Ryan Tatsumoto
Hawai‘i Herald Columnist

The last time I visited 7-Eleven was way back in the early 80s when I lived with Obāchan in Waimānalo and it was mainly after spending long hours in the biochemistry or nutrition lab to simply purchase a foot-long chili dog and boiled peanuts for my late evening meal. But since then, all of my food and prepped meals are purchased at the neighborhood supermarkets. Then late last year, the Dining Out section of the Star-Advertiser featured catered items that could be ordered then picked up at your local 7-Eleven; the centerpiece of the story was a large tray of fried saimin. Maybe it’s time to re-visit 7-Eleven…

Fried Saimin Pack $3.19

Fried saimin. (Photos courtesy of Ryan Tatsumoto)

For $1.40 more, the fried saimin is also available in a larger size — about the size of your usual bento container. Both are garnished with sliced kamaboko, thin slices of scrambled egg and ham (likely from the same ham used in sandwiches) instead of char siu. The noodles were fresh, not frozen and had the distinct flavor of saimin. One of my pet peeves is fried saimin that tastes like chow mein or fried noodles. Don’t get me wrong, I also enjoy chow mein but expect a dish labeled “fried saimin” to taste like a dry fried version of saimin. 

Seven-Eleven’s fried saimin ranks just below my standard, Sekiya’s, in both taste and because it wasn’t garnished with green onions, which should be the primary garnish for fried saimin. This noodley dish is also available as a catered item that you can pick up at various locations with 48 hours of lead time. The Ohana Pack is $10.99 and advertised as serving four to six while the platter is $23.99 and serves 10 to 12. Both are pictured as garnished with green onions and my guess is that because sliced raw green onions can go south relatively quickly, they are only used for pre-paid orders. But I will return and likely order both the in-store and catered versions, unless I’m already in Kaimukī near Sekiya’s …

Jumbo Garlic Chicken Musubi $3.29 / Teriyaki Spam Musubi $1.79

Jumbo garlic chicken musubi.

I rarely purchase Spam musubi since I sold my condominium and Star Market closed. Back then, I would walk to Star Market every Sunday to purchase the Sunday newspaper along with a Spam musubi from their deli. Though I didn’t set the deli’s specifications on its creation, it was made exactly the way I would make it at home.

First, cut only eight slices from each can: no 10 slices per can or more! Then pan fry each slice on both sides until brown with a slight crisp then lightly simmer in a thick teriyaki sauce without browning.Spam tastes more like Prem or Treet canned meats. Finally pack rice on each side of the Spam so that the luscious sweet-salty teriyaki sauce permeates the rice on two sides. And hand form the Spam musubi, no Plexiglas molds.

Since then, I only purchase fried chicken musubi from Foodland Kailua (Kāne‘ohe doesn’t dip their chicken in teriyaki sauce) on those rare occasions that I’m picking up wine at R. Fields Kailua. But 7-Eleven in Kāne‘ohe can now fulfill those musubi needs as the garlic chicken musubi may be a step above the version at Foodland Kailua.

Whenever you purchase any cooked rice-based product such as musubi or sushi that’s in the chilled section, a real concern is rice that starts drying to the point where you feel you need to cook it again. The jumbo garlic chicken musubi was warmed in my home microwave per the labeled instructions and because it’s wrapped, the rice was as soft as freshly cooked rice. The garlic chicken would have also stood out on its own as the protein in a plate lunch. If you sample the musubi, don’t make the mistake I made by unwrapping it after microwaving (mainly to get a photo) as the chicken is sliced so after the first bite, the musubi simply disintegrates onto your plate. Keep it wrapped while consuming opening the wrapper just enough for the next bite.

I also sampled 7-Eleven’s version of the teriyaki Spam musubi if nothing more than to compare it to that long-lost Star market deli Spam musubi. The Spam was a little dried likely by over sautéing so I would opt for the jumbo musubi for an additional $1.50.

Pork Hash $4.59

Pork hash.

This item is also offered in the Ohana Pack via 7-Eleven’s catering service ($12.99 for 15 pieces) and available as shrimp pork hash both in-store and catering for the same prices. Compared to pork hash of the usual venues, they are smaller, about the size of frozen shumai found in the supermarket frozen section. They also aren’t as juicy as pork hash found at your favorite dim sum or Chinese restaurants. That being said, they still are tender and flavorful and a bit leaner, making them guilt-free. Even Ms. S enjoyed them as much as her take-out from our neighborhood Chinese restaurants.

Ham and Cheese Sweetbread Sandwich $3.49

Ham and cheese sweetbread sandwich.

I had to sample this sandwich found in the heated case after a local vlogger waxed poetically about the sandwich. Basically, Texas toast cut slices (1-inch slices) of sweetbread are griddled then thin slices of ham, American cheese and scrambled egg are placed between the toasted sides before schmeared with a bacon mayonnaise. Therefore, this sandwich is all about that bacon mayonnaise with a touch of ham. The cheese, egg and sweetbread just play minor supporting roles in this sandwich.

Teriyaki Chicken Manapua $5.19 for a three-pack

Teri chicken manapua.

I intended on purchasing the standard char siu version because life hasn’t been the same since both Libby’s and Char Hung Sut closed as they both filled their bao with the drier, flaked char siu. But alas, on two separate visits, only the teriyaki chicken, curry chicken and lup cheong were offered. So I eventually do have to return just to see what type of char siu filling 7-Eleven uses. But in the interim, the teriyaki chicken manapua was delicious and contained more filling than many other manapua; even after being refrigerated for three days, 45 seconds in the microwave wrapped in the waxed paper brought the bao back to pillowy goodness. In fact, Ms. S asked me to purchase more manapua if I needed to make additional stops for this column.

Salmon and Tofu with Multigrain Rice $5.99

Salmon and tofu and multigrain rice.

A three-to-four-ounce portion of tender salmon with four cubes of teriyaki glazed fried tofu, and steamed broccoli all on multi-grain rice. Perfect for a lighter lunch with the only negative being the overcooked broccoli. Given that pre-packed bento at the supermarkets usually costs between $6.99 to $9.99 and usually aren’t available as soon as the supermarket opens, the 7-Eleven variety is a good and convenient deal.

Thumbs Up

In the words of Ah-nohld Schwarzenegger, “I’ll be back.” Since I rarely visit Market City Shopping Center (and Sekiya’s), 7-Eleven will be my go-to for fried saimin (we’ll see if their Ohana Pack does feed four to six or simply two Ryan’s). And since I only visit R. Fields in Kailua about once a month, 7-Eleven will also be my go-to for assorted jumbo musubi. Foodland Kailua only offers teriyaki or plain fried chicken musubi whereas 7-Eleven also offers mochiko chicken and fried fish jumbo musubi. And I still must sample their char siu manapua to see if it can replace my beloved versions at Libby’s or Char Hung Sut, and I mustn’t forget the extra manapua for Ms. S.

Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (nichibei.org/columns/gochiso-gourmet/).


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