Mr. Sato gets creative with Lawson 100 Store’s new Rice Buns.

When you’re feeling hungry in Japan, you can always count on the onigiri (rice ball) rack at the convenience store to solve your problem. So when our ace reporter Mr. Sato felt his stomach start to rumble, he turned his steps towards the nearest Lawson Store 100, the sub-branch of Lawson where almost everything is priced at just 100 yen (US$0.75).

But on this day, Mr. Sato didn’t pick out a rice ball filled with salmon, bonito, or any of the other standard onigiri fillings. No, instead he spent his 100 yen on Lawson Store 100’s newest creation, an onigiri filled with…nothing at all.

Lawson Store 100 calls them “Rice Buns,” and they’re similar to shio musubi, rice balls with no filling that are sprinkled with salt. But whereas a shio musubi is a single solid ball of rice, Rice Buns come two to a pack, with a thin sheet of plastic sandwiched in the middle.

You’re not supposed to eat the sheet, of course. It’s there to keep the two discs of rice from sticking to each other, so that you can separate them without any unwanted clumping or tearing.

Once you’ve taken your Rice Buns apart, you can add whatever kind of filling you want, then put the whole thing together for a customized onigiri to perfectly satisfy your specific cravings.

▼ Lawson Store 100 does have onigiri that are pre-packed with fillings, but the Rice Buns give you a greater quantity of rice.

With his filling options wide open, it didn’t take long for Mr. Sato to decide what he wanted to do. Recently, a lot of convenience stores collaborate with restaurant chains, confectioners, and other food companies to create store-exclusive items, but one thing you never see is one convenience store collaborating with a rival chain. But that’s exactly the kind of onigiri Mr. Sato wanted to create, so he scurried off to 7-Eleven and came back with three things the Lawson competitor to put inside his Rice Buns.

First up: a piece of 7-Eleven’s Nanachiki fried chicken. 7-Eleven cooks these up in-store, and since karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken) onigiri are a thing, Mr. Sato had high hopes for this combination.

▼ He also made sure to shout “Gattai!” (“Combine!”) as he put it together, like it was a combining anime robot.

One thing he hadn’t counted on, though, is that Nanachiki has a bit of crispness to the outer layer of its breading. It’s totally fine when you’re eating the chicken by itself but nestled within the softer rice, it made for a bit of a discordant texture. Flavor-wise though, this was still pretty good.

Never a person with any strong compunction to follow orthodox ways of thinking, for his next onigiri filling, Mr. Sato selected a piece of salmon sushi.

With the salmon already itself sitting atop a block of sushi rice, this created a third stratum of rice for Mr. Sato’s Rice Buns onigiri. He wasn’t just adding grains, though, but another flavor, since the Rice Buns are sprinkled with salt, and the sushi rice is seasoned with vinegar. This created a carb-y complexity that his brain had a little trouble making sense of, since there was a hazy transition between the salty and sour parts of the flavor profile. Nothing tasted bad, though, so overall, this one was also tasty enough.

And last, Mr. Sato picked up a hamburger steak with demi-glace sauce. This was perhaps the combination that warranted the highest expectations, since rice is a common accompaniment for hamburger steak set meals, and, looking at it from yet another perspective, some Japanese fast food chains serve hamburgers with rice replacing bread for the buns.

And sure enough, this was the best of the bunch, even better than Mr. Sato had hoped for! Juicy, flavorful, and filling, he’d be perfectly happy having one of these not just as a snack, but as the main part of his dinner when he’s not feeling in the mood to cook.

So as weird as the idea of no-filling onigiri might initially seem, Mr. Sato thinks the concept has a lot of potential, and he just might need to do some further research combining Rice Buns with some of our staff’s favorite under-the-radar items from 7-Elevem Japan.

Photos © SoraNews24
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