Thursday, January 17, 2013

Onigiri at 7-11 Japan

Discussing all the food options at 7-11 Japan would not make sense and be a futile undertaking as you can get just about anything at 7-11 Japan- so how about just a few of the good things that I know about 7-11 Japan including how to read the Onigiri (rice ball) flavors. 

Not 7-11 Onigiri -  but it looks nice

I'll discuss Onigiri because people have asked me on more than one occasion in a 7-11 if I knew which Onigiri had salmon in it. And I see many that are not literate in Japanese agonizing (it's a stretch, I know) over the mysterious contents of the different onigiri rice balls. Also, my daughter is always asking which one is the salmon - and before I knew what to look for I was asking any willing Japanese nearby "Sa mon des ka?" If you're lucky they'll have little English language titles posted on the shelf (like the 7-11 I've shown below) but likely not, 7-11 is good but most in Japan don't make an effort to cater to foreigners. So I'll explain the different flavors of Onigiri offered in one nearby 7-11.  The Onigiri seem to be changing throughout the months so I'll just keep adding new pictures as they appear.

7-11 is good for getting a quick and healthy (or unhealthy as you desire) lunch and the prices are right. The salads and other healthy lunch options are the main reason I visit frequently.  7-11s are so versatile that you can even buy Japanese baseball tickets from the copier machine. I did that with the help of a 7-11 clerk one day. All I needed was the date, number of people, and a map of the stadium showing where we wanted to sit. You can buy many other types of tickets but most are probably not that useful. Although I don't use it, they also have a service where you can pay any phone or utility bill there too.

Crispy noodle salad
My favorite salad at 7-11 is the crispy egg noodle salad with dressing shown above - and when they don't have that, a noodle salad with sliced chicken, sliced veggies, and dressing.  They also have salads with shredded chicken that's quite good. They all come with a piece of hard boiled egg, lettuce, veggies, and a tasty dressing.

Noodle salad with sliced chicken, egg, some greens, and dressing. About $3.

7-11 stocks many fresh food items covering the full span of "plate lunch" options, salads, sandwiches, onigiri, or microwavable/just add hot water types of meals.

7-11 Japan is famous for its sophisticated distribution network. If you've ever taken MBA or supply chain management courses, you're sure to come across the "7-11 Supply Chain Management" case study. Each manager can tailor their offerings to the local demand and through frequent inventories and frequent warm and cold deliveries, they are able to keep the food very fresh and meet the changing needs of the customers throughout the entire day. It's truly an impressive operation. This is one of the reasons the food always seems to be extremely fresh. You will not find any wilted/brown salads sitting on the shelves here.  In my opinion the stores here are better than the ones in the US in many aspects.

I've added a collage of some of the onigiri below to make for less scrolling.
Collage with some of them
Here is a new collage below of some 7-11 onigiri (rice balls) from August 2014. There are some old standbys and a few new ones. Note: Chicken Karaage is deep fried chicken.

So lets try to decipher these seaweed wrapped Onigiri. This one is, a... yes, Tuna - all you have to do is read the darn English sign. They obviously learn from their customers because only this and the Salmon are labeled - these are likely the most popular for the gaijin - and get tired of answering that question again and again. You can also tell this is tuna by the Katakana. More precisely it is Mayo (ma yo ne zu - マヨネーズ) and Tuna (tsu na ツナ).

The one above is sha ke しゃけ (never mind my incorrect romanization in the picture above) which can also be pronounced sa kay さけ (sake). I've seen it written on onigiri both ways. This is the Japanese word for Salmon. Notice sake is written in Hiragana - meaning its a Japanese word and tuna is written in katakana trying to replicate the American word "tuna."
Here is a picture (below) of a salmon onigiri written as さけ - it is not from 7-11 though. It can also be written in Kanji as . The kanji before the salmon () is "kurenai" which means red or crimson.
Salmon written as "sa ke"

On the left we have walleye pollack roe with mustard 明太子. Walleye pollack is a member of the cod family.

and on the right we have Su ji ko すじこ- salted salmon roe (if you're into that...). It's soaked in soy sauce which I'm sure makes it better.

In the picture above, left to right - , konbu or kombu - 昆布 kelp seaweed (if you're into that...)
and jyako and okaka じやこ おかか. Okaka is another name for Katsuoboshi. Since that doesn't help 99.945% of you out there, Katsuoboshi is the name given to dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna. It's quite a process they use to make it. Dried katsuoboshi is one of the main ingredients in dashi, used to make soup broths such as miso.

 mayo and shrimp 海老 マヨネーズ。

Now that we have the eggs we have to do something with the rest of the walleye pollack(めんたい), so we use the meat too and mix it with some leaf mustard.

On the right is a new one - cod roe and soy sauce cooked over a flame. Makes it almost seem good.

Kishu plums are also know as "south high plum" or "nankou" from Wakayama prefecture. Supposedly the best plums in Japan if you have read my plum wine buying guide.

Top left we know is salmon already,
Middle top is maitake まいたけ mushroom,
next is just cod roe..
The last on the top right is pollack roe with mustard 明太子 which we already discussed earlier that we would not eat.
Bottom left is shrimp (ebi) mayo already mentioned
and next is miso 味噌or bean paste with onion.

Wasabi Nori
 4.16.13 - New addition - Nori (seaweed) Wasabi. The seaweed is mixed in with some wasabi for a nice tasty bite in the middle - not overpowering though.

