販賣回憶

──台鐵便當走出國門
:::

2013 / 2月

文‧張瓊方 圖‧林格立


在各國美食齊聚台灣,超商便當無所不在的強敵環伺下,緣起於火車上供應旅客止飢裹腹的台鐵便當,年營業額從5年前的1億5,000萬元,成長至今達4億元,堪稱台鐵的「金雞母」。今年台鐵便當還將走出國門,在日本火車上販售,讓日本民眾也嚐嚐台灣的古早味。

 

究竟,這便當裡有什麼讓人念念不忘、值得回味再三的美好滋味?


台灣人有多愛吃台鐵便當?

從「車上買不到便當」長年穩居台鐵客訴問題第一位,就可以看出一盒難求的怨念有多強烈。

打開八角型木片便當盒,主角是一大塊滷排骨,周圍陪襯著花椰菜、紅蘿蔔炒茭白筍、滷蛋、海帶、炸魚排,還有那不可或缺的醬瓜。這是今天台北車站80元排骨便當的菜色,飯Q肉香,配菜豐富,真可謂「俗擱大碗」。

台北車站東二門旁的「台鐵便當本舖」,才早上11點就已出現購買便當的排隊人龍。有人買了便當趕搭高鐵或火車,有人則立刻在一旁的座椅上吃將起來,還有人特地來買回去與親友分享。

隊伍中一位來自萬華的老太太興致高昂地說,台鐵便當有濃濃的古早味,除了香滷排骨外,豆皮與醬菜的美味也是其他便當沒有的。

一口飯菜,一口回憶

每天約50萬名旅客進出的全台各台鐵車站,一天可以賣出2萬4,000個便當,其中以台北站一萬個為數最多。「當中有不少高鐵的旅客,」朱來順笑言:「台鐵唯一打敗高鐵的,就是便當。」

台鐵便當的「古早味」之所以吸引人,原因是它與兒時的記憶緊密連結。

對四、五年級生來說,在童年那個物資不豐的年代,台鐵便當與難得的返鄉團聚、出遊、旅行劃上等號,飯菜香搭配一路上的風光與親情的盼望,那記憶中的甘甜滋味,勝過一切山珍海味。

一位部落客指稱,小時候寒暑假從台北搭火車去高雄外婆家,在火車上最期待的,就是過山洞和吃便當。

為使台鐵便當保留原味,台鐵還曾特地延請已退休的高齡老師傅,回來教授、監督製程,以免失去了那令人懷念的古早味。

台鐵2000年重新推出的圓形不銹鋼製懷舊便當盒也同樣叫人印象深刻。為滿足大眾的思古幽情,自此台鐵每年推出不同款式的紀念便當盒,年銷量都有四、五萬個之多。

但其實台鐵使用不銹鋼製便當盒的歷史只有18年(民國50~68年),隨後即因回收清洗麻煩而改用其他材質的包裝。總經理朱來順指出,台鐵便當最初使用薄片木盒,1961年開始採用鋁盒及不銹鋼盒,隨後又陸續改用鋁箔紙盒、紙盒、PP盒等包裝,直到2003年配合禁用塑膠餐盒政策,才全面改用紙盒及木片材質的八角、圓、橢圓形餐盒。

就是愛排骨

隨著火車的巨輪不斷向前行駛,台鐵便當的價格也從最初的20元日漸向上攀升,1990年便當價格漲至60元後,排骨便當的價格一直維持至今。

2011年台鐵與馬偕醫院營養課合作,推出符合現代人健康概念的烤鮭魚、香烤雞腿及養生素食燉飯等新菜色,但從銷售量來看,主力仍是懷舊的經典排骨便當。

台鐵排骨便當價位有100元、80元和60元3種。100元便當內提供的是菜飯,80元與60元的差異則在排骨大小和配菜的份量。「從便當的選擇可以看出各地區養生概念的不同,」朱來順表示,台北地區賣的最好的是60元便當,台中、高雄人偏好排骨較大、菜色較多的80元便當。

