Eating in Japan-Konbini

Lawson konbini store front with school children with umbrellas out the front. The Lawson is in Umamachi in Kyoto.

When we can travel again, which hopefully will be in the not too distant future, I look forward to eating. Eating is one of my favourite aspects of travelling. Eating in Japan is something for which I yearn desperately. I miss Japan and its delicious food, viscerally. We have many really amazing Japanese restaurants in my city. I am also pretty adept at cooking Japanese food. As is Super Sake Boy. But there is nothing like being there and one of my favourite ways to eat in Japan is at the “Konbini”. The ubiquitous convenience store.

You generally don’t eat “at” the konbini. Although you can. Some convenience stores have a bench in the window with three or four stools. They also all have toilets. Much of the food is served hot. If it is not hot, the staff will always enquire if you want it heated?? Konbini food is designed to take with you back to your home or where you are staying. You are always given everything you require to enjoy the meal, including cutlery, moist towels, serviettes and chopsticks.

When I think about the konbini the first thing I think about is the sounds. The sounds of the different food ovens beeping, the electronic alert of someone walking in, the staff speaking their formal konbini style “Keigo”. Konbini Keigo is a reasonably ritualised, straight from the manual way of speaking to customers. It is very formal and very old fashioned. The universal “irasshaimase” or “welcome” which greets every customer, spoken by every staff member, in every konbini in Japan. The konbini staff are generally very helpful, even when unable to speak English. Many products are now labelled with an English translation. When I first visited Japan this was definitely less prevalent. Sometimes it was pot luck as to what may be in your onigiri or included in the bento.

My most loved konbini snack is arabiki sausage. This is a smoked German style sausage on a stick. You receive a squeezy ketchup and mustard with it that evenly squeezes the two sauces onto your sausage. It is so delicious and I love the efficiency and convenience of the sauce packet.

Next would be omurice onigiri. Actually, I love most onigiri and hand rolls in Japan. They are wrapped in such a way the nori does not touch the rice until you are about to eat it. This means the nori is crunchy and fresh. Omurice is a yoshoku (Western style Japanese cooking) dish which is tomato and chicken rice inside a soft egg omelette. I love omurice. The onigiri version is my favourite quick breakfast snack.

There is always an excellent selection of food. The shelves are restocked many times a day and everything is fresh, as the turnover is so high. Some other foods that are available are a large range of breads and pastries. This includes katsusando, a pork cutlet with Tonkatsu sauce in thick white pan (bread). Strawberries and whipped cream sando. Curry pan, which is a large, fluffy bread roll stuffed with delicious Japanese beef curry. Yakisoba pan, a long roll with yakisoba inside, like a hotdog.

Konbini also offer many types of onigiri and sushi rolls. Chicken of the sea with mayo used to confuse me, however this is just tuna and mayo. There is natto, fermented soy beans, ramen flavoured onigiri, with pork broth rice and char shu pork. Raw fish, fish eggs, sour pickled plums and seaweed onigiri to name a few. A variety of salads with a selection of add-ons, like boiled eggs, tuna, grilled chicken fillet and an array of salad dressings. Curry, pasta, omurice, yakisoba, ramen. Lots of different flavours and all ready to eat. Also a large choice of bento boxes with lots of different ingredients.

At the front of the store on the counter is the hot, fried food. This is a guilty pleasure cabinet. This is where my beloved arabiki sausages live. It is also home to karaage chicken, various flavoured croquettes, corndogs, yakitori and in winter they have oden. Oden is a simmered one-pot dish and at the konbini you choose which elements you would like, such as daikon, konjac, fishcake, boiled egg and whatever you choose is served in a light dashi broth.

Of course there is a wide variety of puddings, cakes, donuts, and sweet pastries. As well as ice-cream, drinks and cold snacks. Chips, chocolates, sweets and everything you would find in a convenience store here. Unlike Australia, konbini also serve alcohol. Beer, wine, champagne, sake, shochu and even whiskey. Most konbini have a large selection of “highballs” which are kind of like RTD (ready to drink) fruit flavoured soft drink with spirit.

Konbini food is extremely reasonably priced. You can eat well for under AUD$10 a head. Our kids always insist on a konbini dinner when in Japan. All konbini are great and well-stocked with a great choice of products. However, Lawson is my favourite, followed by Family Mart and then 7-11. Circle K is also good, and Newsdays, at stations and on train platforms, has a smaller selection but always has something delicious.

The Lawson in the feature image is my favourite Lawson in Japan. Umamachi in Kyoto. The photo of the arabiki sausage credit is to This photo made my mouth water too much…

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