13 Japanese Convenience Store Foods We Wish We Had In America

In the United States, convenience stores like 7-Eleven are places to pick up some nuts and an energy drink if you are on the road. In Japan, however, they are much more than that. Japanese convenience stores provide their customers with a variety of services, ranging from postal assistance to a bill-paying system. Plus, when it comes to providing culinary options, these shops go above and beyond. Indeed, many locations serve full-blown "nakashoku," or ready-made meals, which can include hot bowls of soup, pumpkin cream buns, or even bento boxes.

According to Ken Mochimaru, the head of corporate communications for the convenience store chain Lawson's, there is a connection between the rising popularity of nakashoku and the rise of feminism. As Mochimaru told BBC in a 2019 interview, many women in Japan have left their traditional roles as homemakers and entered the workforce. This transition has created a demand for high-quality, pre-made meals. Mochimaru revealed: "The reason why Lawson focuses on nakashoku can be explained by the increase in the number of dual-income households. With both partners working, there is much less time for cooking, and bringing home bentos or ready-made dishes is a much more convenient solution."

The result of this convenient solution is arguably incredible. Offering complete meals at an accessible price, these shops make mealtime both easy and delicious. From pork belly to curry buns, these are the Japanese convenience store foods we wish we had in America.

1. Pork belly bento box

Japanese convenience stores offer a variety of meals, but none may be as complete as the bento box. Invented almost a thousand years ago during the Kamakura Period, these amazing lunchboxes have long provided a quick and easy way for people in Japan to eat food on the go. While old-fashioned bento boxes often contained simple lunches (like plain rice), the modern ones serve a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and veggies to create a balanced meal. These days at convenience stores, you will find all types of bento boxes with ingredients like sesame-covered salmon, fried chicken, and fresh fruit.

One of the most delicious options is undoubtedly the pork belly bento box from Lawson's convenience store (via YouTube). This delectable plate serves thin slices of fatty pork belly over a soft bed of white rice. Although the dish is pre-made, the meat is still so succulent that savory juices will trickle down your chopsticks as you eat. 

The best part, however, is that the bento box comes with a side of pickled veggies that help balance out the meal's more powerful flavors. The vinegar component in the vegetables does a great job of cutting through the fattiness of the meat, allowing you to refresh your palate as you work your way through the meal. 

2. Salmon bento boxes

Although pork belly bento boxes are delicious, they aren't necessarily the healthiest option. As revealed by Livestrong, pork belly is one of the fattiest cuts of meat out there, and, unfortunately, this means that it is not ideal for weight loss. The good news, however, is that Japanese convenience stores offer bento boxes that are far healthier than pork belly ones. One particular favorite is the salmon bento box — which is both tasty and nutritious. According to Healthline, salmon is rich in vitamins and protein, making it ideal for preventing inflammation and skin damage. 

The salmon bento box at 7-Eleven is particularly scrumptious. The fish is served over a bed of white rice dotted with black sesame seeds, providing an experience that is both tasty and filling. What's more, the dish comes with several healthy sides, including a hard-boiled egg, some mushrooms, and a chopped carrot. The final result is a takeaway lunch that involves a balance of carbohydrates, lean proteins, and veggies (via YouTube). This is highly convenient for Japanese customers because it allows them to effortlessly access healthy meals — even on days when they are in a rush. 

3. Chocolate melon bread

If you are looking for an extravagant dessert to eat on the run, look no further than melon bread. This staple of Japanese convenience stores is, at its heart, a type of sweet bread with a special topping. Unlike croissants or sticky buns, melon bread boasts a chewy outer layer reminiscent of cookies. While it doesn't taste like melon, this treat can sometimes come with a sugary and gooey filling.

To try this delectable treat, head over to Lawson's convenience store and look for the chocolate-flavored melon bun (via YouTube). In this version of the Japanese classic, the outer cookie layer is coated with chocolate. As an added bonus, the filling involves a generous portion of liquid chocolate, which floods your mouth with every bite. Here, the fluffiness of the dough contrasts with the heavy depth of the filler, creating an effect similar to that of a chocolate eclair or even a lava cake.

For the best results, try heating your melon bun up in the oven. This will soften the dough so that it is even lighter on your tongue. It will also melt the chocolate elements of the treat, making them extra gooey and delicious. 

4. Mapo tofu

Just because Japanese convenience stores are located in Japan, it doesn't mean that they can't serve foreign fare. One of the best examples of this is the mapo tofu available at 7-Eleven. This delectable combination of tofu, spices, and minced meat does not trace its origins to Japan, but rather to China. The international origins of this dish are even evident in its name. Indeed, in Chinese, "mapo" roughly translates to "pockmarked older woman" — according to legend, this name stands as an homage to the food's inventor, a woman named Mrs. Chen. 