香滷排骨PK大賽

目前台鐵便當分別在台北、台中、高雄、花蓮、七堵5個供應站製作,供應全台自強號、莒光號、復興號等對號列車,及部分火車站、高鐵站設立的「台鐵便當本舖」販售。

各供應站製作的便當,滷排骨的作法與菜色都大同小異,但厲害的台鐵便當愛好者,仍能區別其間的差異。

2012年10月下旬,台鐵舉辦了一場「台鐵便當香滷排骨PK競賽」,結果由七堵站的車勤服務部拿下冠軍。

台鐵原擬將全台排骨便當「統一」成奪冠的七堵口味,不料網路與賣場均湧現反對聲浪,台鐵隨即順應民意,讓各站維持原來的口味。「口味雖然沒有統一,但經過一次PK觀摩後,品質都有明顯的進步,」總經理朱來順說。

各供應站的排骨都是以醬油為基底滷製,大同小異,但仔細分辨,台北餐廳使用洋蔥、蒜跟薑醃,口味較重;高雄用老滷汁醃,口感軟嫩;花蓮走養生路線,低鹽口味最清淡;台中站的排骨較多汁;冠軍得主七堵車勤部的滷排骨則多了一種特殊的香氣。

「那是蔥的香氣,」主廚謝秉宏指出,在滷製的香料中放蔥,會增添一股淡淡的古早味,「有人打開便當享用時,旁邊的人不由自主的就想掏錢買,」他得意地說。

七堵車勤服務部一天共生產4,000個便當,多數供應西部及東部幹線的車班,只有少量在火車站外擺花車攤位販售。PK大賽奪魁的隔天,民眾慕名湧至,火車站花車便當銷量從100個激增至800個,廚房一時間還供應不及,短暫熱潮過後,現在仍維持一天四、五百個便當的銷量。

主角配菜各領風騷

台鐵便當裡的主角香滷排骨,之所以獨占鼇頭、歷久不衰,背後其實有一番道理。

「便當菜要考慮很多環境條件,」七堵站主廚謝秉宏指出,台鐵便當的排骨都經過醃、炸、滷三道程序,其用意在維持排骨的香氣,即使冷了依然好吃。

台鐵香滷排骨的作法,大致如下:排骨肉經拍打後與蔥、薑、蒜、鹽、糖、香油、酒、白胡椒、五香粉等調味料醃漬兩小時以上。再沾地瓜粉,入160度左右的油鍋油炸,最後放入滷汁中滷煮20分鐘,才算大功告成。

便當裡的配菜也不能含糊,謝秉宏指出,便當裡的選菜多是含水量較少的高麗菜、雪裡紅、鹹菜、花椰菜等,原因是蔬菜若含水量太多,飯會潮濕,吃起來口感不佳。

從本土到國際

年營業額近4億元的台鐵便當,營業範圍早已不限於火車及火車站,凡在七堵、台北、台中、高雄、花蓮等5供應站3公里範圍內,消費千元以上即可享免費宅配服務。

台鐵餐旅服務總所總經理朱來順表示,下一個目標考慮要在站外設連鎖店。他指出,目前坊間以「鐵路便當」為名開設的加盟便當店,與台鐵無關,雖然容易混淆視聽,但礙於「鐵路」二字乃一般用語,不能限制民間便當業者使用。

今年台鐵便當還要走出國門。

朱來順指出,2013年3月,台鐵將與日本JR北海道公司技術合作,在兩地同步推出「中日合璧」的海鮮排骨便當。

目前的規劃是在一個長型便當裡,一半裝台鐵便當菜色,一半裝日本便當菜色,台灣部分仍是排骨當家,日本部分則推鮭魚和玉子燒(蛋)。消息一經披露,民眾對此興趣濃厚,已有不少人打電話詢問何時可以嚐鮮。

