5 konbini foods to try in Japan

In a busy society such as the Japanese, food and drinks need to be available to tourists, business men and everyone else. For that reason, vending machines with drinks can be found in most streets in Japan whether you are in the middle of Tōkyō's streets or on the top of a mountain.

The Japanese convenience stores, konbini, are there for everyone's convenience, and a trip to a konbini is actually almost worth the trip to Japan in itself. A konbini is like a Danish kiosk - just more fancy and with far more options. You'll find many Japanese specialities, that vary depending on the shop, chain, region and season. You'll also find more than food at a konbini such as dessert, drinks, magazines and necessities such as underwear. You can withdraw money, print and even buy tickets at a konbini.


Top 5 konbini foods

But what are konibini foods? To make a long story short, it's a type of food, snack or edible item to purchase in a convenience store. It is delicious, cheap - and of course available. The prices of konbini foods are a bit higher than at the supermarkets, but here they are ready to be eaten right way, very convenient and good, when you're on the go. And well, there's often a konbini nearby to be found.

In this guide, we have included our top 5 of quick foods from convenience stores. The three biggest chains are 7-Eleven, Family Mart and Lawson. One of these chains are often nearby in the big cities. Are you tired after a long day of sightseeing, there's hot dinner to take to the hotel room. So easy! Depending on what time of year you are visiting Japan, you can try a seasonal type of food such as hot oden in winter or chewy sakura mochi in spring. Anyways, let's dig into the wonderful world of konbini food. All there is left to say is "itadakimasu"!

konbini, convenience store, japan

(https://blog.gaijinpot.com/5-things-didnt-know-buy-konbini/)

1. Onigiri

Perhaps you know this one from anime or Instagram. I'd describe an onigiri as a triangle shaped rice ball with filling wrapped in seaweed, and there are so many kinds of filling such as fish and konbu. You can honestly fill it with whatever you'd like, but to me it's best with a creamy middle.

With its fancy wrapping technology (not that technical, actually), the lightly salted nori seaweed stays deliciously crispy, and you avoid sloppy seaweed around the moist rice. When you open the package by going through the three steps, the creamy rice and seaweed are united in a fantastic combination. My personal favourites among onigiri are the fishy ones. Try tuna and Japanese mayo (it's a bit different from our Danish mayo), one with fish eggs such as tarako or mentaiko or with shrimp. Yum! The best part is, that most convenience stores almost always have the classic konbini food here, no matter what time of the day it is. However, if you get to a convenience store around lunch, they've often arrived fresh from the factory.

To say it shortly, onigiri is an available, fulfilling, delicious, and cheap bite - and good on the go. And it only costs as little as 100¥, which is around 1 USD. That's an affordable lunch, won't you say? Depending on how much you generally eat, I'd say that one or two are enough for an adult. And while you're at the convenience store, why not grab a green melon soda on your way to the counter?

konbini, convenience store, japan, onigiri

konbini, convenience store, japan, onigir, spicy cod roe

(source: https://www.nippon.com/en/guide-to-japan/gu013002/)

2. Japanese sandwiches

It might sound pretty basic with a 7-Eleven sandwich on the menu, but Japanese sandwiches are something special. The first sandwich I tried in Japan was an ichigo sando (strawberry sandwich), and I tell you - it was simply magnificent to taste the white bread with cream and perfect, sweet strawberries. I have had similar experiences with Japanese sandwiches many times. Trust me on this one.

To finish the story of the ichigo sando above, I've since my first trip gone looking for a strawberry sandwiches in the Japanese konbini stores. But since strawberry is mainly considered a Christmas fruit in Japan (probably because of the red colour) it's easier to come by one of these during winter or early spring. Now you know :-)

If you looking for something savoury instead of sweet for your lunch, try katsu sando. It's a fried, crisp piece of tonkatsu pork with katsu sauce and often Japanese mayo. And hey, let's not forget the heavenly white bread covering the crisp inside of the sandwich.

There are many types of sando at the Japanese convenience stores, and every chain makes these sandwiches in their own unique way. You'll have to try them all by yourself to see which ones you like the most. Besides the two sando above, I highly recommend the egg sandwich tamago sando (this one really melts in your mouth) or a classic ham and lettuce sandwich. Try your way through them all to find your favourite. Wow, this started sounding like a Pokémon phrase, haha. The price of these heavenly things is often between 200-300¥ (around 2 USD). Enjoy!

konbini, convenience store, japan, sando

(https://themimiodyssey.com/7-eleven-japan/)

3. Fried chicken

Ever since the beginning of time (okay, maybe not this long), there's been a debate about which Japanese konbini chain that makes the best fried chicken, karaage. No matter where you get yours, fried chicken is a must try in Japan. 

