Friday, May 11, 2018

Konbini Adventure

Friday, May 11, 2018

As I stir my instant matcha au lait its luscious vegetal scent permeates the air. I take a sip of the tea, close my eyes, sit back in my chair, and feel myself transported back to our days in Japan, our joyful konbini adventure.

Convenience stores like Lawson, 7-11, and Family Mart are called konbini in Japan. On the very day my boyfriend and I arrived in the country, we immediately checked out the konbini a few meters from our hotel. Entering the store, we were greeted by a plethora of products, both familiar and strange. An entire shelf full of what looked like different kinds of custard pudding caught my eye. After some careful inspection of the content through the container and a concentrated effort to read the Japanese labels, I still don’t know which pudding to choose so I decided to follow what locals are doing and got the ones chosen by the Japanese couple next to me.  

Two of my konbini favorites: omusubi (rice balls) and purin (custard pudding)
Still overwhelmed by the novelty of everything around me, I walked to the section displaying a variety of omusubi (or onigiri), those rice balls that are wrapped in seaweed and contain different fillings like tuna with mayonnaise, pickled Japanese plum, salmon roe, and natto or fermented soy beans. I grabbed one and tried to decipher, or guess, which one it is. Everything’s in Kanji, and the only thing that I can recognize on the label is the character for sakana, which means fish. Maybe this one contains tuna, I thought. And it was tuna, and it was delicious. We found that out when we got back to the hotel and sampled the goodies we bought. The hours I spent learning Japanese turned out worthwhile after all.

Konbinis are ubiquitous in Japan, and it was always an adventure whenever we enter one because we didn't have a plan and we were never quite sure what it was we’re buying. Like that time when we wanted to buy some cooking oil. When we were in touristy Kyoto, we wanted to enjoy the city like a local so we opted to stay at a furnished apartment and prepare and eat our meals--mostly breakfast and dinner--at home. That's why we needed cooking oil. But we couldn't find it in the konbini. I took a bottle that resembled cooking oil and asked the guy manning the cash register if it's cooking oil, but he couldn't understand English. And for the life of me, I could not remember the Japanese word for oil. The only word that I could recall is aceite, its Spanish equivalent. Luckily a kind Japanese lady heard what I said and she told me that what I'm holding is not cooking oil but sake. Then she showed me where the cooking oil was. I thanked her, for without her we'd be eating bacon fried in sake for breakfast.

Our homemade breakfast: bacon, scrambled eggs, matcha tea, coffee, bread, bite-sized cheese, persimmon, an orange, chinese cabbage, and omusubi

When we travel it's not just about the magnificent temples, awe-inspiring landscapes, and other bucket-list-worthy tourist destinations. Sometimes it's the small mundane things like our daily konbini jaunts that make traveling to foreign places truly rewarding.  


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