Fill Your Tummies With Japan’s Best Convenience Store Onigiri | CoolJapan

Japanese convenience store onigiris

Onigiri are Japanese rice balls that can be eaten plain, or stuffed with a variety of ingredients (Photo from: himawariin)

The Tokyo Olympics not only put Japan in the international spotlight but also brought to attention an everyday food that is a staple of the Japanese people. It is none other than the humble Onigiri (rice ball)!

Olympic athletes, journalists and visitors took to social media to post their discovery of the amazing Japanese convenience store. Better known locally as the Konbini, this ubiquitous 24/7 store can be found at almost every corner of major cities. Its shelves are stocked with tantalising food offerings, unexpected of a convenience store, and foreign guests raved about it.

japanese convenience stores

A huge variety of ready-to-go meals available at Japanese 7-Eleven convenience store (Photo from: Japanexperterna/CC BY-SA 3.0)

But the Onigiri stole the limelight. Bewildered Anastasia Bucsis, former Olympian speed skater and sports reporter for Canada's CBC Sports, posted a plea on Twitter asking how to unwrap an onigiri. 7-Eleven Japan responded swiftly with a video, explaining the correct way and shedding light on the clever design of the onigiri’s packaging.

Anastasia’s follow-up post updating that she was “doing much better” garnered 2.6million views and tons of positivity from the Japanese people. The power of social media.

Now that everyone is more acquainted with the onigiri, let’s take a look at some of its popular flavours, in preparation for the next time we visit Japan!

Crowd-Favourite Onigiri Fillings

Tuna Mayo Onigiri

This foreigner-friendly flavour is the perfect combination of savoury tuna and creamy Japanese mayonnaise. All wrapped up in a crispy layer of tasty dried seaweed (also known as Nori). Tuna Mayo Onigiri was introduced in 1983 and has remained a firmly established flavour that is available at all 3 major Konbinis in Japan, namely 7-11, Family Mart and Lawson.

Salmon & Salmon Roe Onigiri

Flaky pieces of salmon are wrapped inside a rice ball, which is gently flavoured and cooked in soup stock. As you chew to the middle, delightful pops of Ikura (salmon roe) bursts in your mouth. This flavour is popular with both the locals and tourists. For beginners who are wary of eating fish roe, you will not go wrong with the classic Salmon Onigiri.

japanese salmon rice ball

Handmade Salmon Onigiri is delicious but busy individuals can conveniently buy them from Konbinis instead (Photo from: HiC)

Mentaiko Onigiri

Mentaiko refers to pollock cod roe and it is a favourite food of many Japanese people. You can find a variety of Mentaiko Onigiris in convenience stores, with the more common ones including Mentaiko Mayo and Spicy Pollock Roe. This is a rich and flavourful ingredient that goes especially well when paired with rice balls.

Sekihan Onigiri

Sekihan means “red rice” in Japanese, naturally tinted because it is cooked together with Azuki beans. This pinkish rice ball usually contains tasty bits of sweet red bean and black sesame seeds, creating an appetising contrast of textures. For those with special diets, Sekihan Onigiri is a delicious vegan option among the mainly seafood flavours.

Omurice Onigiri

Omurice, or omelette rice, is a Japanese comfort food that is well-loved by everyone, including children. The brilliant minds of Japan transformed it into the form of a ready-to-go Onigiri. Fragrant tomato rice encased in fluffy eggs, what is there not to like? 

A favorite at Izakayas and Yakitori restaurants, Yaki Onigiri are rice balls that are often marinated in soy sauce and grilled until it is beautifully charred. Those who crave a bite of this aromatic grilled rice balls can just drop by a convenience store for a quick snack. It tastes wonderful on its own, or you can make a satisfying meal with other Konbini ready-made items.

grilled japanese rice balls

Grilled rice balls are crispy on the outside, and soft and chewy inside (Photo from: Koji Horaguchi/(CC BY 2.0)

Unique Onigiri Flavours

Devil’s Onigiri

Sometimes, special Onigiri flavours make an appearance on the shelves of Konbinis. One that proved to be a massive hit is Lawson’s exclusive “Devil’s Onigiri". It was first released in 2018 and around 200,000 pieces were sold in the first 4 weeks. Devil’s Onigiri is made with rice cooked in dashi stock, then mixed with crunchy tempura batter and nori seaweed. It lives up to its name by being devilishly addictive!

Spam & Egg Onigiri

As we make our way down south of Japan, we come to Okinawa, the hometown of a very special Onigiri — the Spam & Egg. This unique island is quite different from the rest of Japan, partially due to its strong US military presence in the second world war. The Americans brought the western culture over and that is how the yummy Spam & Egg Onigiri was born. And yes, it is available only in Okinawa!