What’s inside them, how to order, and what they cost.

There’s a lot to love on the shelves and inside the freezer sections of Japan’s convenience stores, but one of their greatest treasure chests can be found sitting on the counter next to the register. That’s where the steamer case for all the various steamed buns sits, filled with palm-sized treats of both the meaty and sweet variety.

A while back we compared pizza buns from four of Japan’s largest convenience store chains, but today we’re drilling deep into the world of steamed buns by trying every single variety currently sold at branches of the Lawson chain. We’re also including each item’s name in Japanese, since you order them by telling the clerk at the register what you want. Just say the name of the bun followed by hitotsu for one, futatsu for two, or mitsu for three (holding up fingers for the amount you want will also work in a pinch).

1. Juicy Pork Bun/Jushi Niku Man (130 yen [US$1.15])

The standard pork bun is the granddaddy of Japanese convenience store steamed buns, but Lawson’s is still one of the best. Packed with more meat than its counterparts at many rival chains, the inside is moist and flavorful without being soggy.

Incredibly affordable, the Juicy Pork Bun is always a good call, and also an easy way to hedge your bet if you’re hungry enough to eat two different types of steamed buns but want to be absolutely sure that one of them will be tasty.

2. Premium Pork Bun/Gokujo Niku Man (180 yen)

The standard Pork Bun’s aristocratic cousin, the Premium version justifies its higher price with the use of delicious shiitake mushroom, crisp water chestnut, and large pieces of bamboo shoot, as well as being larger overall than the ordinary Pork Bun.

3. Cheese Curry Bun/Chizu Kare Man (130 yen)

One of the more filling choices on the list, the Cheese Curry Bun’s flavor profile is more curry than cheese, and a great way to eat one of Japan’s favorite comfort foods on the go without the need for a spoon or any dishware.

4. Pizza Bun/Piza Man (130 yen)

There’s more mixed-with-cheese goodness in the orange-tinted Pizza Bun. Lawson’s is an especially flavorful example, with its Western and Eastern culinary concepts meshing surprisingly well with one another.

5. Shrimp, Spicy Cod Roe, and Cheese Bun/Ebi Mentai Chizu Man (240 yen)

The idea of eating fish eggs might be a little intimidating if you grew up outside Japan, but the salty and spicy taste of mentaiko (as spicy cod roe is called in Japanese) actually pleases the palate without much exotic shock or drama. However, mixing it with shrimp gives you a double dose of seafood notes, and the inclusion of cheese means that this particular steamed bun is something you’ve got to be in a specific mood for, especially since it’s also one of the most expensive buns Lawson sells).

6.Luxurious Seafood Pork Bun with Shark Fin/Fukahireiri Zeitaku Kaisen Niki Man (280 yen)

Here we come to the very top of the Lawson steamed bun price list, at more than twice the price of the standard Pork Bun due to the presence of shark fin, something that’s more commonly found in multi-course meals at high-end Chinese restaurants than convenience store munchies.

7. Cheese Bun/Chizu Man (160 yen)

Meanwhile, the humble Cheese Bun is simply filled with Kiri-brand cream cheese. While it’s tasty enough, you might find yourself wishing for a little extra sweetness, like maybe a squirt of honey.

8. Sesame Sweet Bean Bun/Goma An Man (120 yen)

If your sweet tooth is demanding satisfaction, though, the Sesame Sweet Bean Bun is the way to go, since, as we’ve explained numerous times, sweet beans make everything better. Here it’s mixed with sesame for a sophisticated taste that belies its humble price as the cheapest of all Lawson’s steamed buns (and if you need even more sesame, you can always walk over to Starbucks for one of their new triple-sesame Frappuccinos).

With winter here, convenience store steamed buns make a quick, hot meal for busy travelers and local residents who’re don’t feel like cooking. They’re also a great option during the New Year’s holidays, when many neighborhood mom-and-pop restaurants shut down but convenience stores are open for business, and we see ourselves eating plenty of them over the coming weeks.

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