How to eat Shumai Bento | Why Kiyoken's Shumai tastes great even when cold

How to eat Shumai Bento | Why Kiyoken’s Shumai tastes great even when cold

“Ekiben” are very familiar to the Japanese people. Its history can be traced back about 140 years, and a uniquely Japanese culture rarely seen elsewhere. Ekiben are also unique to their own local specialties and tastes. Taiwanese writer Riichi Chang spoke with the PR manager of Kiyoken, Akane Yamamoto. Yamamoto mentions that the Yokohama unique “Shumai Bento” is considered to be the perfect example for the Ekiben.

【Advised by】Kiyoken(崎陽軒)

What is a Shumai Bento?

What is a Shumai Bento?

The Shumai Bento is as famous as the city of Yokohama itself. It has been the signature product of Kiyoken since its premiere in 1954. It has been considered the best-selling bento in Japan, with as many as 27,000 Shumai Bentos sold each day.

The bento includes rice, old-fashion shumai, grilled tuna, a fish cake, and fried chicken. It also includes an omelet, diced bamboo shoot, an apricot, kelp, and some shredded pickled ginger. The variety of food gives you lots of side dishes, to support the 5 shumai.

What is a Shumai Bento?

We visited the headquarters of Kiyoken with goodie foodie’s partner, Riichi Chang, who currently lives in Tokyo. We wanted to hear about the thoughts behind the Shumai bento, and its possible future overseas.

The Birth of Shumai Bento

The Birth of Shumai Bento

PR Manager Yamamoto said that Kiyoken has two signature products, Old-fashioned Shumai and the Shumai Bento.

Chang: Was the Shumai Bento created after the Old-fashioned Shumai?

Yamamoto: That’s right. The Old-fashioned Shumai was created in 1928, and the Bento followed in 1954. At its start, the Old-fashioned Shumai only sold 10 or 20 boxes a day. So, the first president of Kiyoken introduced Shumai girls to Yokohama station. The saleswomen in their red Chinese-styled dressed became famous in town, and the company’s recognition soared. Since Kiyoken was an ekiben shop, it only made sense for us to start making bento boxes with shumai as the main dish.

The Birth of Shumai Bento

Chang: So that’s the background. How did the shumai girls become such a hot topic?

Yamamoto: At that time, men were the main vendors of ekibens. The unique look of the beautiful women selling the shumai seemed to be a novelty that customers enjoyed. There was also a love story between a shumai girl and baseball player that became a series in the Mainichi Newspaper, later made into a movie. Thanks to this, we have about 160 stores in Tokyo and Kanagawa. We do go to regional events as well, but its our general business practice to not leave the Kanto region. Kiyoken has grown together with the city of Yokohama, and we have the intention of remaining as a local brand.

Delicious even when cold is due to a special technique

elicious even when cold is due to a special technique

Mr. Chang had never actually eaten a shumai bento before. After discussing, it was decided that he should try it right away. Just before eating, Ms. Yamamoto noticed something interesting.

Yamamoto: Oh, you have the shumai bento sideways!

Chang: I was wondering about that, is there a specific orientation for the bento?

Yamamoto: No, there is no particular orientation. There are generally four different positions depending on the setup with the rice and side dishes, but its interesting that it changes person to person. By the way, the current president of Kiyoken always uses the sideways orientation, just like you.

elicious even when cold is due to a special technique

Chang: Now let’s by eating the shumai. …… Yeah, its delicious! I was wondering about something before. In my hometown, we tend not to eat food that has cooled down. Especially shumai is assumed to be too greasy when cold, but here this is not the case at all.

Yamamoto: I am glad you noticed that. The shumai of Kiyoken is famously “delicious even when cold”, which is critical. The reason why Kiyoken started making shumai in the first place was the president of the company was exploring Chinatown, trying to discover a specialty of Yokohama. He noticed the quality of the shumai at the restaurants was high, but began to deteriorate as it cools down. To solve this issue, our shumai has dried scallops mixed in. By doing so, we were able to create a shumai that is rich in flavor, and does not lose its taste even after it cools down.

elicious even when cold is due to a special technique

Chang: I think its rare to find something that tastes so good when you take it home.

Yamamoto: Yes, also we don’t use any chemical seasonings or preservatives. They are delicious enough to eat without seasoning, but as there are 5 in each bento, you can test them with different sauces such as mustard, soy sauce, or both.

Shumai is not the only thing in the bento we are particular about. 

Shumai is not the only thing in the bento we are particular about.

Yamamoto: Its not just the shumai that tastes good cold, please try the rice as well.

Chang: Is the rice sticky?

Yamamoto: No, I know many people think that all rice is glutinous, or sticky when cold, but we use uruchi which is a non-glutinous rice. Thes secret is in the steaming method. We use a high temperature steam, so even with it cools down, it doesn’t become sticky. The wooden container also absorbs excess water, so it can control the moisture in the bento.

Shumai is not the only thing in the bento we are particular about.

Chang: That must be why its so good. Do the other side dishes change with the seasons?

Yamamoto: The shumai bento has always remained the same. Although there have been some minor changes, such as the grilled tuna being replaced for yellowtail from time to time, the side dishes have not changed since 2003.

