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A letter to my harshest critic. A special bento box. Traveling 185 miles per hour.
Somewhere Past Tokyo Station, Tokyo, 12:15 p.m.
I could barely keep my luggage together, scrambling up the stairs as the train attendant's whistle shrieked across the station. It was the signal for final boarding on the Shinkansen, Japan's bullet train. These trains leave on the exact minute they're scheduled to and if they're even late by a minute, they'll do a nationwide apology. We're starting to soar past Tokyo now and my breathing is getting back to normal. The top speed from here to Osaka should be 185 mph and we'll cover 320 miles under 2 hours and 30 minutes on the ground.
I've been to Tokyo Station before. Many times, but that was 5 years ago as a broke backpacker who just graduated from college. Realizing I have a little more money now and an hour to spend, I decided to stroll past an endless display of restaurant menus and glass cases of souvenirs, cakes, and ekiben (a specific type of bento sold at train stations in Japan). An hour was barely enough time to visit a few of the 180 shops at the train station and sift through the crowd to find what I was looking for.
I picked up a special box called Shinjuku Bento from Ekibenya. Shinjuku is the ward I stayed in Tokyo for 2 weeks and it's one of the city's major hubs. When you think of clusters of high rise buildings, neon lights, the crowds, energy, and bustle of nightlife, shopping, and business men in Tokyo, Shinjuku is the heart of it. It wasn't always that way though.
This light wooden bento is tightly wrapped in an edo-style painting of the string of villages Shinjuku was. There's a message on the back of the wrapping paper. Shinjuku's farm land was known for their crops of Naito red pepper. As Shinjuku developed, these hot peppers stopped being grown, until now, where they're a certified traditional Edo-Tokyo vegetable being cultivated once again.
The Naito red peppers that top the shiitake mushrooms in this bento are one of the unique ingredients that represent Shinjuku in addition to other local specialties like grilled fish with Anyoji miso (a famous miso from Shinshu, the mountainous region in central Japan where the Japanese Alps are), Yatsugatake tamagoyaki (an egg omlette also from Shinshu), stir-fried Shinshu nozawana (a green leafy vegetable), Koshu's famous sauce katsu (Koshu, Japan is a valley known for their wine), Koshu plum rice and to top it off, Kyoho grape mochi (a grape also from the area).
Even in something as simple as a convenience meal, Japan finds a way to celebrate and respect a place in a tightly wrapped story.
If there was an example of what I hope Everywhere We Eat becomes, it's this bento. Like this bento, the food and travel stories in Everywhere We Eat should be thoughtful, convenient and fun to read. About the name...
Everywhere. After this story about a bento box, I'm writing about a one Michelin star restaurant in Ginza, Tokyo. After Japan, I'm headed to New Orleans. East to west, street stalls to white table cloths, there’s no judgement. Only curiosity and enthusiasm.
We. If this writing is successful, you should feel like you were actually there. Food and travel is inspiring and while we can't always go to the places we hear or read about, it at least benefits everyone to know and celebrate them.
Eat. Yes, this column is centered around food. However, food is simply the pillar that connects the history, people and culture of these places together. There will be stories about food but let’s not forget about the context that truly makes the meal.
For me, Everywhere We Eat is simply a place where I can write and share my food adventures. It's been a long time coming after backpacking through Asia, teaching English in Japan, flying 3 times a week for business and now living in different cities. It's a big world and there's still a lot to eat and learn so I hope I can create a community of other writers and travelers to help contribute.
I'm starting to hear the crunch and crinkle of wrapping paper and plastic bags around me. It's eating time, and I'm feeling very ready. I guess we eat at 185 miles per hour in Japan. I'll join them.
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