Hot Buns in Japan: Pork, Pizza, Curry, and Salty Caramel

Published: 04th June 2009
Views: N/A

Chinese restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area and around the world offer pork buns. Pork and other ingredients are cooked, stuffed inside a bun, and steamed. You can find pork buns ranging from fast food buns at little stands on the street to the ecstasy of exquisite dim sum restaurants like Yank Sing in San Francisco.

When I am in San Francisco, walking down Market Street or people-watching on Union Square, I will buy a soft pretzel to eat. In Japan, I will stop my car at a convenience store, probably one of Japan's approximately 12,000 Seven-Elevens, and buy a bun. Like at a drive-in, most people eat in the car. Convenience stores rarely very provide benches.

Japan has adopted and adapted this style of bun. When you are hungry, biting into a hot bun on a cold winter day is one of the small pleasures in life. While you can find such buns sold at street stands and in restaurants, and frozen in supermarkets, many people get their buns at convenience stores such as Seven-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart, Save On, Circle K Sunkus and Ministop. Some ingredients look familiar and some do not. The most unfamiliar ingredient to Americans may be an, which is a sweet bean paste known by a variety of names. We looked at convenience store websites to see their bun menus.

While Lawson and Save On do sell many buns, their websites fail to clearly present the kinds of buns they sell. So, I would just like to comment on a Save On pork bun that we did find. Shaped like a pig with a snout sticking out, two floppy ears, and two dark eyes, the fast food art embraced the Japanese concepts of cute and food presentation.

After seeing the piggy pork bun, I no longer went to Seven-Eleven. I started stopping at Save On. Some Save Ons sold the piggy pork bun to silent purchasers. Shiori, age eight or nine, and her grandmother, who was over 60, were two of the more vocal purchasers. Shiori, spoke first, "That pig is just so cute!" They talked at length about the cute floppy ears, the cute snout, and the cute pig shape.

Returning to bun offerings, the smallest menu on the web, at Ministop, shows seven different buns: Two varieties of pork buns; two varieties of an buns; a spicy seafood bun made from shark fin, shrimp, and an flavored with oyster sauce and other ingredients; a shrimp and pork bun flavored with salt; and for dessert, a Belgian chocolate bun.

Family Mart shows 11 different options including pizza, curry, and a variety of pork and an buns. One of the pork buns is a spicy bun, including kimchi while another uses the same kind of pork slices as you can find in bowls of steaming hot ramen. The completely new variety Family Mart offers is a yakisoba bun. Yakisoba is a fried noodle dish in Japan that is somewhat like chow mein. The bun is simply stuffed with fried noodles. Lastly, for desert, you can buy a pudding bun.

I have never tried the desert versions of the buns, nor have I heard people speak of them. I remember the ice cream trucks of the suburban phase of my childhood, hearing them from far away, worrying that getting money from my mother and getting back would take too long, but inevitably making it back on time for a piece of cold childhood delight. Americans talk of the ice cream trucks and they live on in our memories. Japanese speak of the sweet potato trucks that sell baked sweet potatoes. Sweet desert buns appear to sell well in Japan, but they are not yet fond childhood memories or the stuff of popular culture. Maybe they will be some day.

The Seven Eleven menu presents 13 different buns including many varieties of pork and an buns as well as two pizza buns, one featuring melted cheese. A pizza bun usually refers to just the red pizza sauce without any cheese. Seven Eleven also has two pink desert buns called Sakura Buns which include an and other ingredients. The buns are named after cherry blossoms; sakura is Japanese for cherry. For a different desert, Seven Eleven offers three small buns together, one white, one yellow, and one brown for about the price of a regular bun. Each bun is a different flavor: salty caramel, maple syrup, and chocolate.

The Circle K Sunkus menu lists 14 different buns including a variety of pork buns and curry buns. The curry buns include a chicken and cheese curry bun and a cheese curry bun. Like Seven Eleven, Circle K Sunkus has mini buns too.

In most of Japan, you are never far from a convenience store. Steaming hot buns await in winter, but very few convenience stores offer the full menus. The cases used to heat the buns may just not be big enough.


Aaron Language Services on the web at
provides translation, proofreading, and online English coaching to a primarily Japanese client base.

Report this article Ask About This Article

More to Explore