Kids Web Japan

Crispy Fried Hot Snacks from Convenience Stores

Images of hot snacks
Top-left: Image courtesy of Seven & i Holdings

At Japanese convenience stores, called "kombini," the yummy-looking hot dogs, fried chicken, and French fries in the glass displays next to the check-outs are hard to ignore. We call these "hot snacks," and they're a big hit with hungry shoppers in need of an extra bit of lunch or a snack to keep them going.

Convenience Stores: Making Our Lives Better and Easier

There are more than 50,000 convenience stores across Japan, each selling around 2,000 items. These range from food and drink, like hot snacks and bento boxes prepared in store, deli dishes, candies, and beverages, to everyday essentials like washing liquid and towels, stationery items like notebooks and ballpoint pens, and even clothing items like socks and underwear. There are also in-store ATMs where you can withdraw money without going to the bank, as well as terminals that let you buy concert tickets, make copies, send faxes, and even get official certificates like residence cards issued. You can even pay your utility bills there. In the event of a disaster, convenience stores offer us support as local hubs that provide water, bathroom facilities, and up-to-date information. They also act as evacuation sites.

Inside the store, products are arranged so that you can see them easily. As well as food (the main seller), there are consumables like washing liquid, light bulbs, stationery, and more. Image courtesy of Seven & i Holdings

In recent years there has been an increase in self-service check-outs, where customers pay by themselves. You can also pay your utility bills here. Image courtesy of Seven & i Holdings

Popular Hot Snacks: Fresh, Crispy and Ready to Eat

Convenience stores stock a lot of foods that are ready to eat, like bento boxes and deli dishes. But it's the crispy hot snacks, which are freshly cooked in the store's fryer and sold piping hot for around 100 yen each that are especially popular with kids and adults alike. These days, kara-age (fried chicken) is so popular that people even go around tasting and comparing different versions from various convenience store chains. Convenience store kara-age is so good that it even stands up to comparisons with specialist outlets! There are lots of different seasonings too, like spicy hot, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce. And to make it easy to eat immediately, the meat is cut into bite-sized chunks, skewered on a stick, or served in a paper bag or cardboard carton so that you don't get your hands dirty. As well as kara-age, there are other fried hot snacks like French fries, corn dogs, and croquettes. Some families like to buy these to eat with bento lunches at the park on weekends.

The hot snacks display has products made fresh that day. Image courtesy of Ministop

Crispy bite-sized chicken coated in special breadcrumbs. Image courtesy of Ministop

Boneless chicken kara-age is a firm favorite. Image courtesy of FamilyMart

There's also a wide range of seasonal products. Some convenience stores offer summer favorites like flavored shaved ice, frappes, and soft-serve ice cream made to order. And in winter, you can find things like hot oden (Japanese hotpot), chukaman (Chinese steamed buns), and yakiimo (roasted sweet potatoes). Chinese steamed buns are most commonly filled with meat, but each winter there are other varieties made with different fillings too, like pizza-style buns filled with lots of cheese, and buns with Chinese-style fillings like mapo tofu (tofu in a spicy sauce) or chili shrimp. Oden is a Japanese dish that people love to eat in winter. It's a type of slowly simmered hot pot with ingredients like konjac, white radish, and types of fishcakes called chikuwa and Satsuma-age. The stock, base ingredients, and seasonings in oden can vary from region to region. Even convenience stores use different ingredients in the soup stock, like katsuo-bushi (dried bonito flakes), konbu (edible seaweed), shellfish, or chicken, depending on where they are in the country.

Summer is all about cold desserts with soft-serve ice cream, flavored shaved ice, and fruit. Image courtesy of Ministop

Oden is a must-have winter dish at convenience stores. Image courtesy of Lawson

A Wide Range of Authentic Flavors That Surprise Foreigners

Recently, small portions of chilled, vacuum-packed deli dishes are becoming popular in convenience stores. These each cost around 100 yen and are bought by a wide range of people in different age groups, including young students, single people, housewives, and senior citizens. There are lots of different products available, from familiar family favorites to dishes popular with young people, side dishes made from vegetables, and many more.

There's a whole range of chilled foods lined up next to the cold drinks. Image courtesy of Seven & i Holdings

The foods found at convenience stores are also a hit with foreigners. Members of the international media visiting Japan for the first time during the Tokyo Olympics were amazed by the hot snacks available at convenience stores, as well as the authentic-tasting sandwiches and onigiri (rice balls), and the wide variety of delicious desserts. Some even shared their experiences on social media, making Japanese convenience stores a hot topic of conversation. You could say that this drive for great taste is typical of Japan. The efforts of convenience stores to come up with easy, tasty food is a great help when you're busy!