In most convenience stores, a lovely warm bag or box of karaage costs a little over 200¥ (2 USD). It comes as plain karaage, cheese filled and spicy among others. Try the different ones, but I think you should start with the regular crunchy and juicy chicken. Yuuum, this juicy chicken will at first give you crunchy notes and then mouthwatering, tender chicken.

Because karaage is often purchased at the cashier counter, I'll give you a tip for purchasing your first fried chicken. Try saying "karaage" (long a) or "chikin" and perhaps point towards the chicken, that you want. Even though pointing is considered very impolite in Japan, this might be necessary. Just don't point at anyone, and it should be fine. You really won't regret getting this one at the konbini! Just thinking about it takes me back to sweet food memories.

konbini, convenience store, japan, fried chicken, karaage

konbini, convenience store, japan, fried chicken, karaage

(source: https://ifbth.com/japanese-convenience-store-fried-chicken-guide/)

4. Bentō

This classic is also known by many from Japanese anime and films. Bentō is a packed lunch either homemade or purchased in shops or convenience stores. In the Japanese konbini, you'll find a range of lunch boxes. A classic such as makunouchi bentō often contains rice, grilled fish, egg, pickled vegetables, meat such as karaage and pickled plum, umeboshi. You can put together your bentō just as you want, but a common thing to do is to put rice on the bottom and vegetables, meat and the rest on the top. The price of a bentō box is often a little under 500¥ (4.5 USD).

If you count in freshly made donburi (rice bowls) such as oyakodon (chicken and egg over rice), katsudon (deep-fried pork with egg over rice), gyūdon (beef over rice), rice with curry and pasta, there are many more kinds of bentō. You can always get your food heated at the convenience stores, if you wish to enjoy your meal nice and warm. Yum, I could eat a big bowl of katsudon right now! If you want a classic bentō, I recommend one with rice and fish such as the above mentioned makunouchi bentō.

Are you up for making a homemade bentō box for a picnic yourself? Many Japanese housewives try hard to make the prettiest bentō box for their children, who go to school. At Japanese shops like the 100 yen store Daiso, you can get small cookie cutters and stamps to make bears or other cute animals in seaweed to put on top of the rice of your bentō. Here's a challenge for the creative ones! As for purchased bentō, the shops at big train stations sell so-called ekiben (translates to station bentō) for your train ride. This more luxurious bentō can be found in many many varieties all over Japan.

konbini, convenience store, japan, bento

konbini, convenience store, japan, bento boxes

(sources: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Shiso_wakame_gohan_makunouchi_bento_of_7-Eleven_in_Japan.jpg and https://www.nippon.com/en/guide-to-japan/gu013002/)

5. Noodles

Many tourists might think of cup noodles and noodle dishes such as ramen and yakisoba, when they're asked about Japanese food. These can be found at convenience stores as well. There is a huge selection of instant noodles or cup noodles, as we call them. The selection here is far bigger than in Denmark. Try a wonderful creamy yakisoba, noodles low on calories, or one of the limited cup noodles such as one with matcha flavour (the last one was fun to try but not delicious). If you haven't tried yakisoba, you need to! It's one of my personal faves! The price of cup noodles is around 100-200¥ (around 1 USD) but also comes in cheaper or more expensive "versions".

Give the more "fresh" noodles (not in cup) such as soba noodles a try too. In the hot Japanese summer, they come with cold dipping, and in the winter the come in a nice warm edition. Because they haven't been packed and are freshly made, they come at the price of 500¥ (around 4-5 USD). 

The bigger konbini shops have an area, where customers can sit inside (often one floor up or by the entrance), and there's often a boiler with hot water for cup noodles. If there isn't any seats left, you can eat your food outside. Just remember that (as we've pointed out in another post) it's impolite to walk while eating. However, it's okay to stand and eat :-)

konbini, convenience store, japan, noodles

(https://gigazine.net/news/20161230-toshikoshi-soba-conveni/)


Wow, I suddenly feel really hungry! Having a convenience store nearby is really something that I miss about Japan. Remember, if you see anything exciting that you want to try, just go for it. Just like in case of the ichigo sando, it might be gone the next time you're there. So don't regret not buying it.

There are many other kinds of konbini foods, that I think you should try. For example, I recommend trying the different kinds of candy and snacks, ichigo daifuku (mochi rice cake with strawberry), dorayaki (sweet pancake with red bean paste), melon pan (bread shaped like a melon), sushi or nikuman (soft bun with meat). So yup, there's lot of food adventures to go on in Japan.

I've written down a few Japanese terms that are good to know before walking into a konbini:

  • 新発売 = new product
  • 季節限定 = seasonal product
  • 期間限定 = time limited product
  • 生 = raw
  • 焼く = grilled
  • フライ= deep-fried 
  • 甘い = sweet
  • あったかい = warm
  • つめたい = cold

Is there a konbini food that I've completely missed in this guide, and does it NEED a spot on this list? Please let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading. See you, mata nee!

Merete Vangsgaard

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