Recommended Japanese Convenience Store Foods by Category
The convenience stores in Japan are backed up by advanced marketing research. They are often praised as unique and unparalleled by any other form of retailing business around the world especially for the rich collection of foods and other high quality products. They provide convenient and quick foods to everyone from busy office workers, housewives, students and seniors everywhere around the nation, and have become an indispensable part of their everyday lives. The quality of the original foods developed by each convenience store chain has continuously been improved and reached a level where you can randomly pick any of them to find the descent quality of taste. Whenever you want to save your travel expense and spare some budget for the dinners at a restaurant and souvenirs, convenience stores will surely come in quite handy.
Three Major Convenience Store Chains
Currently, Seven Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart collectively make up about 80 percent of convenience store market shares in Japan. You will probably be able to find a branch of either one of them somewhere around your accommodation. If you are staying in Japan for a long period of time, it would be interesting to visit the branches of each of these chains and compare their differences.
Family Mart, https://ja.wikipedia.org
Now let us show you our recommendations for convenience store foods by category.
Onigiri (Rice Ball)
Onigiri is a triangular-shaped rice ball with a variety of fillings. The most common and popular variation available at convenience stores is those wrapped in plastic, which you pull apart to wrap the rice ball with dried seaweed (nori). This allows seaweed to keep its dry and crispy texture until eaten. There is also a round shaped variation in which the rice ball is already wrapped with seaweed. It is more moist in texture and suitable for those who do not much care for dry and crispy textured seaweed and want to avoid the laborious process of pulling away the plastic wrapping to cover the rice ball with seaweed.
Most common filling ingredients include…
- Ume: Salt Pickled and Sun-dried Plum Fruit
- Sake: Salt Grilled Salmon
- Konbu: Konbu, a type of seaweed/kelp that is simmered in a broth of seasonings like soy sauce and sugar for a sweet and savory flavor
- Okaka: Dried Bonito Flakes Seasoned with Soy Sauce and other Seasonings
- Tunamayo: Oil Marinated Tuna Dressed with Mayonnaise
- Tsukemono: Spicy Pickled and Fermented Vegetables
- Tarako: Salt Marinated Cod Roe / Karashi Mentaiko: a Variation Marinated with Spicy Chili and other Special Seasonings
- Ikura: Salmon Roe
*Try learning the Japanese name for each filling!
Without some knowledge of Japanese, you may not be able to tell what the filling is and might well hesitate to buy. But unless you are a strict vegetarian or extremely picky about foods, any one of them that you pick up randomly should not be too disappointing.
Recommended fillings for vegetarians are ume (plum), konbu (kelp) and tsukemono (pickles).
About onigiri: more info
Crisp Lettuce Sandwich, http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/en_nori0907
Typically at most convenience stores, you will find sandwiches beside the onigiri section, with its white bread making good color contrast against darker tone of nori seaweed of onigiri; the bread used for common sandwiches in Japan is brightly white and very soft in texture. Because the fillings for sandwiches are easy to tell from outside, they can be an easier choice than onigiri for those who do not read Japanese. Especially, egg sandwich (tamago sando) and lettuce sandwich have superb texture and are highly recommendable. Makes sure to give them a try!
Near the sandwich shelves, look around to see if you can find shelves with an array of plastic wrapped bread that looks more brownish in color. The taste of those deli breads with sausage and cheese should come quite familiar to many people from outside Japan. But we would like to recommend “yakisoba pan” and “curry pan” to those among you with greater curiosity about things Japanese!
“Yakisoba Pan” is fried noodles seasoned with sweet soy sauce (yakisoba) sandwiched in a hot dog style bun. It is considered a kind of cheap snack and there are quite a lot of enthusiastic fans of them among Japanese. You can probably tell the reason of its popularity somehow from its appearance.
“Curry Pan” is deep-fried bread with Japanese style curry sauce filling. It has a round piroshki-like shape. If you cannot tell from outside, get a little up close and take a smell. If you notice the aroma of curry… Bingo! A crisp lettuce sandwich and a little spicy curry bread together will surely make a nice combo.
Bento (Lunch Box)
Especially among other convenience store foods, what we would like to see more improvements with is lunch boxes (bento). For now, they undeniably fall just one step short of those freshly cooked lunch boxes from specialty shops.
However, cold foods such as “Hiyashi Udon (cold udon noodles), “Hiyashi Chuka (cold served yellowish Chinese style noodles with toppings of hams, egg and vegetables),” “Somen (white fine noodles),” “Zarusoba (buckwheat noodles with dipping sauce)” are easily available at convenience stores and can be a great choice when you have lost your appetite in summer heat or on the day after a night of excessive drinking.
“Cup noodles” (instant noodles in cups) are very popular in Japan. You just pour hot water into a cup and wait for about 3 to 5 minutes to enjoy noodles. With food companies in Japan launching one new product after another and some convenience store chains also offering their original products, you may well feel at a loss which to choose from among so many products and brands. Most convenience stores have an electric pot near the checkout registers ready with hot water, so you can eat cup noodles right after checking out. Nowadays, we see more convenience stores with a space where you can sit down and eat so you may be able to eat your noodles right in the store.
There are ramen, udon, soba, yakisoba and other kinds of cup noodles. If you find the word “UFO” on the package, that’s yakisoba. Make sure to remember.
Sweets is the genre where many convenience store chains are making their greatest effort investments in order to bring in young female customers to their branches.
See the following articles for more details: 9 Popular Sweets Available at Convenience Stores, Perfect for Souvenir
Knorr Cup Soup, https://www.flickr.com
If you want some soup as a complement to go with onigiri, cup miso soup of one portion size is a great choice.
If you have a good-sized mug cup, Knorr soup mix containing three packs is recommendable as a complement for your sandwich or bread. Actually, the Knorr products available in Japan are exclusive to the country’s market! As they are produced by manufacturers based only in Japan, their taste is completely different from Knorr’s products available elsewhere outside Japan. It is no exaggeration to say that there is a whole world of difference between their tastes.
If you get one of them at a convenience store and like Knorr’s soup in Japan, you can go to a supermarket and choose and buy from among more variations to make a special souvenir from Japan. Your friends will surely be surprised.
You will also be able to find green-themed bottles lined up somewhere in beverage refrigerators. You can never miss out on green tea once you are in Japan! Unlike green tea you can find in south-east Asian countries, those bottled green tea available at Japanese convenience stores are all sugar free. It is a healthy beverage and each bottle is reasonably priced, so you can enjoy green tea even every day!