Comparing the big three Japanese convenience stores’ versions of the country’s number-one sweet bread.

Despite the cultural and culinary importance of rice to Japan, the country also has a deep appreciation for bread. So on your first trip to a Japanese convenience store, you might be startled to see the long aisle of baked goods they all have, and wonder which you should try first.

The answer, absolutely, is melon bread. While it isn’t actually made with melon, this dome-shaped pastry with a sugar-dusted, ever so slightly crunchy cookie-like shell and fluffy center is one of the greatest simple dining delights to be had in Japan.

But with melon bread (or “melon pan,” as it’s called in Japanese) being a staple of Japanese convenience stores, the question now becomes which chain you should buy yours at? To compile a guide, our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa valiantly volunteered to eat three melon breads back-to-back from the big three Japanese convenience store chains: Family Mart, 7-Eleven, and Lawson.

▼ Clockwise from top: Lawson, 7-Eleven, and Family Mart

● Family Mart

Starting with the most affordable of the bunch, Seiji bit into Family Mart’s 110-yen (US$1.05) Melon Bread with Pearl Sugar, which is made by baked goods company Pasco Shikishima. There’s a quick crunch as your teeth meet the cookie coating, which rewards you with a pleasing sweetness that spreads through your mouth.

However, out of the three entrants in this taste test, the center of Family Mart’s melon bread is the driest. That’s not to say it feels stale or has an unpleasant texture, but it did have him wanting some sort of beverage to recover his mouth’s moisture after a few bites.

● 7-Eleven

Up next is 7-Eleven’s Crisp Melon Bread (with European Cultured Butter), produced by Delica Chef, a subsidiary of House Foods. This is the premium-priced option of the bunch, retailing for 118 yen (hey, an eight-yen difference is almost enough to buy an entire Umaibo!). This one has the most noticeable crunch out of the three, with plenty of sweetness too. It’s also far less drying than Family Mart’s. “It’s like it’s saying, ‘Hey, sorry, I just need a little bit of your moisture, if you don’t mind,’” Seiji explains.

● Lawson

And last, we come to Lawson’s confidently named Fluffy Melon Bread with Fermented Butter as the Deciding Factor, from Yamazaki Baking Company. True to its bold claim, this one has the strongest butter notes, with a rich aroma and a momentary resemblance to a butter cookie as you bite into it. In terms of dryness, it slots between Family Mart and 7-Eleven, and at 116 yen it does so in price too.

All three look pretty similar in exterior visuals, but in cross-section 7-Eleven’s melon bread seemed to have the most uniform consistency, which also gave it a slightly fluffier texture than the other two.

▼ Left to right: Family Mart, 7-Eleven, Lawson

Of the three, Seiji’s personal favorite is 7-Eleven, but individual preferences will vary, so he encourages you to try all three for yourself if you can (and he really encourages you to get your boss to pay you to do it, though he realizes that might be hard for people whose jobs aren’t as weird as ours). And if you’re picking up more than just sweet snacks at the convenience store in Japan, we’ve also got inter-chain comparisons for steamed buns and kakuni braised pork.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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