Chang: I see, there is a lot of color in the side dishes as well.

Yamamoto: In keeping with the makunouchi styled bentos, we have grilled fish, an omelet, and a fishcake, which are know as the three sacred ingredients. We emphasized balance so that the rice can support the other side dished even after the shumai has been finished. The apricots soaked in homemade syrup has a unique sweet and sour taste. Some people eat it first and let its sourness increase their appetite, while others save it for a dessert at the end. Personally, I love eating it with the friend chicken.

What Kiyoken hopes to achieve through overseas expansion

What Kiyoken hopes to achieve through overseas expansion

In August 2020, Kiyoken opened its first overseas branch is Chang’s home country of Taiwain.

Chang: You have a store in Taiwan. I was surprised to learn that they are not only serving bentos, but we can also eat-in.

Yamamoto: you know us, don’t you? We not only do we sell shumai, but we also have eat-ins and more.

What Kiyoken hopes to achieve through overseas expansion

Taiwan Kiyang Hsien Bade Dunhua Store

Chang: That’s interesting. I see that Kiyoken has various other businesses other than shumai. What brough you the idea to bring the unique Yokohama shumai overseas?

Yamamoto: Our goal is increasing interest in Yokohama, and Japan’s ekiben culture. We want people to know about our shumai and ekibens, to drive more tourists to the Yokohama area.

Chang: That make’s sense. Is there any reason why you chose Taiwan for your first location?

Yamamoto: Taiwan also has an ekiben culture. Its slightly different from the Japanese version, in Taiwan, warm food is preferred, and usually eaten before boarding the train. Therefore, we believe that introducing Japanese ekiben will be an easier crossroads of food culture and lead to a new appreciation of the roots of our own food culture. We hope to use the shumai bento as an opportunity to make Yokohama even more exciting.

Diverse product development

Diverse product development

Kiyoken, apart from restaurants and shumai, produces confectionaries, pork steam buns, and pre-packaged foods. We were recommended to eat the Yokohama pineapple brown sugar cake.

Diverse product development

Chang: This is delicious, I’ve never seen round pineapple cakes before, aren’t pineapple cakes rare to make for Japanese companies?

Yamamoto: Thank you very much. It was intended to be a limited time product, but the response was so good that we decided to make it year-round. The deep flavor of the brown sugar mixed into the dough and the sourness of the pineapple jam inside go very well together.

Diverse product development

Chang: In addition to the bentos and snacks, Kiyoken offers a wider variety like pork buns and pre-packaged foods. They also have limited time offerings, which is always exciting.

Yamamoto: Kiyoken constantly is trying to improve its food products. One of our core values is to satisfy our customers’ hearts as well. We want customers to not only have a happy stomach, but a happy experience with Kiyoken products.

I hope to bring this kind of food not just around Japan, but around the world. I would be happy if Yokohama’s shumai bento was the start of an enjoyable experience.

Riichi Chang

【Navigator】Riichi Chang(張維中)


Author and columnist. Born in Taipei, Taiwan. Made his writing debut as a novelist in 1997.

【Riichi Chang’s post-interview comments】
Kiyoken’s shumai bento has become one of the best representations of ekibens. This Yokohama-born bento brand has a long history, and has been apart of the changes and growth of the ekiben culture. Although now I can experience this wonderful shumai in the Kiyoken Taiwan location, it was wonderful to visit the main branch. I have learned about the hard work and central growth of the shumai bento. There is a large Kiyoken restaurant in Yokohama, and it offers a wide variety of Chinese to western, even European cuisines and teas. When visiting Yokohama next, be sure to add Kiyoken to your places to visit.

* The published information is current as of June 2023. Prices and other details are subject to change.

Read Next
How to eat Japanese bentos | Savor the peak of family cuisine at Noriben Yamanobori

How to eat Japanese bentos | Savor the peak of family cuisine at Noriben Yamanobori

Japan’s traditional portable bento meals have influenced dining around the globe, with the phrase “bento box” now being commonly recognized. Among Japan’s diverse types of bento, noriben stands out as a true classic. In this simple favorite, a sheet of nori seaweed is laid out on a bed of rice, and topped with various side dishes. Lately, noriben made with specially selected ingredients are making waves in Japan's food scene. Mr WAGATSUMA Yoshikazu, the president of Noriben Yamanobori, is credited with starting this trend. For this article, Taiwanese author Mr Riichi Chang interviews Mr Wagatsuma to learn more about the simple, yet profound art of noriben.

【Advised by】Kiyoken(崎陽軒)

The company was founded in 1908. The company introduced Yokohama specialties such as "Old-fashioned shumai" and "Shumai Bento," and currently operates approximately 160 stores, mainly in Tokyo and Yokohama. The company also operates restaurants and wedding businesses, and continues to be close to the lives of Yokohama residents. The photo was taken at the "Kiyoken Honten Shop.

text: UEDA Akari

photo: ISHIGAKI Seiji



Home What To Eat How to eat Shumai Bento | Why Kiyoken’s Shumai tastes great even when cold