My readers who have enjoyed a Japanese konbini snack will understand my passion for the experience. A brief lesson for others follows.
A konbini is a ubiquitous Japanese convenience store, a one-stop shop that you can find at almost every corner of every Japanese street (and usually more than one). Most are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week; they are like a shinning beacon when everything else is closed.
Of course there are convenience stores in America and other nations but nothing that compares to a Japanese konbini!
There are more than 50,000 convenience stores throughout Japan. The major operators –– Seven Eleven, Family Mart and Lawson –– dominate the market. One smaller popular brand is the Daily Yamazaki that focuses on rail station and residential neighborhood locations.
You can generally find almost anything or everything the could need or want from a remarkable variety of food and beverages products to other goods including personal care products, cosmetics, batteries, umbrellas, newspapers, magazines and manga to a wide range of services such as ATMs, multi-purpose terminals to purchase event tickets, pay bills, arrange delivery and pick up services, purchase stamps or use as a copy, scanning and fax machine. Many stores also maintain a Wi-Fi network that can be accessed for free.
I believe that anyone who first visits Japan immediately falls in love with Japanese convenience stores.
In fact two of my favorite konbini memories involve UMaine MBA students who accompanied Keiko and I on business school trips to Japan. There was Tony (anything but a foodie) and his first onigiri encounter –– rice balls with always tasty fillings, the ultimate on-the-go meal –– and I believe he ate one or more of them every day of the trip thereafter! And Jeremy and his discovery of a konbini “one-cup” –– Japan’s single-serve take-away cup of sake. He was like a kid on Christmas morning as he emerged with his prized One Cup Ōzeki!
One characteristic of this very competitive market is that the major firms constantly produce new innovative products, many that have limited or seasonal availability, some never to be seen again! Keiko has been known to visit 7-11 stores until she has been able to find and purchase a new dessert she saw featured on a Japanese TV news variety show.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post, one of my all-time favorite konbini snacks — FamilyMart’s Famichiki –– a boneless piece of fried chicken known for its addictive crunch and juiciness that in my humble opinion might be the definitive Japanese konbini snack.
The chain has occasionally rolled out limited-edition variants on the hot treat, and for this winter has introduced a Sichuan-inspired Famichiki that blends gochujang together with Sichuan peppercorn and chili pepper to give each piece a reddish exterior (¥198 after tax).
The Japan Times described the product best: “How do you improve a classic? By literally spicing it up, of course. Maybe it’s the neon-bright outside or the winter weather, but this Famichiki varietal more than delivers, with a nice peppery kick that offers a lingering tingle without being too strong. It’s a case study in not messing up what works — building off the essential components with a welcome, spicy addition.”
It was in fact this Japan Times article that introduced me to the spicy Famichiki. I had to visit four Family Marts to find one that had it for purchase. It was worth the time and effort. Yummy!