While it might be challenging to find this Chinese dish in American convenience stores, the same cannot be said about the Japanese ones. Japanese residents can easily taste this historical foreign meal by simply swinging by their local 7-Eleven (via YouTube). The dish itself involves soft tofu that has been cooked in a unique sauce made of peppercorns and chilies. Although this combination of flavors is extremely spicy, it is typically served on a bed of white rice. As a result, the dish is well-balanced.

5. Onigiri

Modern life can get busy, so sit-down lunches aren't always on the table. Luckily, Japanese convenience stores offer a solution to this common problem. Rather than just selling the boxed sushi rolls that are so common in American supermarkets, these unique shops also offer onigiri to-go. 

Like sushi, onigiri rice balls are a delicacy that is often wrapped in seaweed and stuffed with fish. However, different from sushi, onigiri is shaped like a triangular bun. This form does not just make onigiri easy to eat, but it also makes it convenient to pack for a work lunch. 

There are many different flavors of onigiri on the market, including Lawson's iconic soy sauce and tuna mayo flavor, as well as 7-Eleven's Chinese-style fried rice option. However, the salmon roe soy sauce onigiri from Lawson's is particularly flavorful. In this dish, the soft neutral tones of the white rice merge perfectly with the deep umami flavors of the salmon roe. Meanwhile, the tangy soy sauce adds another layer of complexity to the combination, tying the intense flavor of the fish eggs together with the softer taste of the rice. In terms of texture, fish roe are particularly delectable. They create a bubbly sensation on the tongue. Overall, this is one of the most complex items offered at a Japanese convenience store — and, as an added bonus, you can easily take it with you anywhere.

6. Prepackaged pancakes with maple syrup

Pancakes and maple syrup might sound like an inseparable combination, but that doesn't mean that you can necessarily buy the two items together.  Or does it? At Japanese convenience stores, prepackaged pancakes are sold in a ready-to-eat stack and also come with butter and maple syrup already smeared on them. The best example of this is at 7-Eleven, which offers plastic-wrapped flapjacks that are both fluffy and flavorful. 

As soon as you take these fun little treats out of the plastic package, you will likely notice how lovely their design is. For one thing, the pancakes' perfectly round shape makes them exceptionally aesthetically pleasing. For another, they are super easy to eat. Simply pluck one of your pancakes from the stack and marvel at the butter and maple syrup jelly combo that is already clinging to one side of the dough. Then, roll the flapjack up — so that the jelly fills the inside of the tube — and take a bite. 

In contrast to traditional pancakes, the Japanese convenience store version is neither gooey nor sticky. As a result, you can use your fingers to eat this breakfast without having to worry about making a mess. Ultimately, this makes these flapjacks easy to enjoy on the go.

7. Pork udon soup

American convenience stores might offer many versions of instant noodles, but you would be hard-pressed to find anything more complex than a cup of noodles at your neighborhood gas station. Meanwhile, in Japan, convenience stores offer full-blown lunch soups — complete with veggies and even meat (via YouTube). To try one of these incredible meals, head to the Japanese convenience store Family Mart and grab a bowl of pork udon noodles. 

Unlike the American version of instant noodles, which often involves dusting dry spaghetti with powder and adding water, the Japanese version is a bit more complex (via YouTube). The dish has two parts: a soft noodle base and a block of congealed broth. To prepare it, all you have to do is add the broth block to the noodles and heat it all up. The result is an authentic type of meaty broth that will taste savory and rich when compared to the American equivalent. Because udon noodles are particularly thick, the deep, oily flavors of the broth will be absorbed by the pasta, leaving you with an especially juicy bite. 

8. Upscale instant noodles

Although Japanese convenience stores offer way more than just your average instant soup, they do serve this fun treat, as well. The only catch, however, is that the instant soup offered in Japan is significantly more upscale than the versions that you might find at an American 7-Eleven. 

Unlike the Cup Noodles varieties served in the U.S., the ones found in Japan go way beyond your typical chicken or shrimp flavors. Instead, they actually have a pre-made fare that comes with large vegetable slices, chunks of tofu, and even seafood.

This is perhaps most evident at Family Mart, where clients can buy a plastic cup of instant soup. Instead, however, of containing dry noodles, this version includes shijimi clams. In this unique dish, the strong umami flavors of the clams combine with a miso base to create a soup that is hearty and flavorful. Rather than just using one type of miso paste to make the broth, Family Mart uses a unique blend of soybean and rice-based miso. This also contributes to the soup's presentation, adding a gorgeous red undertone to the broth.

9. Salmon omelet sushi bun

If you are looking for a breakfast that really stands out, head to a Japanese 7-Eleven and buy a salmon omelet sushi bun (via YouTube). Like most types of sushi, this creation involves rice, seaweed, and filling. However, in terms of composition, this dish resembles an American breakfast sandwich, with two rice patties serving as buns, and an egg filling squeezed between the two pieces. In the salmon version of this delightful morning treat, cooked fish flesh pokes out from behind the omelet filling. A long thin piece of nori wraps around the entire contraption, like a ribbon. 