Wasabi Nori
Another wasabi nori labeled just a bit differently. I believe this one is celebrating their 15,500 store opening in Japan.

Plum Okaka
4.16.13 - another new addition (above)  - Plum Okaka.  The hiragana on the right says that it is mixed into the rice (as opposed to found in the middle of the rice).

 pork with green mustard
6/26/13  (above) Char-siu and Takana is baked pork with green mustard.  This is an interesting one because they use the Kanji for "baked" and "pork" but to the right of it they use the katakana (reserved for foreign words) "cha shu" which is Char siu. Char sui is a Chinese flavored barbequed pork typically using honey, five spice, soy sauce, and hoisin sauce. This one sounds good.

Barbecue Beef
7/18/13 - Barbecue beef (above). The brown label on the left says Korean flavored nori (seaweed). On the white label on the left we see コチュジャンたれ - kochujan tare - which is a Korean red chili paste. In the brown circle it says something to the effect of delicious spicy taste. And the red circle says "new item"

8/14/13 New addition (above). Shiso with miso bean paste.  Perilla is more accurate in lieu of shiso but shiso is close and more recognizable.

Salmon with negi onions
New entry (8/16/13) above Salmon Negi which is salmon with negi onions.

Minced chicken with rice. Chicken egg appearance flavor
 New entry above (9/14/13) Minced chicken with the rice. The symbols on the right could be egg appearance (yellowish) or egg flavor. I think there is some egg yolk in there.

 New entry 10/2/13 (above). From the Korean dish Bibimbap. Spicy flavor. For an added plus, we have Korean flavored seaweed. This one looks good and I'm going to try it next time.  Update: I did, and I'm still here. It was good.

Cod and konbu (kelp or seaweed)
  10/8/13 (above).  Hokkaido product.

Raw Tarako
12/2/13 - In the photo above we have Nama Tarako - 生たらこ Nama in Japanese means raw. Tarako is cod roe. It is differentiated from the walleye pollack roe above in that tarako is not spicy whereas the mentaiko (Walleye Pollack Roe - see above) is spicy. On a side note, I always like to draw linkages where possible - draft beer is called "nama biru" in Japanese.  So you'll hear it often as a starter drink in restaurants.

kayaku gohan
Dec 2013 - Kayaku Gohan かやく御飯 is boiled rice mixed with vegetables and meat or fish. Gohan is simply "boiled rice" and kayaku is "added ingredients." Perhaps you've heard the honorific o-sake (sake) or o-mizu (water). Well this is the same honorific, only here it's written in Kanji. For Chinese origin nouns the "o" becomes "go" (the ON reading of the Kanji).

Jan 2014 - Spicy Konbu (seaweed) and leaf tougarashi (chili pepper leaf)
 The little box above the 120 Yen says "spicy"

Jan 2014 - Beef with rice and egg flavor
The above onigiri mimics the beef bowl over rice dish called gyumeshi. View here.

 If you'd like to see what a cutaway looks like to view the inside of an onigiri, you can to the 7-11 Japan website here to take a look.


The all new 7-11 Japan (and other places) tea guide: 

Other things at 7-11 Japan:

 won't describe all these but sort of a fried rice onigiri. One is chicken tsukune and another sausage. 

7-11 Japan takes special care both in making and delivering their onigiri. They use carefully selected rice and make the rice balls in many factories located throughout the country so that they are close to the distribution centers/stores to which they deliver to, in order to maintain freshness. When ready to deliver, they note that 20 degrees Celcius is the optimum temperature to keep the onigiri so that it stays moist and fresh at the same time. All points from the factory, distribution center, and the delivery truck are all kept at 20C. 
Their factories work 24 hours a day and make at least 3 deliveries per day to each 7-11 in order to maintain freshness. In this way the chain has developed and maintained a healthy edge on the competition. It's said that they sell over 10 million rice balls per day from all of their more than 15,000 stores.

Below we see the proof of their 20C claim from a thermometer in the onigiri shelf. That's pretty good quality control.

The Japanese like this snack a lot because it reminds them a lot of growing up, and the rice balls mom used to make for them as they set off to a long day at school. 7-11 Japan states they try to replicate this home cooked taste in their onigiri.


Above is dashi omusubi. This means the ingredients are blended together. On the left is goma salmon. You can see they use the kanji for salmon here. Goma is sesame. On the right is jyako (small baby fish/fry) and greens.

If you're ever at a Yakitori restaurant or Izakaya they will often serve a grilled onigiri, typically ordered at the end of the meal. They can be plain, or flavored with soy sauce or miso. Its called yaki onigiri.

interesting variety of sandwiches including strawberry

 noodles and salads

 the hot, cooked, and fried stuff by the counter

Recently I found top of the line sake (Japanese rice wine) at 7-11. It was a Dai Ginjo. Dai Ginjo represents the best of the best in the sake world. It takes a very skilled sake master to make. This just shows you the versatility of 7-11s in Japan.  The Hakutsuru brand started overseas sales about 10 years ago and opened an office in the U.S. in 2005. 


  1. Thanks i didnt know what the character for the tuna is and kept getting plum onigiri.

  2. This is a brillant post, I will save some pictures to know what to chose at 7-11.

    1. Of course it is. There's a reason it is the number one Google result when searching 7-11 Onigiri or 7-11 rice balls.

  3. Brilliant! Thank you!

    1. Why,...thank you! Never would have thought, but it is the number one post on my blog!

  4. Using this in 2017! Thanks for the translation


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