The best part is that it’s not hard to find, and you only need a dash of it!

Japanese convenience stores are famous for their delicious eats, enough to grab the attention of Tokyo Olympics reporters and more. However, you may be surprised to know that not all dishes make the cut. One victim of convenience store mediocrity tends to be carbonara.

It’s just cheese, pasta, an egg, and some bacon, right? You may think it’s hard to mess up, but in our Japanese language reporter Seiji Nakazawa’s experience, he’s often left unsatisfied by conbini carbonara. But through a lot of experimenting, Seiji has found the key to making this pasta dish delicious no matter where you buy it, and it’s probably in your pantry right now.

▼ Any final guesses as to what it is (unless you recognize this bottle from Japan)?

It’s vinegar! Yes, all you need to take your pasta to the next level is a bit of sourness. You don’t need a lot of it either, so even if you’re running low, you’ll still be able to make a delicious lunch.

▼ It’s not that hard to prepare, as Seiji will demonstrate.

Here’s how Seiji makes it, as per convenience store pasta instructions. First, he heats it up at the indicated heat and for the suggested length of time.

▼ If you’re not piling on this much cheese, are you really doing carbonara right?

Then, he piles on a bunch of powdered parmesan cheese. If you have the real stuff, it’s even better, but the powdered kind will do just fine, considering you’re about to make it taste like the real thing anyway.

▼ And finally, the not-so-secret-anymore ingredient.

Finally, he adds a teaspoon of vinegar and mixes it in together. And that’s all you need to take it from bland and boring to gourmet and delectable.

How did Seiji make this grand discovery, you ask? Well, carbonara happens to make a regular appearance in his meal rotation. He loves experimenting with the flavor. It was during an experiment in which he tried to make carbonara without cream–relying solely on the flavor of Parmigiano-Reggiano–that he realized the power of vinegar.

▼ Here’s a sample of his carbonara adventures.

If you’ve had hard Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese before, you’ll know it tastes a bit sour. That same tartness doesn’t exist in cream or powdered parmesan cheese, but it’s easy to recreate the sensation by adding something sour like vinegar. And just like that, he decided to test his theory, and it worked!

▼ And now he has a dish worth bragging about to the whole Internet.

So next time you make carbonara and don’t have a nice, sour cheese on hand, try adding in a teaspoon of vinegar, whether you’re heating up a premade mix or making it from scratch. And if you have sauce leftover, try mixing it with some mochi!

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[ Read in Japanese ]