This treat is somewhat lighter than the type of breakfast sandwich to be found in an American convenience store, but it is extremely rich in flavor. Because it lacks heavier ingredients, like cheese or bacon, this Japanese sushi bun highlights more delicate tastes. For example, the buttery umami notes from the cooked salmon stand out against the clean backdrop of the white rice, providing a subtle contrast that highlights the richness of each individual ingredient. Meanwhile, the simultaneously sweet and salty nature of the nori will add another layer of complexity to the dish. The creamy richness of the egg omelet ultimately ties all the flavors together, making the contraption the ideal way to start your day. 

10. Matcha whipped cream dessert

There is nothing quite like running to your local corner store for a bit of comfort food. But in Japan, convenience stores take this reality to a new level. With fruit-garnished cakes, custard-filled cream puffs, and even chocolate mousse, these unique shops offer the type of dessert item that is guaranteed to give patrons a pick-me-up. Among these fantastic options, one of the most delicious is the matcha whipped cream treat from 7-Eleven (via YouTube). 

This dessert layers a thick layer of matcha cream with a light whipped cream topping to provide clients with a fluffy yet satisfying dish. In terms of flavor, the matcha whipped cream combination is not too sweet, preventing the earthy matcha element from becoming overwhelmed by the sugar.

Of course, matcha whipped cream is not for everyone, as it is significantly less airy than French mousse au chocolat. While many people prefer the heavier texture of matcha cream, folks who want to enjoy this tea-infused flavor in a different form can head to Family Mart. There, you will find everything from matcha pound cake to bite-sized matcha sweets coated in dark chocolate.

11. Rice bowl with pork and egg

Rice bowls, known as "donburi" in Japanese, have long been a popular dish in Japan. Some sources say that a version of donburi has been popular in the region since the Muromachi Period from 1333 to 1573. In those days, the dish was way less accessible, as it was mostly served in temples — a far cry from the ever-practical ecosystem of the modern Japanese convenience store. Thanks to these unique shops, 21st-century people can easily pick up a rice bowl and take it to work for lunch. One of the most flavorful options on the shelf is the pork and egg rice bowl from 7-Eleven (via YouTube).

This delicious dish serves thick pieces of pork and omelet-style egg strips mixed together in a mélange of flavorful goodness. Here, the fattiness of the pork seeps into the sponge-like texture of the eggs to create a bite that is simultaneously fluffy and juicy.

Interestingly, rather than serving these proteins directly over the rice, 7-Eleven packages them in a layered container that keeps the two elements separate. This allows clients to heat up the rice and the pork mixture separately, before pouring the proteins over the rice. In practice, this setup prevents the rice from growing soggy underneath the heavier toppings. Ultimately, clients can enjoy a pre-made lunch that tastes fresh.

12. Whipped cream and cheesecake pots

Anyone who has ever eaten Cool Whip with a spoon should try this unique dessert. Served in a little pudding dish, this sweet treat is about 50% whipped cream and 50% cheesecake. Unlike the traditional American version of a whipped cream and cheesecake combo, the Japanese take on cheesecake is not simply topped with whipped cream (via YouTube). 

Instead, these two elements are swirled together in such a way that you can easily enjoy either flavor on its own or as a blend. Here, the airy nature of the whipped cream contrasts considerably with the heavier, deeper flavors of the cheesecake. Ultimately, this creates a dessert that is rich, without being overwhelming. 

In terms of flavor, the treat is milky and sweet. However, the sugar flavors are nowhere near as powerful as they are in American desserts. Instead, the whipped cream and cheesecake pot provides a more subtle sweetness that is perfect for folks who don't have a major sweet tooth. The benefit of this more delicate balance is that you will be able to taste the dish beyond its sugar component, giving you the opportunity to savor the creamier and tangier flavors that fill the mix. 

13. Curry buns

Japanese convenience stores are famous for offering pre-made food at reasonable prices, and the curry bun from Family Mart is no exception. Sold at the super accessible price of approximately $1 per bun, this treat is as delicious as it is inexpensive (via YouTube). 

At its core, the curry bun is a savory fried dough treat that only gets softer as you eat it. Indeed, it has a crispy outer layer and a light, spongy breaded interior that practically melts in your mouth. However, beyond the quality of the dough, there is a thick pool of curry at the center of it all. Made with hot spices, beef, and sweet onions, this curry is deep, savory, and even a bit sweet.

For the best results, heat your curry bun up in the oven before trying it. This will ensure that the curry element is runny and warm. It will also help soften the dough even further, making it so fluffy that it will melt on your tongue.