台鐵排骨便當已縱橫一甲子,從火車上賣到要開店營業,從台灣本土邁向國際合作,這不朽的便當傳奇,除了販售懷舊與回憶,還多了一層創新的滋味。

相關文章

近期文章

EN

Selling Nostalgia—Taiwan’s “Railway Biandang”

Chang Chiung-fang /photos courtesy of Jimmy Lin /tr. by Geof Aberhart

After starting out as a hunger-buster for passengers on the trains that run up and down Taiwan, the bian­dang—Taiwanese-style boxed lunch—has become an omnipresent part of Taiwan’s culinary landscape. Those railway bian­dang are still sold today, and are in fact a growing market, going from NT$150 million in sales in 2007 to a whopping NT$400 million in 2012. And now bian­dang are set to go international, starting with giving the Japanese the chance to sample the old-fashioned taste of Taiwan on their own trains.

 

So what is it that makes bian­dang so memorable?


How much do Taiwanese love railway biandang? Enough that for many years, the number-one complaint to the Taiwan Railways Administration (TRA) was that “the biandang keep selling out before I can get one!”

Upon opening the octagonal wooden bian­dang box, one is immediately greeted by a big slab of soy-stewed pork cutlet surrounded by cauliflower, carrots, water bamboo shoots, a soy-stewed egg, some kelp, a piece of fried fish, and the irreplaceable pickled cucumber. Available for just NT$80 at places like Tai­pei Railway Station, they truly are a big meal for a little money.

Even as they open their doors at 11 a.m., the TRA Bian­dang Store already has long lines of hungry customers. One older woman from Wan­hua District excitedly explains that what makes railway bian­dang different isn’t just the stewed cutlet, but more the tofu skin and pickled vegetables, which give them a real nostalgic, down-home flavor.

A taste of home

Some 500,000 people pass through Taiwan’s railway stations every day, buying as many as 24,000 bian­dang, with Tai­pei Railway Station accounting for the greatest percentage. “A lot of those bian­dang are being bought by high-speed rail passengers,” laughs director of TRA’s Catering Service Department Dennis Ju, “which makes them the only aspect in which the traditional rail business is actually beating the HSR.”

What makes so many Taiwanese nostalgic for railway bian­dang is the close connection with many people’s childhoods.

To those born in the 1950s and 60s, when times were tight in Taiwan, railway bian­dang came to represent those rare occasions when they got to go traveling, whether for leisure or for family gatherings. The combination of the scents of the bian­dang and the anticipation of travel and family occasions have left such a deep impression on many that these simple boxed lunches are valued more than any exotic delicacy.

To make sure they keep the flavors the way people remember, the Taiwan Railways Administration even asked retired master chefs to teach and supervise the new guard.

Another way in which the TRA has tapped into that nostalgia was the 2000 relaunch of the old round, stainless-steel bian­dang boxes. Ever since, the TRA has released different old-fashioned bian­dang boxes to satisfy the nostalgic cravings of their public, selling them in annual limited editions of just 40–50,000.

This nostalgia comes despite the TRA only having used the stainless-steel boxes between 1961 and 1979, before changing to other materials that did away with the hassle of collecting and cleaning the used boxes. Dennis Ju explains that in the early days, they used thin wooden boxes, changing to stainless steel in 1961, and then later to aluminum foil, cardboard, and polypropylene, before finally moving back to cardboard and wood in 2003 when plastic boxes were banned.

We love pork cutlets!

Just like the wheels of the trains, the wheels of time have kept on turning, and where a basic railway bian­dang once cost only NT$20, by 1990 that had risen to NT$60, or NT$80 for the deluxe version. Since then, the price of a pork cutlet bian­dang has remained the same.

In 2011, the TRA worked with nutritionists from Mackay Memorial Hospital to create new bian­dang that meet modern expectations for healthy food, including roast salmon, roast chicken drumstick, and vegetarian risotto. But in terms of sales, the classic pork cutlet bian­dang is still the champion.

