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Japanese-style train station lunch boxes debut in Paris

Customers are seen buying ekiben at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, France, on March 1, 2016. (Mainichi)

PARIS -- "Ekiben," or lunch boxes served in train stations, have begun making their way into the stomachs of travelers in Paris, France, after the first such stand in the country was unveiled for a temporary run inside the Gare de Lyon train station on March 1

    The stand was launched by Nihon Restaurant Enterprise (NRE), which is contracted to sell ekiben by the East Japan Railway Co. (JR East).

    Known in France by the name "bento" (the Japanese term for a boxed lunch), the meals have become popular in the country from both a health and economical standpoint. Because the French are not accustomed to eating rice together with side dishes, however, the meals have been put together with French tastes in mind such as the use of lighter-than-usual flavorings.

    Customers are seen buying ekiben at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, France, on March 1, 2016. (Mainichi)

    NRE President Katsumi Asai commented during a ceremony held just prior to the stand's opening, "The culture of the ekiben is deeply rooted in Japanese food culture, dating back 130 years in history and including over 2,000 different available styles."

    He added, "We have kept this tradition intact, while simultaneously keeping in mind the cuisine-related preferences of the French people."

    Mikhail Lannoy, the assistant master of the Gare de Lyon train station -- the starting point for the high-speed TGV trains offering long-distance service -- commented that "it is beautiful to see colorful foods packed together in a single box."

    Naima Laib, a 35-year-old customer who was waiting in line prior to the stand's opening, said that "the term 'bento' is beginning to come into wide use," and added, "I came here because I wanted to know what the authentic Japanese version would taste like."

    An expert is on hand at a local factory to provide technical guidance with preparing the boxed lunches. Five different styles are available, including "makunouchi," which features a variety of fish, meat and vegetables; and "sukeroku-zushi," which includes sushi rolls along with deep-fried tofu pockets stuffed with vinegared sushi rice.

    Each ekiben costs between eight and 15 euro (around 980 to 1,850 yen), and comes with a pair of chopsticks.

    While the stand had originally been slated to open last year in December, the terrorist attacks that occurred in Paris in November caused the launch date to be pushed back. It is scheduled to remain open for two months, until April 30.

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