The Paleo Guide to Japan, Part 2: Convenience Stores

Alright, so… before I start to shame you into submission with high-and-mighty Paleo authority, I should probably mention that I loves me a convenience store. They’re just so… convenient. They’re everywhere, you just walk in and pay money and they give you pre-made food and hot coffee or tea and they have literally every kind of sugar you could possibly want. How freakin’ awesome is that?

Well… honestly? It isn’t that great. My main message in this article is going to be that, if you’re eating out of a combini, you’re probably making a compromise with your food, and we don’t really want to compromise when it comes to our health. Further, just walking into a combini you are subjecting yourself to about a hundred million temptations (approximately). My mentor (even though we’ve never met, he doesn’t know my name, and I’m convinced he doesn’t like me) Robb Wolf would be quick to remind us that we are not naturally wired to resist temptation; the more you expose yourself to the opportunity to ‘cheat, just a little’ the more certain it is that you’re gonna’.

Further, combini (in the plural) lend themselves more to snack-ing than meal-ing. If you look back through the Introduction to Paleo, you’ll see a paragraph that starts “EVERYTHING”. Read that again, and ask yourself before you walk into the store “what am I doing here?” I have no problem with “I’m getting myself a coffee for my morning commute” or “I’m taking my only opportunity to eat in 16 hours” as reasons. But if you’re walking into a combini because it it’s convenient and there and brightly colored and welcoming and warm (or cool), perhaps you’d consider laying off, or sticking with water?

There are many of us who, without access to convenience stores might have to miss a meal or two a day. Even for those of us who try to plan our food for every contingency, days where there was no meat defrosted, or lunch caught fire in the pan, or our significant-other became a significant-bother by being deathly ill and wanting us to be there when they died, almost always lead to combini-bought meals. This guide is going to be a ‘how to make the best of a bad situation’ list, and I’ll go in order of best choices to worst.

Top Class

… is almost all drinks, sadly. Again, I would love to tell you that combini are going to be there for you, selling meat and veggie kabobs cooked over an open flame and seasoned with Robb’s sweat, but they don’t.

  • Water
  • Tea, unsweetened (green tea is almost guaranteed to be ok; black tea often is sold as ‘milk tea’ and is not only ungodly sweet, it’s also full of, yes, milk)
  • Coffee, black (if it says ‘black’ in English on it, it’s almost always fine. I have seen a few brands with black-sweetened coffees, however. If you’re suspecious about the coffee can you’re picking up, look for the kanji 無糖 (mutou, no sugar). If it isn’t sweetened it will always say so)
  • するめ (surume, also called あたりめ ‘atarime’). Surume is dried squid, sold in packages often near the nuts, jerky, and little sembe-and-nuts packages. Note that surume comes in two flavors: the sweetened, soft, kinda’ fluffy kind (which is essentially squid-candy), and the hard, chewy, nearly flavorless kind. It’s that second, the consumption of which is kind of like chewing on salted bark, that works for us as a perfectly acceptable food choice: it’s just squid and salt. Further, despite my less-than-glowing review of the taste, it actually grows on you: once you’ve started in on a bag, it’s hard to stop. For me, it isn’t that I start liking the taste; I just can’t stop eating it. #yourexperiencesmaydiffer. *Note in Editing: I’ve since found the supposedly salt-and-squid only surume with sugar in it. FUCKERS.  Look for 砂糖 in the ingredients list.*
  • Hardboiled Eggs. Where available (and if they are they’ll be in the cooler-case on the back wall with the bento) these are fine, but don’t be fooled by similar products: you’re looking for hard boiled eggs still in their shells. Everything else is probably sugared (like tamago-yaki) or worse.


