Even when you’re careful about what you order at a restaurant, you never really know what’s in your food. But when choosing what to eat from a combini, you almost always know exactly what you’re getting thanks to food labels, which can make it easier to pick out healthy choices in a pinch and track your intake of things such as sodium and calories.
No matter where you eat in Japan, you probably don’t have to worry about food cleanliness, and that includes convenience stores. Strict health and safety standards at any food processing facility ensure that your prepackaged combini food is free of contaminants and harmful bacteria.
Many of the ready-to-eat foods prepared for combini don’t contain preservatives. This is not only because the high turnover rate leaves little chance for food to go bad but also because companies such as 7-Eleven (Japan’s biggest convenience store chain) operate on a 24-hour production system to keep a constant supply of fresh stock on hand. Cooked, ready-to-eat rice and sandwich bread, among other things, are all said to be preservative-free at 7-Eleven.
Can a convenience store meal really be better than something you cook yourself? Convenience stores are big business in Japan, and companies have had to get creative to stay competitive and attract customers. Leading company 7-Eleven produces its own eggs, feeding chickens a special diet of herbs and paprika, which give the egg yolks an especially creamy texture and dark orange coloring.
Combini foods can be surprisingly cheap. If you have access to a microwave or stove, frozen foods are a real budget saver for the shoestring traveler. And while 400 yen for gyudon (beef bowl) at a fast food chain seems like a great deal, the combini can offer full meals for even less.
No matter where you are in the city, there’s bound to be a convenience store nearby. Virtually every combini stays open 24 hours, making them popular with night owls and early birds alike.
Most combini foods are assembled by human hands in a factory, from the sandwiches to the prepared bento (boxed lunch). Machines just can’t compete with the human eye when it comes to food aesthetics, and since the appearance of the food is of the utmost importance in the competitive combini business, this type of factory work is still done by people.