Battle of the bian­dang

Today the TRA produces its bian­dang at five stations—Tai­pei, Tai­chung, Kao­hsiung, Hua­lien, and Qidu—supplying the many trains that run up and down the island, as well as the TRA Bian­dang Stores located at some TRA and HSR stations.

The bian­dang produced at the five stations are prepared in essentially the same way, but true bian­dang connoisseurs can, surprisingly, still tell them apart.

In late October 2012, the TRA organized a competition between the five stations, pitting their stewed pork cutlet bian­dang against each other, with Qidu Station ultimately taking the gong.

For a while, the TRA intended to then “unify” the pork bian­dang of the various stations to match the flavor of ­Qidu’s winning recipe, but they hadn’t counted on the opposition that the suggestion sparked. Bowing to public pressure, the TRA walked back the idea, sticking to the various original recipes.

While all the stations that produce the pork bian­dang stew their pork in a soy-sauce-based concoction, the ­Qidu Station ones add a little something extra.

“It’s scallions,” says head chef Xie Bing­hong. By adding scallions to the stew, they give the meal a touch of old-fashioned flavor. “Whenever someone cracks one of these bian­dang open, the people around them basically can’t help but go buy one themselves,” Xie jokes.

The folks at Qidu Station produce some 4,000 bian­dang a day, with most being sold on trains running the eastern and western trunk lines. The day after Qidu’s bian­dang won the TRA competition, demand skyrocketed, with sales from a stand outside the station itself shooting up from 100 to 800; for a while, the kitchen just couldn’t keep up with demand. While the craze has died down somewhat now, even today they still sell some 400–500 bian­dang a day.

An ensemble cast

There’s a good reason why the stewed pork has remained for so long the star of the bian­dang show.

“There are a lot of environmental factors to take into account when putting together a bian­dang,” says Xie. The pork used in TRA bian­dang is marinated, fried, and stewed, with the aim being to produce a pork cutlet that stays mouth-watering even at room temperature.

The recipe for TRA stewed pork cutlets is basically this: after tenderizing, the cutlet is steeped for two hours or more in a marinade containing scallions, ginger, garlic, salt, sugar, sesame oil, rice wine, white pepper, and five-spice powder; next, it is dredged in sweet potato starch and shallow-fried at about 160°C; and finally, it is stewed for 20 minutes, completing the process.

Of course, the side dishes are also no place for carelessness. Xie Bing­hong explains that when picking side dishes, he looks to things with lower water content like cauliflower, mustard greens, pickled vegetables, and cabbage. The reason is that vegetables that contain too much water tend to make the rice overly moist, giving the whole biandang an unappealing mouthfeel.

Going international

Today, TRA’s biandang business pulls in almost NT$400 million a year. Sales long ago expanded out from the trains and train stations to include anywhere within three kilometers of the five producing stations, with any purchase of NT$1000 or more also enjoying free delivery. According to Dennis Ju, the TRA is now considering setting up a chain of retail outlets, and plans are underway to take the bian­dang international this year.

In March 2013, Ju says, the TRA will begin selling a seafood and pork cutlet bian­dang in Hok­kaido, Japan, in cooperation with Japan Railways; this new combination will also be sold in Taiwan.

The plan is to have long, rectangular boxes that are one half TRA bian­dang and one half Japanese ­bento; the Taiwanese half will be headlined by a pork cutlet, while the Japanese half will be salmon and fried egg. Excitement among the train-taking public erupted almost immediately on the announcement of the plan, and many people have already begun calling the TRA to ask when they’ll finally go on sale.

The TRA stewed pork cutlet bian­dang has been a local favorite for more than half a century, going from train carriages to full-fledged stores, and now to another country. Truly the story of the TRA bian­dang is one not only of fond remembrance of times past, but also of innovating for the future.

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