Being a Chicagoan, pizza holds a special place in my heart. It’s a food that pretty much everyone can agree on and basically has become an icon of the city, which led to a never-ending debate with our culinary rival (ahem… NYC) over which city has the better pizza.
I think the answer is rather obvious, but stepping down from my personal soapbox for a moment, when I came over to Tokyo, I really had no idea what to expect in terms of pizza. Honestly, I was more focused on trying Japanese cuisine.
But after living here for almost two years and grabbing plenty of meals from the ever-present konbini, I came across the pizza-man.
Steamed buns are nothing new in Japanese convenience stores, a classic being the nikuman. Literally “meat bun,” Japan’s take on the Chinese baozi consists of a steamed bun filled with pork. While pretty basic on its own, every convenience store has a slightly different take and each chain has its diehard fans. I’ll admit to being on #TeamLawson for the longest time.
There’s plenty of variety when it comes to steamed buns, however, ranging from those filled with keema curry, vegetables, Thai shrimp, mapo tofu, sweet potato, and red-bean paste.
Which brings us back to the pizza-man – this delightful marriage of China and Italy’s best comfort foods. Filled with tomato sauce, cheese and at times assorted meats, I decided to give this konbini favorite a try. Here’s my take on what four major Japanese convenience stores had to offer.
Getting Saucy at Lawson
My previous allegiance notwithstanding, this bun wasn’t half bad. It had considerable weight and, unlike most, features additional ingredients besides just cheese and tomato sauce.
That being said, I felt the sauce overpowered everything and there was considerably less cheese when compared to what some of the other stores had to offer. Also, and perhaps this was just my experience, the cheese seemed to be located on the bottom, which might’ve explained why I generally tasted more tomato than anything else.
Overall though, it’s a bigger than average size bun for a decent price: ¥130.
Nothing Mini About the Mini Shop
The pizza-man at Mini Shop is a pretty well-rounded option. There’s a nice balance of cheese and sauce, while the bun itself is a bit fluffier than others and only costs ¥128.
If there’s any downside with a Mini Shop pizza-man, I would say that it had the weakest overall flavor of those I tried. Now, that’s not saying there isn’t any flavor, it just was a much lighter taste.
Still, not a bad choice at all.
7-Eleven Stays on Brand
Branding apparently is everything, and 7-Eleven’s pizza-man stands out with an imprint of the word “pizza” on the bun. Aside from that, the orange-ish bun is pretty similar in appearance to the rest.
However, in terms of taste, I thought it stood out above some of the others here. There’s a good balance of cheese and sauce, which made the whole experience feel like eating a (very) soft calzone. I also noticed the use of seasoning, which again gave 7-Eleven’s pizza-man a more authentic pizza-like taste.
You can grab one at any 7-Eleven in Tokyo for just ¥128.
And the Winner is…
In all honestly, FamilyMart’s pizza-man, like a dark horse candidate in a bitter election, came out of nowhere and completely won me over. Without exaggeration, it definitely was my hands-down favorite.
Again, in terms of appearance, it’s nothing special. You’ve got your standard orange-ish steamed bun in paper wrapping. In terms of taste, however, it was the closest to actually eating a pizza. It reminded me of one frozen pizza I had back in the States — maybe Tombstone or Red Baron. Either way, the balance of cheese and sauce was spot on.
The cheese, real mozzarella from what I could tell, wasn’t smothered by an overpowering tomato flavor, but rather complemented. On that note, the sauce also tasted like authentic tomato sauce that you might have on a pizza versus a more watered-down variety.
For only ¥130, you can’t go wrong with FamilyMart’s pizza-man.