If you’ve ever visited or lived in Japan, you know that convenience stores (konbini) play an essential role in the daily life of Japanese people. We all know their names – 7-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart, Ministop, and more. Each chain has its own attractiveness, yet Japanese convenience store food is all fast, affordable, delicious, and above all, convenient. That’s why so many living in Japan visit convenience stores at least once a day.
Let’s introduce you to the food world inside every convenience store in Japan, where you’ll get to see some of the most popular food among Japan’s food culture.
Onigiri rice balls are often made with simple ingredients and recipes but are always tasty and one of the most popular of Japanese convenience store food.
There are a wide variety of onigiri, ranging from traditional flavors like salmon, tuna with mayonnaise, and cod roe, to more special ones like fried chicken, shrimp mixed with mayonnaise, omelet, and fried rice. These rice balls are usually flavored with salt, teriyaki, or mayonnaise, all of which are easy to eat for most people, even children.
Thanks to the ultimate combination of white rice, savory ingredients at the core, and salty seaweed leaves, delicious rice balls are undoubtedly the nutritious on-the-go breakfast for many people who are busy stopping by konbini in the morning. If you don’t know what to try, check out safe onigiri options here!
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Japanese people often bring lunch boxes called O-bento (or bento boxes) when going to school or work to eat during break time. However, there are busy days when they don’t have enough time to prepare one or get too tired of cooking, and this is when bento boxes at convenience stores prove to be a delicious yet affordable replacement.
In a konbini, plenty of bento options are available, including those made to fit the season. Some of the most popular bentos always on offer include Japanese curry rice and many kinds of donburi – the famous Japanese rice-bowl meals including gyudon (beef slices on rice), oyakodon (chicken cutlet with eggs), katsudon (fried pork cutlet with eggs), or kaisendon (fresh seafood with rice), and so on.
Even better, these bentos are delivered in the early morning every day, so the food is always fresh and tasty all day long.
If you ever have a chance to visit Japan, don’t forget to give a convenience store Obento a try. It will never fail to be an affordable yet authentic Japanese dish you shouldn’t miss!
Konbini are also places where you can taste some of the most popular Japanese hot foods, traditional and modern, at its most convenient.
Yakitori – Japanese grilled chicken skewer – is made by skewing pieces of chicken onto a bamboo stick and grilling it over charcoal. Yakitori can be any part of the chicken but the ones usually seen at konbini include chicken thighs, skin, wings, and meatballs, with each having its own unique texture and aroma.
The secret to yakitori’s deliciousness lies in its spices: salt and tare sauce (a mix usually made of soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar). Salt-flavored yakitori is the most basic one, while tare sauce has a sweet and salty flavor with soy sauce as the main ingredient. When the chicken is grilled together with it, a harmonious combination of saltiness from the sauce and sweetness of the meat just makes it taste even better compared to normal grilled chicken.
Yakitori has become an all-year-round favorite bar snack for not only Japanese people but also tourists.
Oden (various foods cooked in hot soup) is one of the most popular traditional Japanese foods, especially in the cold season when Japanese people usually drink hot sake (Japanese rice wine) or eat oden to keep their bodies warm.
Konbinis offer various types of oden, such as radish, fish cakes, konnyaku (konjac), boiled eggs, or tofu stuffed with mochi (pounded rice cake) and beef tendon. They are always dipped in a hot, fragrant dashi (Japanese soup stock) broth with a smell that will immediately attract your attention when you walk into the store. You can eat oden with soy sauce, mustard, or yuzu pepper to make it even more delicious.
The oden season starts when the very first cold wind of autumn begins to blow, usually from September to mid-April every year. So, if you happen to visit Japan in winter, don’t hesitate to try out the legendary oden while visiting a convenience store. And make sure to drink up the soup after!
Other hot food includes fried foods such as fried chicken, corn dogs, hot dogs, and fried spring rolls. Karaage (balls of fried chicken thigh) is always a popular option for a quick snack. And we can’t forget about chukaman – Chinese-style steamed buns filled with sweet or savory ingredients, like pork, red bean paste, or even, cheese and tomato (for a pizza bun).
If you are a big fan of Japanese snacks, both sweet and savory, convenience stores in Japan are definitely a paradise for you!
Sweets and snacks at konbinis are extremely diverse in types and flavors, ranging from the traditional potato chips, candy, chocolate, or ice cream, to the newest seasonal and promotional items. Of course, seasonal Kit Kat flavors are among the many sweets available as well.
One of the must-try snack brands in Japan you can easily find at convenience stores is Calbee. The Jagabee potato sticks lineup has two basic yet extremely rich flavors – the soy sauce with butter flavor and salt flavor are loved by many people for its distinctive hearty crunch.
Pocky – a popular biscuit stick coated with chocolate – has a wide range of flavors to offer that changes seasonally, such as Heart-shaped strawberry, Kyoto Uji Matcha, (powdered green tea) and Hokkaido’s Azuki (red bean). Of course, some Pocky flavors use seasonal fruit flavors as well, like lemon or coconut in the summer. Sweet potato is available in autumn, while rich cocoa and butter caramel come in winter.
The same goes for sweet snacks. You can find plenty of traditional Japanese sweets like mochi and dorayaki (red bean sandwiched between castella patties). You can also find Western or Western-influenced sweets, like Japanese pudding with whipped cream or Haagen Dazs ice cream, at any local convenience store in Japan.
Plus, each konbini brand has its own sweet selection that changes frequently depending on the season and the store itself. Not many convenience stores, even from the same chain, have a completely same sweets collection.
Moreover, sweets and snacks in konbinis usually have collaboration campaigns with famous anime series in Japan like Demon Slayer, Attack on Titan, and Jujutsu Kaisen. You can both enjoy your treats and sometimes receive some of your favorite anime goods while buying those limited-edition products at convenience stores.
Instant noodles are a staple of Japanese convenience store food, and there’s no wonder why. With just two kinds of instant noodles, ramen (Chinese-style wheat noodles) and yakisoba (fried noodles), Japan can make dozens of variations with different flavors for you to choose.
You can even find the instant version of some of the most popular ramen and ramen chains in Japan, such as Ichiran, Ippudo, Sumire Sapporo Miso ramen, or even Chinese spicy noodles – tantanmen.
Instant noodles at konbinis are well-known for not only being reasonable but also high quality, as the taste is both rich and quite similar to its original version sold at noodle shops.
Japanese convenience store food is more attractive and diverse than any other convenience stores’ in the world, isn’t it? You can taste almost every kind of Japanese food at an affordable price with both high quality and nutrition just by walking down the street and into a konbini.
What konbini has the finest food selection in your opinion? Let us know in the comments below!
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