Our reporter shares which version of this classic style of bento (all for 430 yen/US$3.83 or under) overwhelmingly stole his heart and stomach.

Makunouchi (“between-the-curtain”) bento is a popular style of bento featuring rice, meat or fish, pickled vegetables, other side dishes, and typically a bright red, sour umeboshi (pickled plum) at a minimum. Its name derives from a long history of being sold during intermission at Noh and Kabuki performances in the Edo era (1603-1867).

In the spirit of keeping our readers informed about which common convenience store bento is the cream of the crop (and in filling his own empty stomach), our Hokkaido-based reporter K. Nagahashi investigated the Makunouchi bento offerings from four of the biggest convenience stores in his region. How do the various companies’ bento boxes stack up, and which one wins in the overall best category? Here are the candidates (all prices include tax):

・Family Mart’s Japanese-Style Makunouchi Bento (和風幕の内弁当): 398 yen/US$3.55 (516 calories)
・Lawson’s Assorted Side Dishes Makunouchi (いろいろおかず幕の内): 430 yen/US$3.83 (594 calories)
・7-Eleven’s As-You-Like-It Makunouchi (お好み幕の内): 430/US$3.83 yen (645 calories)
・Seico Mart’s Side Dishes Assortment Makunouchi Bento (おかずいろいろ幕の内弁当): 400 yen/US$3.56 (816 calories)

A quick note before we begin. The Family Mart and the Seico Mart bento Nagahashi sampled are limited to Hokkaido, whereas the ones from Lawson and 7-Eleven are sold countrywide. Moreover, the rice could be eaten room temperature or heated, so he elected to eat everything room temperature for consistency’s sake.

▼ Clockwise, from upper-left: Family Mart, Lawson, Seico Mart, 7-Eleven

▼ Not a bad work assignment! At least it sounds much more appetizing in theory than French fry sundaes

Candidate #1: Family Mart’s Japanese-Style Makunouchi Bento (和風幕の内弁当)

Family Mart’s entry boasts a standard bento with all the usual staples: salmon, tamagoyaki (rolled egg omelet), a croquette, simmered vegetables, pickled vegetables, and simmered Japanese mustard spinach for a total of six side dishes, umeboshi excluded. However, compared to the other three companies’ bento, it was lacking the most in terms of variety.

Nagahashi noted that the croquette and simmered vegetables were cooked simply but well and were easy to eat. The bento also scored a few points because salmon was in season and the rice was nice and fluffy. While the portion sizes were moderate and they retained an overall air of simplicity, he determined that it was the type of bento that could appeal to anyone young or old.

Candidate #2: Lawson’s Assorted Side Dishes Makunouchi (いろいろおかず幕の内)

Next up was Lawson’s bento featuring mackerel, tamagoyaki, a croquette, Hamburg steak, simmered vegetables, picked vegetables, and a small wiener sausage for a total of seven side dishes. Nagahashi noted that the croquette was a bit on the dry side and the rice had hardened, but the Hamburg steak was mouth-wateringly tender and the tamagoyaki’s hidden flavor came through in full force.

The bottom line? Out of the four candidates, nothing in particular about Lawson’s bento really sold him. Incidentally, Lawson does sell another type of makunouchi bento on the somewhat pricey side of 550 yen (US$4.91) which had also piqued his curiosity a bit. Maybe that’s what he’d have to try next time…

Candidate #3: 7-Eleven’s As-You-Like It Makunouchi (お好み幕の内)

Introducing 7-Eleven’s makunouchi entry: sliced and dried daikon strips, wiener sausage, a croquette, karaage (fried chicken), tamagoyaki, mackerel, Hamburg steak, and a fried vegetable-meat roll for a total of eight side dishes. In addition to boasting the most variety out of all of the candidates, it featured the delightful addition of a large piece of karaage (which you just can’t beat).

On the down side, the rice was a bit hard like Lawson’s, and was regrettably on the flavorless side. But because of the large karaage and fried vegetable-meat roll described above, along with the red shiso leaf flakes garnishing the rice, Nagahashi thought that people who were into those ingredients would really be thrilled to have this bento.

Candidate #4: Seico Mart’s Side Dishes Assortment Makunouchi Bento (おかずいろいろ幕の内弁当)

Last but not least, feast your eyes on Seico Mart’s pride and joy, featuring a shumai dumpling, tamagoyaki, fried shrimp, fried chicken cutlet, Hamburg steak, karaage with lightly fried vegetable strips, and a croquette for a total of seven side dishes, umeboshi excluded. On top of all of that deliciousness, a small amount of Neapolitan pasta was secretly hiding under the side dishes! This bento boasted incredible volume and side dishes as part of its deal, so Nagahashi decided that the high 816-calorie count could definitely be forgiven.

Luckily, the taste of everything lived up to its looks. More so than the other companies’ bento, the rice was pleasantly springy and packed with flavor, the croquette hinted at the sweetness of corn and crispy potato, and the fried shrimp even came with a dollop of tartar sauce. These tiny details were incredibly attractive and stuck in his mind long after he had finished eating. Even though the majority of the sides were hefty fried bites, the reasonable 400 yen price tag was on point.

In conclusion, if you haven’t guessed which bento was the winner by Nagahashi’s candid descriptions above, it’s safe to say that Seico Mart’s Side Dishes Assortment Makunouchi Bento hit it out of the park for its overall volume and deliciousness. The one major downside with this selection is that it doesn’t seem to be available for purchase outside of Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido at the moment, so make sure that you swing by your local Seico Mart the next time you’re there (or use it as an excuse to finally visit the far north).

All photos © SoraNews24 
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