There were trains, there were people, people get hungry. The market was so ready that it almost had to happen in some form, and surely more than one merchant met the need. —Tofugu
While biting into a smelly sandwich on a crowded inner city train is decidedly considered bad manners in Japan, pulling out your chopsticks over a freshly opened ekiben on a shinkansen or limited express train ride is almost an essential part of the journey for some travelers. The best part: there’s a galaxy of styles to try from all across the country. —JapanGuide
Ekibens are sold cold or room temperature but prepared to be eaten cold so you would not be disappointed with the taste. However, if you are really looking for to eat hot meal, some of Ekibens have solution. Some of them are sold cold yet they have special function to heat up by itself. —JapanWebMagazine
What makes ekiben so great? Probably the main attraction is that they allow travellers to sample local specialties. While many bento stores often sell more “standard” bento with popular foods, it’s usually the regional specialties that are the most popular! As well, because these bentos focus on regional specialties, they can only be found at specific stations: so if you don’t get it, you won’t be able to eat it unless you come visit again! —TokyoCreative