Tokyo Convenience Store Chicken Gizzards Saved My Life
Variety and innovation like this have been at the heart of the conbini experience in Japan for half a century. Harvard professor Whitelaw told me that onigiri (rice balls) were the first traditional foods here to receive the conbini treatment. They come in clever packaging that keeps algae dry, allows for easy assembly, and comes in seemingly endless permutations.
“They took a very handcrafted home cooked meal – a rice ball that has supported Japan for eons – and wrapped it up and innovated it into something haute cuisine, conbini cuisine, which is in constant evolution, ”Whitelaw said.
Onigiri also supported me through these Games. Putting one or two (or three or four) in my bag before running to an event has been a sure-fire way to stay nourished.
My favorite conbini innovations were the simplest: A corn dog I bought from 7-Eleven came with a sachet of sauce designed so that a single pinch simultaneously sends ketchup and whole mustard from it. of a beak, like two synchronized divers.
Some items, on the other hand, required more assembly than an Ikea desk. The cold soba noodles were stuck together in a soft, unappealing brick. But after applying the many plastic-wrapped accessories – tsuyu sauce, scallions, wasabi, frothy shredded yam, a gooey egg – my hesitation turned to contentment.
It is important to pause and note that the conbini experience animates some mental dissonance. First, such extreme convenience requires an incredible amount of plastic packaging. Second, it’s hard to ignore how these store clerks are perched on the frontlines of Japan’s endless coronavirus fight – in our case, serving customers deemed too risky to enter other stores – and yet they are among the lowest paid workers in the country.
A small consolation from this pandemic, Whitelaw said, could be of greater appreciation for these companies, which are widely relied on but sometimes taken for granted.
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