Monday, February 13, 2017


Ekiben has been on the lips and Instagram accounts of Baltimoreans ever since it opened its doors in Fells Point last March. Before the brick and mortar shop opened, owners Nikhil Yesupriya, Ephrem Abebe, and Steve Chu sold their pan-Asian wares at the Fells Point Farmers' Market. I love the fact that the three partners are from completely different ethnic backgrounds (South Indian, Ethiopian, Taiwanese), and that they met at UMBC. That's what college is for, right? Not only to get an education, but also to branch out from one's potentially insular upbringing and see the world. In the case of Yesupriya, Abebe, and Chu, it was the world of food. While the dishes they serve at Ekiben (itself a Japanese word referring to a specific style of bento box served at railway stations) have a strong Taiwanese bent, the partners season their dishes with flavors from each of their heritages.

The must-try dish is the tempura fried broccoli, topped with shallots and fresh herbs and seasoned with rice vinegar. For $2 more, non-vegetarians can get thinly sliced Chinese sausage, too.

Back when Harborplace first opened, there was a stall selling deep-fried, batter-coated vegetables. I tried to avoid the broccoli, because invariably the florets were soggy with uncooked batter. That is not the case at Ekiben, where every bite is encased in a thin and crisp coating. The combination of flavors and textures in this dish is terrific.

We also did two of the buns that are available every day - the Neighborhood Bird and the Tofu Brah. The former includes a Taiwanese curry fried chicken thigh of vast proportions topped with spicy sambal mayo, pickles, and fresh herbs. The latter is tofu in spicy peanut sauce, topped with seasonal slaw, and fresh herbs. All their sandwiches are mammoth, served on steamed buns that are positively cloud-like in appearance and texture. They are well-suited for a sturdy filling like the chicken thigh, but not substantial enough for the sloppy tofu and its mountain of toppings. Make sure to equip yourself with lots of napkins if you're going to tackle the tofu sandwich, and lean over your plate (cardboard takeout container) so if you do have a spill, you won't waste it on the floor.

Though a tad difficult to eat, the tofu sandwich was delicious. Next time, we'll try it over rice. Also next time, we'll get the Original bun, which features Thai chicken meatballs in a coconut black peppercorn sauce. We hear the catfish is tasty, too, as is everything else on the menu.

Why couldn't Ekiben have been around when I lived in Fells Point, just three blocks away?

1622 Eastern Ave
Baltimore, MD 21231

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