  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Salted Meat-Packages including things like タン – ‘Tan’ – tongue or 砂肝 – ‘Sunagimo’ – gizzard; these often have sugar in them, but not much. In a similar vein 生ハム – ‘Nama Hamu’- ‘raw’ (not really raw, just cold) ham and bacon, while containing some sugar, can be eaten as is.
  • Hot-Dog-on-a-stick-s (provided they are gluten-free. For me, 7-11 and Family Mart have been fine, but if you’re not sure, stay away)
  • Some Salads (you’ll have to leave off the dressing in favor of mayo or nothing at all)
  • Dark Chocolate (75% Cacao or more)

Are nuts paleo? Yes!… and no. The nuts themselves are very much in line with what your ancestors ate. The amounts and speed at which they can be consumed, shell-less from a plastic bag, aren’t. If you have, as Robb says, “realized the difference between your mouth and a vacuum cleaner”, eating some nuts, especially the well-fat-balanced macadamia nut, is fine and can actually be good for you.

Careful with salads! They may have croutons of some kind stuck in them, the shrimp on them might have been battered and fried or someone might have come along and sprinkled breadcrumbs on them before you showed up. Why? Just to make your life harder I have no idea. Dressings are universally doubtful: your best bets (mayo or caesar) drop your salad from 2nd firmly into 3rd, and dressings like Goma or Wafu (Japanese style) take your salad right off the board. Further, because of the vague-ness of labeling, it can sometimes be hard to figure whether the salad itself has wheat in it, or if it’s just the separate package of Wafu dressing. In recent months, in 7-11s, I have found nutrition labeling that separates the salad from the dressing. We are grateful 7-11. The gods don’t smile on paleo-vores that often.


  • Slightly Sweetened Coffee (should say 微糖 ‘bitou’ on the label)
  • Beef Jerky, if it’s gluten free (this is rare. Most have soy sauce -醤油 or しょうゆ in them, which has wheat in it. This is one of those products you just won’t be able to eat safely without reading the back of the package. Look out for soy sauce, above, and 小麦-komugi, wheat)
  • Sweet Surume (see above)
  • Nuts (except peanuts)
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt (full-fat, if you please)
  • Dark Chocolate (less than 75% Cacao)


  • Tamago-yaki, if it’s gluten free, as in jerky above (you’ll have to check the package, they’re all different, but generally have sugar in them)
  • Full-sugar Coffee
  • Pickled veggies
  • Sembe, sembe with peanuts, etc
  • Peanuts


  • Onigiri (rice-balls. Some varieties have soy sauce and thus wheat and should be avoided)
  • Sushi (no Inari-zushi (the little guys wrapped in fried tofu, they have wheat in them).  Sorry)
  • Fruit Juice If You Must (#diabetesinacup)

I honestly can’t think of a reason to eat anything below this short of zombie apocalypse. Amongst the last group I’m sure there are still distinctions that can be made: soba vs. udon, bento with rice and meat with soy sauce vs. pre-fab burrito etc etc, blah-blah. It feels like splitting hairs to me: you don’t care (so why make distinctions?) OR you don’t know the difference between this stuff and real food OR you’re actively trying to kill yourself. If you’re any one of those three, I’m not writing this for you, and you’re wasting your time reading it. Go away.

Yoroshu ni,




Filed under Food, The Paleo Guide to Japan

4 responses to “The Paleo Guide to Japan, Part 2: Convenience Stores

  1. So I am originally from Taiwan and I thought hat Family Mart was a Taiwanese thing! Interesting to see that Japan has them too!

    Anyway, Thanks for sharing!
    -Tina from

  2. I’m stuck in Japan for almost six weeks in a hotel with absolutely no cooking facilities of my own. I have a sink, a fridge that will work only as long as my key is in the electricity slot, and a hot plate for boiling water for tea. I’m also on a super, super slim budget. What do you recommend for surviving?

    • Hi Alexandra,

      I’m sorry for taking so long to reply, things have been pretty crazy here.

      A super slim budget and Tokyo don’t mix too well, but here’s what I can tell you: the cheapest way to eat in Japan, as in America, is to eat efficiently from supermarkets. I’m not entirely sure what your non-budgetary resources are, but if you can cook eggs, and put up with them for meals on end, that’s going to be the cheapest thing to do, paleo/ calorie-wise. Rice is another option if you tolerate it well, as it’s a lot of calories per yen.

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