Monday, July 16, 2012

Convenient Stores in Japan and their Amazing Food

From my previous posts, you all know that I've had amazing food, perhaps splurged, in Japan. However, as I could only save up to a certain amount, I've had my meals for half the time from the convenient stores. The convenient store companies that exist in Japan are Lawsons, Family Mart, and 7-Eleven (known as Seven & I Holdings, also they are now a Japanese company). Now, convenient stores in the US aren't exactly known for their outright delicious food, although they're cheap. If you have seen the most recent episode on Japan of No Reservations, Tony Bourdain with David Chang goes to a Lawson and eat all the amazing food over there as Tony himself is very surprised over the quality of the food. These convenient stores are pretty much in every city/town in Japan. In addition, the cashiers are very polite as well.

As I was hungry later throughout the night for my first day, I went to a 24 hour Family Mart. They were stocking up the new stuff for the following day. I ended up getting cold Tanuki Udon that came with packets of the soup and wasabi (w/ tempura batter, around 350-380 ¥), Kirin Grapefruit Strong  (%8 abv) chuhai ( those strong chuhais will get you wasted and only approx 180-201 ¥), a 180 ml flask of Suntory Whiskey (only 480¥, holy crap!), and a cheap 100¥ pair of disposable razors as having a 5 O'clock shadow isn't something that's common in Japan (they were terrible :( , the razors  ). The Udon tasted like some of the udon back in the States which is to say that it's pretty good or that those restaurants in the States need to pick up (On the other hand in the near future, I'll be making a post of one of the best, authentic Japanese noodle restaurants in SoCal which of course blows the convenience store udon away). In addition along with the strong grapefruit chuhai, the Suntory whiskey (the same brand in the movie "Lost in Translation" but different whiskey, they advertised the Suntory Hibiki Blended whiskey. They currently sell the 12 year in the States and it is amazing!) proved itself to be a wonderful nightcap.

The next morning, I went to a 7-Eleven convenience store and picked up a Karaage (Fried Chicken) and Fried Rice Bento (495¥) and a cold Green Tea Matcha Latte made with condensed milk (approx 140¥). When buying a cooked bento, the cashier will ask if you want to have it heated with their microwave (on the label, they give you recommended heating times according to the power of the microwave). The bento itself was very filling and delicious. I've noticed that while these store bentos are very convenient, they're not as cheap as I had remembered them out to be with my first trip as the bento was nearly 5 bucks of their currency to which it's around $6-7 US after the exchange rate.

After eating all the great food from Dotenbori in Osaka, I once again made a late night trek of only a block to the 24 hour 7-Eleven near my hostel. This time, I got a cream sauce pasta with Ham (approx 430 ¥), a Katsu Sandwich (Deep Fried Pork Cutlet, 390¥), a 180 ml of Nikka Black Whiskey (Nikka, now owned by Asahi, is the rival of Suntory whiskey), another Kirin Strong Grapefruit Chuhai (180¥) and a Kirin non-alcoholic, non-carbonated Lychee drink (150¥). One thing that I noticed is that the canned beer and cocktails cost only a bit more, if not the same price as a non-alcoholic drink. I wish it were like that here in the US where there's a huge markup. The pasta and the Katsu sandwich were delicious. Once again, the whiskey, along with the strong chuhai, were great nightcaps.

Back in Tokyo in the Asakusa neighborhood, I went back to one of the 7-Elevens. As 7-Eleven used to be an American company, they are well known in the US for their Slurpees. The 7-Eleven I went to was one of their larger ones and unlike the others, they actually had slurpees! They did have unique Japanese flavors like Fanta Green Melon and this milk soda flavor as well (my favorite out of the two). It cost around 190¥ in which in the US, it's like $1.90 for a 44 oz. size as I got something around 20 oz.. The thing I found annoying was that the machines had like a small door you hat to pull aside in order to get the cup under the dispenser which made it difficult for me to fill it up all the way with the cap on along with mixing flavors as well to which not that may people did. In addition, people were not really buying Slurpees in the humid summer as not many are familiar with them. I ended up drinking it on the sidewalk in front of the store sitting on a stoop next to a group of grandpas which really made me feel like a little kid sipping on my Slurpee.

For my last meal before my departure back to the US, I only had around 500¥ to spare and ended up getting this small sized duck bento over rice (280¥) at the 7-Eleven. I have to say that it's alright.

Overall, the food at the convenient stores are amazing. They also have Onigiri (rice balls) for 105-120¥ depending on the flavor. In Japan, the price on the label has the tax included typically. Although they're great especially with their convenient nature, they've been a tad bit on the pricier end. In Tokyo and other big cities, there are restaurants that serve you either noodles (Ramen, Udon or Soba) or beef bowl that only cost around 500¥. With the addition of not having to tip, they're most likely a more economical option for a meal but this time, I might have been a tad bit intimidated with the language barrier although most of the Japanese are very polite. If you're ever in Japan, be sure to try food from a convenient store as not only do they have bentos but they also have cooked (steamed or fried) items next to the register.

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