A Conbini Lunch on the Go: A Tadaima Japan Roundtable Discussion

Japanese convenience stores, known locally as “conbinis,” are legendary for their amazing selection of tasty treats. Conbinis are an obvious choice when you’re looking for a quick snack to help you push through a long work day. However, I also often enjoy full conbini-sourced meals—perhaps a little too often. This made me wonder if my Tadaima Japan colleagues felt the same way, and hence our latest roundtable discussion was born.
As it turns out, depending on your tastes and dietary preferences, it’s more difficult than you might imagine to exclusively source an enjoyable and somewhat healthy meal from your favorite convenience store. Read on to find out what happened when we tried to do just that.

2020-02-28   Food & Drinks, Travel Tips,


David

Anthony: The original idea for this article was about having a “convenience store lunch,” but that has changed a bit… So, let’s just start talking about what we are eating today: why you purchased what you did, how much it costs, and anything else that you find interesting.

David: Well, I wouldn’t say our idea changed much—we just adapted it. I don’t usually eat conbini lunches, so I might be the odd one out…

When I go hiking on the weekends, I do tend to go for a sandwich from NewDays, which I think is pretty good. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find that sandwich today. So I’ve got a substitute which is a sandwich from Paul, which is not really a convenience store but a very good bakery chain.

On top of that, I got this Hokkaido mentaiko potato salad. It includes Hokkaido potatoes and spicy mentaiko, which is cod roe. This is something which I’ve recently discovered in convenience stores and it’s excellent.

And, because that still isn’t enough, I picked out this bacon and cheese onigiri [rice ball] from FamilyMart. The mentaiko potato salad is also from FamilyMart. And to drink, I’ve got Craft Boss tea—sugar free.

Anthony: So if someone wanted to replicate this meal, about how much would it cost?

David: Let’s say just under 1,000 yen—a little expensive.

Amelie

Anthony: So, Amelie, how about your lunch?

Amelie: My lunch is mostly based on what I found at SeijoIshii, a supermarket that usually sells imported food. This is because I’m a vegetarian, so usually if I go to the convenience store I can find a few things that I can eat, but it’s quite limited. Additionally, I went to a convenience store earlier this week so I wanted to change things up a little bit.

SeijoIshii often has salad options that are very nice for vegetarians because if you want to eat healthy while being a vegetarian, you need to eat different kinds of cereals [grains], not just rice. You also need to eat several kinds of beans. It’s better if you can eat nuts for protein as well.

This salad has vegetables, of course, but it also has walnuts and seaweed, which also contain protein. Additionally, it has chickpeas and red beans, so it’s actually very good if you’re vegetarian.

SeijoIshii has also started selling vegetarian curry. It’s like normal curry except it substitutes meat with soy.

I also have a dessert that’s very good, and I want everyone to try it. It’s called the Nama [rare] Premium Cheesecake (生プレミアムチーズケーキ). If you have it once, you’ll want to have it every day.

David: It’s big. You could share it…

Amelie: [laughs] Anyway, it’s about 400 yen. I was also afraid that I didn’t have enough food, so like you, I went to FamilyMart to pick up an extra onigiri. It’s a new flavor: negi (Japanese long onion) and miso.

Anthony: So, Amelie, if someone wanted to try your lunch, how much would it cost?

Amelie: Just as with David, everything was just under 1,000 yen. But the reason is that SeijoIshii products are of a higher standard that what you would find at a convenience store. Usually, when I go to a convenience store I manage to buy my full lunch for about 700 yen.

David: Anthony, it looks like your lunch is the cheapest.

Anthony: Well, I’ll talk about that soon. You might be right, but on the other hand, it’s not a full lunch. But first, let’s hear from Yoko.

Yoko

Yoko: I have a pair of Gonbei onigiri: mentaiko and ginger pork. I was planning to have these for breakfast, but when I heard that all of you were planning a conbini lunch, I went out shopping again. I ended up going to a place that isn’t a convenience store: a Maruetsu supermarket. There are so many Maruetsu stores throughout Tokyo, so even though they aren’t technically convenience stores, they are easy to find. Although many of the stores are large, they also have small ones known as Maruetsu Petit that are great places to buy lunch.

These Gonbei onigiri are made at the shop, so they are very fresh. I also bought two pieces of fried chicken and some fried quail eggs. Additionally, I picked up a grilled sweet potato—I really love these.

Anthony: How much did everything cost?

Yoko: The fried chicken was 50 yen each. The fried quail eggs were 100 yen. As for the onigiri, one was 180 yen and the other was 150 yen. The potato was 180 yen. Overall, my lunch is very affordable. If you [the reader] find a Maruetsu, you should definitely go there.

And finally, yours truly

Anthony: Well, I guess I should finally talk about what I’m eating. To be honest, I went to two 7-Eleven stores—my favorite conbini chain—at lunchtime, and I couldn’t find my favorite bento. It’s popular and sells out often. It’s basically a Korean barbeque boxed lunch [Note: you can see it in this article].

So today, I got basically what is the pork version of that [the Sangenton negi shio pork kalbi bento]. It’s pretty good. It makes for a lighter meal than the beef version. It comes with a pack of yuzu (Japanese citrus) sauce to put on it, so overall it’s like having a little Korean barbeque lunch. I wouldn’t call it healthy, but it’s tasty.

David: Where are the vegetables?

Anthony: That’s a good question [laughs]. There are some bits of onions in here… Maybe…

David: Well, I guess that’s something…

Anthony: That’s why I bought this allegedly 100% juice-vegetable mix drink: 50%, vegetable juice 50% fruit juice, and apparently, it has a lot of vitamins and minerals. I don’t necessarily believe all of that, but it makes me feel good. It has a nice placebo effect.

Amelie: I’ve done this before… I think we’ve all done this before…

Anthony: Yes, I’d like to stress that for all of us this wouldn’t be our typical lunch. But sometimes we get busy or don’t have time to cook, and for those occasions I do think Japanese convenience stores have a lot of delicious options.

A matter of frequency

Anthony: So let’s wrap up the conversation with one more question: How many times a week do you have a full meal from the convenience store?

David: Almost never—maybe once or twice a month.

Amelie: It depends on the week. When I have time to cook on Sunday, I try to prepare different bento lunches. On average, I’d say I eat conbini meals maybe three times a week. This is because my options around here are limited. I would like to eat in a restaurant, but there just isn’t so much for me.

Yoko: I buy drinks and coffee from the conbini every day, but I rarely buy a full meal.

Anthony: Well, I suppose I should answer my own question. I get a full meal from the conbini at least three times a week as well—though, usually not for lunch since I’m often on the go throughout Tokyo. Anyway, any final thoughts?

David: Amelie just offered me some of her cheesecake dessert. I think I’ll stop by SeijioIshii after this and get one for myself.

Anthony: So it looks like our best advice for the day is to check out SeijoIshii’s cheesecake [laughs].

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AUTHOR

Anthony

Anthony

Writer / Translator

Originally from Riverside, California, I've been living, working, and writing in Japan since 2009. Japan has become my second home, and I'm especially fond of Shinjuku, Tokyo. That being said, I also love getting out into the countryside and exploring the entire country. Through Tadaima Japan, I hope to share the wonders of Japan with a wider, international audience. Check out my articles if you enjoy exploring on foot, convenient cafes, and affordable dining.