Convenience stores - 'Conbini' - 7-11, Family Mart, Sunkus, etcetera
One of the first places we stopped to grab a bite to eat in Japan was a 7-11. As it turns out, convenience stores are everyone where in Japan. In Tokyo, it seemed there was at least one on every block. On the first day, I was still carrying around a bunch of kind bars as a backup. I wanted to try a bunch of new things in Japan, but getting sick my first day wouldn’t do any good. I picked up some Salmon Roe Onigiri, Peach Yogurt Drink, and Hagen dahz vanilla ice cream. A perfectly balanced meal if ever there was one. The peach yogurt drink, and hagen dahz I knew would be safe. On the other hand, Onigiri could have soy sauce. We looked up all of the kanji for soy sauce, and gluten that we knew of and checked the ingredients. Not feeling confident in our very first ingredients check, we also managed to confirm our findings with the clerk in our broken Japanese.
Of course what we thought was Salmon Onigiri, turned out to be Salmon Roe Onigiri. Salmon being the fish, and Salmon Roe being the fish eggs. It would probably be a good to take a moment and explain Onigiri. Onigiri in its simplest form is white rice, shaped and wrapped with dried seaweed. The rice usually has some form of sugar to help it keep the shape. Finally, it comes with all kinds of different fillings. Some common gluten free fillings we encountered were salmon, salmon roe, pickled plumb, and shrimp with mayonnaise.
The peach yogurt drink was really good, but definitely an interesting experience texture wise. It comes in a plastic cup, with a plastic straw you stick through the foil on the top. Since you are drinking it through a straw it comes through very inconsistently, with bit of peach getting stuck momentarily before shooting up the straw at precisely a billion miles an hour. The taste by itself was like a normal peach yogurt.
The salmon roe onigiri was my favorite part of the meal. The dried seaweed is just so crunchy in Japan, that it makes the perfect wrapper. Not to mention I enjoy white rice already, but salmon roe added a nice salty taste to balance the sweet rice. Aside from the taste I will say the hold together much better than one would imagine, which makes them easy to eat on the go with no mess. I’m not sure if I am just technically challenged, but I found the onigiri wrappers to be incredibly complex to unwrap. They come preshaped, but yet the seaweed is still wrapped separately from the rice. This makes perfect sense, as it can keep the seaweed nice and crispy, but also means I have to unwrap the seaweed without breaking it and without spilling\dropping the exposed rise, then put it together again. It’s hard to describe without actually trying it once, so I hope each and every one of you gets the chance one day to look as silly as I did.
I don’t have too much to say about the vanilla Hagen Dahz. It tasted just fine, but came in a disappointingly small container. As it turns out, I would be in the mood for ice cream this entire trip so I found myself picking these up almost every night.
On future trips, besides sampling all sorts of onigiri, we found that most convenience stores had store brand dried fruits that were gluten free. Not raisins or prunes- there were dried and lightly sweetened strawberries, mangos, mandarin oranges, and many other tasty variations. On the more savory side of snacks, we found dried squid was often safe- think dry jerky, but it tasted like, well, squid. And on the really safe side, every convenience store carried Soyjoys. Completely gluten free and in a dozen or so flavors, these were by far the easiest thing to load up on and carry around as emergency rations.