Monday, June 26, 2006


One of the questions in the "Proust questionnaire" (extended version) asks: What is your favorite journey?

I think for me it is the one that I make religiously each time I return to Japan -- the train ride from Tokyo to Nagano, where my sister and I as children spent long summers at the house of our maternal grandparents. It's a journey into the past and also a way to touch base, confirm my family roots.

During the two-hour shinkansen trip there is the ritual of eating one of the ekiben, bento sold at railway stations. There are several along this line but for me it's usually a toss-up between Daruma Bento (Takasaki station) and Toge no Kama-meshi (Yokokawa station.)

The former comes in bright red container shaped like a Daruma face, a nod to the fact that Takasaki is known for its fabrication of Daruma dolls. The empty containers are often saved as souvenirs and can be used as a piggy bank of sorts (there is a coin slit on the lid.)

Toge no Kama-meshi, shown above, comes in a rustic earthenware pot packed with tea-flavored rice. Arranged on top are bite-sized morsels of chicken, pickled ginger, braised burdock root and bamboo shoot, one quail egg, two shiitake mushrooms, three green peas, a sweetened chestnut and dried apricot. The contents speak of forest bounty yama no mono* and are in perfect synch with the scenery rushing by as one travels deeper and deeper into Japan's most mountainous region.

*as opposed to umi no mono (riches from the sea) that characterize bento sold along coastal lines.


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