Konbini – Convenience Stores in Japan

Oh, how I love the konbini (コンビニ: it’s short for “convenience store” in English). Whether it’s Lawson, 7 Eleven, AM/PM, or Family Mart, they’re a reliable place in Japan for late night snacks, booze, and even a full meal. Plus you can also pay your bills there! Items are packed just so, and potentially embarasing hygiene items are double and even triple-bagged using opaque brown paper so that no one will be the wiser. I now present to you a brief rundown of some of my favorite konbini foods. There are tons more, but these are some of the first things that popped into my head.

Nikuman (肉まん)
Often translated as “pork buns” in English, these are kept warm in a special heated box, usually located by the register. Other varieties include pizza-man (filled with marinara sauce and cheese), anman (filled with red bean paste), and karee-man (curry pork buns).
Onigiri (おにぎり)
Rice balls stuffed with a variety of items and wrapped in crispy nori seaweed. Fillings include fish, umeboshi (sour pickled plums), fish eggs, miso, and more. My personal favorite is the tuna filling mixed with mayonnaise. The triangular ones are usually packaged in a double layer of plastic so as to keep the nori fresh and dry until just before eating.
Purin (プリン)
Very similar to packaged Spanish flan, this thick yellow custard comes packed with a caramel-flavored brown layer at the bottom. They’re sometimes topped with whipped cream.
Milk tea (ミルク ティー)
Well, it’s just as the name implies. Sweet tea mixed with milk, and usually served chilled. I’m partial to the Royal Milk Tea variety (why is it called “royal?” I don’t know. Maybe because it’s English tea?).
Calpis (カルピス)
This unfortunately named drink is marketed as “Calpico” in the US, though I’ve never actually seen it sold anywhere except in Asian markets. It’s a kind of yogurt soda drink, but the taste is hard to describe. I also remember it fondly since I won a contest the company was holding last time I was in Japan. The prize was just a pair of t-shirts spouting nonsensical German (which roughly translated to “I am the eternal Milky Way”), but as it’s one of the few contests I’ve ever won, Calpis gets an “A” in my book.
Korokke (コロッケ)
A Japanese version of the French croquette, these are served warm or chilled, and stuffed with a diverse array of meats and vegetables. My favorites include mashed potato and curry korokke, and they’re usually served with worcestershire or tonkatsu sauce.
Cup Noodle (カップヌードル)
Basically just instant ramen in a styrofoam cup, but the huge number of flavors in Japan keeps boredom from setting in. My favorite is the Curry Noodle by far, with hunks of meat and spicy yellow curry broth.
Chuuhai (チューハイ)
A super-sweet canned drink with alcohol contents ranging from 5-8%. The liquor used is shouchuu (焼酎), which is made from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice. There are tons of flavors from the original lemon to lime, grapefruit, pineapple, kiwi, peach, and more. Since there’s no English on the can labeling it as alcohol, I’ve seen several hapless foreigners accidentally drink this, thinking that it’s regular soda. Last time I was in Japan, prices were around 100-150 yen per can ($1-2).
Jagariko (じゃがりこ)
Little hollow, crispy potato straws flavored like consumme, pizza, butter, nori, cheese, and more. My favorite though is the “salad” flavor, which tastes nothing like salad. Though that is probably a good thing.