Many of us love visiting combini (Japanese convenience stores). I can’t live without combini when I am in Japan. The onigiri, sandwiches, snacks and seasonal drinks… There were days I just live off the combini completely for days!
So I have blogged many times about the wonders of combini food. I also try to put together a meal as healthy as possible. But a few times I got lashed for “falsely promoting combini food as healthy when they are bad for our body”. So today I just want to share a few latest information on conbini food in Japan, especially for those who are in doubt and unsure whether the onigiri you are eating from 7-11 is killing you slowly.
So before that let’s look at some of my favorite buys from combini!
Our breakfast spread usually. No guilt. Fruit juice, banana, milk (Junya finished it), sandwiches, onigiri, and a couple of snacks.
I like Japanese sausages (the mini ones! Schau Essen.) , and kanikama (crab sticks). I once saw a documentary on how the sausages are made for the skin to stay extra crunchy (it literally pops when you bite it into half!) and how juicy it is…. it’s all extra effort and advanced technology. Also love buying all the seasonal onigiri, like this Ugani Mabushi. Very yummy!
Another thing I’m obsessed with is all the seasonal juice from Yasai Seikatsu! This time it is Kiwi from Ehime prefecture.
I love all the combinis all the same – 7-11, Lawson, Family Mart, they all have their own yummy specialty. Lawson is the nearest to us most of the time, and I especially love their character sticker collection:
This time it was the Snoopy plates.
You can buy all the food items with the stickers, collect them (usually a total of 40), and you get to redeem a limited edition merchandise. I’m a sucker for all these haha.
I love to buy Meiji Camembert cheese, LG21 yogurt, fried shrimps, and Matsutake Chawanmushi (sooo good!!)
I do think about nutrition balance so when possible I choose healthier options such as
Tororo Soba that comes with okra, nameko (mushroom), natto, tororo (grated yam).
For protein I go for the grilled fish section, and today I picked sardine in plum sauce.
That’s a meal.
So yea, some readers saw these and told me I am murdering myself (and my kids) with all the additives and preservatives by eating combini food all the time, and I should stop promoting combini food.
I am not saying combini diet gives you immense health benefit, and if it is indeed guilty, it’s probably just as unhealthy as your regular bak chor mee. Kids can eat bak chor mee, right?
No doubt, most combini food are processed food, but at least you know what exactly is in your food (labels, labels!), so feel free to self-filter according to your level of junk tolerance. Plus you know that it is hygiene and safe to consume with all stringent safety measures. Whereas you’ll never know what’s in your plate of Nasi Kandar or chap cai bng or when they have been cooked. Just saying. 🤐
So recently (July 22 2017) I watched an episode on Japanese TV featuring 7-11’s food clearing some of consumer’s doubt about food safety, I’m going to share a little here!
Many years ago, most food from convenience stores are heavy on preservative and other additive to keep the shelf live longer, after all, combini food is for convenience. But in recent years with the strong competition and the increasing need for convenient food, lots of efforts are made to create healthier, safer and yummier products, even for combini lifestyle.
The episode was called セブンーイレブンへの国民のギモン全て解決SP：
You can watch the episode on Daily Motion here.
The featured combini chain store is 7-11, which has over 20,000 outlets in the entire Japan. Twenty thousand!!
So some of the biggest questions when it comes to onigiri are:
Q. What kind of rice do they use?
7-11’s onigiri uses only premium local (Japanese) rice, such as Koshihikari and Hitomebore.
Next question, which is also the most important one –
Q: Is there any preservative used in the product?
Huh then how do you keep the onigiri fresh since it has to be displayed in the combini stores for quite some time, and we all know rice goes bad rather quickly.
The biggest effort made was to have a 24-hour production system. Meaning that they produce small batches of onigiri and have it delivered in batches according to demand to keep them at their freshest. Meaning that in order for us to enjoy our favorite Mentaiko onigiri fresh and safe, somebody was working in the factory at 3am!!! T_T
To solve the freshness and safety issue, first they explained that rice that’s room temperature (25°C and above) are prone to the growth of bacteria, while anything colder than 19°C makes it hard and unpalatable.
So what they did was they kept the temperature from manufacturing to delivery to display, all at an exact temperature of 20°C.
By the way, trivia time!
Do you know what are the top 5 best-selling onigiri fillings?
