Several years ago I was preparing for a study-abroad trip to Japan when one of the program directors told the group of assembled students that we should write our names in our clothes, pledge not to speak English outside the classroom, and plan on buying all our lunches from the convenience store across the street.
I was shocked. Was he seriously suggesting that we eat gas-station hot dogs and potato chips for three months straight? But that was just because I'd never actually seen a 7-Eleven in Japan, and I had no idea just how much really good food a person could find there for not a lot of money. I really did wind up eating lunch at 7-Eleven just about every day, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
If you're in the U.S., 7-Eleven might not be the first place you'd think to go for a really good meal. But now YouTube personality Mike Chen of Strictly Dumpling reviewed his brunch at a 7-Eleven in Japan, and people are gobsmacked by the amount of very good food he was able to get there, and how inexpensive it all was.
According to The Daily Meal, Chen's Tokyo 7-Eleven video is trending on YouTube. It's been viewed more than a million times, and liked more than 25,000 times. He has more than 3,700 comments, most of which appear to be some variation on "I'm so jealous!" and "I want to eat at that 7-Eleven!"
Chen buys a ton of food at the Tokyo 7-Eleven. He gets a pile of buns, dried squid, instant yakisoba, a strawberry pastry, egg sandwiches, and a massive green tea cookie before he even gets to the 7-Eleven's prepared foods display.
"Ooh, look at how much meat is in this!" he says, holding up a box of beef in the prepared foods aisle.
Then he stops by the onigiri wall and picks out a salmon rice ball and one with spicy roe and cream cheese. Convenience store onigiri are one of my favorite lunches. Every time I go into a 7-Eleven in the U.S., I scan the walls for an onigiri display, just in case.
Chen bought bento boxes, fish cakes, instant noodles by Michelin-starred ramen restaurant Tsuta, and something that looks like a soft cake taco stuffed with matcha cream.
$4 would probably get a person a perfectly satisfying lunch, but he spent more like $40. It's a ton of food, but Chen wanted to try an assortment. He did not seem disappointed.
"If you served this to me at a restaurant, I would not question it," he gushed over a cup of instant soup with tofu, which he'd just made using the 7-Eleven hot water dispenser.
"This is 7-Eleven food, can you believe it? The meat actually tastes like really good quality," he said of a box of beef from the prepared foods display.
For the second part of the video, Chen ran the same experiment at Lawson, a competing convenience store chain that puts out an equally good spread. The pastries in particular were fresh and fluffy, and they looked like things you'd find at a fancy pastry shop here.
Those convenience stores "really smash the stereotype we tend to have in the U.S. where we only go to convenience stores if we need a stick of gum or a slushie or some underwear," Chen said. "But we tend to never see convenience stores as a place that we would go if we wanted to have a delicious meal. But here that's 100 percent the case."
If you want to see a parade of just the kinds of pastries, buns, noodles, and sandwiches a person can find at a Tokyo 7-Eleven, check out Chen's whole video here.