1. Tuna Mayo (omg I looooove)
2. Red Salmon
3. Kishu Ume (preserved plum)
4. Hidaka Konbu
5. Karashi Mentaiko (favorite!!)
What is your favorite? 🙂
Most Malaysians and Singaporeans I have talked to, said their favorite food from the combini is their sandwiches.
I always buy the Tuna&Egg combo because I think it’s just SO PERFECT???
For people who are crazy about eggs, there’s even this sandwich (I think from Lawson) that has four different type of egg sandwich – scrambled, Tamagoyaki, boiled egg and egg mayo.
Indeed, I couldn’t figure out why on earth when we use the same ingredient, combini’s sandwiches are forever more delicious???
Q. Why is the bread so moist and soft all the time?
Right. The sandwiches that we make at home become dry and hard after a while. What’s the secret?? There must be some crazy poisonous additives they used in the bread??
Apparently, it was the way they slice the bread. Using a special round roller blade, it allows the sliced surface of bread to remain even, so that it keeps the moisture better.
Q: Is there any preservative in the fillings?
Fillings, especially with eggs are super tricky. AND WE ALL LOVE THEIR EGG SANDWICHES!!! There must be additive in the filling to lengthen the shelf life?
7-11’s answer: They use only absolutely fresh eggs and there’s no preservative used at all.
And to make sure the quality of the eggs, 7-11 even produced their own eggs from a designated farm, and the egg yolks are extra creamy with a darker color as the hens were fed paprika and herbs. Ah, I do see lots of “Carrot Egg”, or “Herb Egg” nowadays in the market!
Q: But there must be some kind of secret/unspeakable ingredient like MSG added into the egg fillings??? If not how can it be so delicious???
It showed how they added a gigantic bag of white powdery stuff into the egg mixture. Hmmm fishy.
But apparently it was the mixture of salt, sugar and white pepper. No other flavorings or additives were used.
…. this is very anticlimax lol. And my question is still dangling. Why…
Also, everything is made manually because machines will not be able to do the job of the human’s hand, for example placement of filling so that when it is sliced half it looks presentable from the packaging.
While we thought instant noodles are the most instant food available, Japanese combini took it to the next level by producing ready-to-eat ramen, soba, udon, pasta… and in many variations.
This is the cold ramen for summer that I had. It was very delicious.
Q. Why doesn’t the noodle go soggy???
I had my fair share of doubt when it comes to combini noodles. When I cook pasta at home, it goes all sticky and dry after a mere 5 minutes if I just left it there.
So seriously, how can combini noodles stay moist and al dente all the time? This one confirm got use suspicious ingredients right?
Answer is, special efforts are made to the noodles to make them stay as yummy as freshly served noodles. This chinese noodle for example, is made with 3 layers of different texture, so that even if it stays in the shelf for some time, it still remains moist and chewy.
And in order for the noodles to be available at 8am in the outlets, the productions start in the middle of the night. Which means again, somebody is kneading the dough (or operating the machine that kneads the dough) at 3am so that I can have that bowl of ramen for breakfast!!
Frozen food is one of the most popular items in combini, although tourists often won’t buy them. But it’s a great way to save money – I mentioned it in my blog post “How to survive Japan on $10 a day”.
One of my favorite is their fried rice, usually from 100-200 yen (CHEAP RIGHT???). 7-11 has this fried rice called the Gokujo Chahan (super premium fried rice), and I was watching how it was made in the program.
Usually, for those who cook and is familiar with chinese food, you know that the single most important thing of fried rice is the “wok hei“, which could only achieved with a super power stove, a very experienced chef with super strong arms.
There’s no way machines can replicate this crucial process that essentially makes the best of fried rice.
Well, wrong. Apparently now they can. The factory uses actual chinese woks, using this flipping method to quicky fry the rice on high heat to achieve that much lusted wok hei.
And using this method, apparently they could only fry rice for 4 pax each time, which is super cost-ineffective compared to other method that makes like a hundred each?? But those are the compromises they are willing to make in order to provide high-quality fried rice for their customers.
I bought it immediately after watching the tv show, and it was really, really yummy!!! Super value for money too.
I’m sure the since this is a feature on 7-11, they won’t talk about anything negative, but I was just very touched to see how much effort they are putting into constantly better the taste and quality of their products.
So yea, I love combini. Hehehe.
What’s your favorite food fro combini?