Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you will have noticed the revamping of 7-Eleven stores across the city in recent years. Instead of just luring us in for a bottled drink or providing an easy spot to pay our bills, the king of convenience stores is now asking us to stay in its stores a little longer by providing cheap WiFi, restrooms, coffee drinks, and a cafeteria space with tables and chairs.
7-Eleven’s latest effort is to get customers to stay and have a meal, or at least have a meal to go, and we’re talking more than instant noodles, requisite sushi wraps, steamed buns and hot dogs. Chez 7 has expanded its selection to include a large variety of salads and microwave platters of pastas, rice and meat dishes and even xiaolongtangbao (小籠湯包, soup dumplings).
Tidbits has sampled a few of these microwave meals, many of which have fancy packaging with photos designed to make your mouth water.
How are they? Well, “microwave” pretty much says it all.
The “red wine beef hamburger with rice” (紅酒牛肉漢堡排飯, NT$70) is like the classic TV dinner, and not in a good way. The “burger” is a thin patty that looks straight out of McDonald’s, and it’s certainly much thinner than the delectable thick chunk of meat pictured on the package. At least every vegetable in the photo was actually in the actual package in the exact quantities pictured: two slices of pumpkin, a chunk of carrot, a mushroom. How did it taste? The burger had a peppery flavor and a Spam-like consistency; the brown red wine sauce was just passable enough to allow me to finish the rice.
The same goes for the Japanese-style fried chicken breast with rice (和風雞排丼, NT$65): it’s passable — barely — and cheap. The xiaolongtangbao (小籠湯包, NT$45), which come five in a package, fares a bit better. The meat is a little rubbery, but you get the whole experience, hot scalding soup swimming inside the dumpling pastry and all. Of course it’s a laughable comparison to Din Tai Fung (鼎泰豐), but one imagines that this to be a fail-safe late night snack on the way home from a night of clubbing.
While none of this should sound surprising, we did find a reliably good and quick meal in the salmon rice bowl with fish roe (明太子鮭魚飯, NT$55). It’s soaked in a light broth, which seems to go down easier than those starchy brown mystery sauces that come with the other rice meals.
Several days in a row of 7-Eleven food is enough to make you swear it off for good. After all, you’re always better off if there’s a small stand nearby selling dumplings or luroufan (魯肉飯). But that’s the catch. There might be no such shops around (which is becoming the case in some neighborhoods) or you’re in the mood for something familiar, ie, that McDonald’s kind of craving.
And as 7-Elevens and their convenience store competitors continue to grow in ubiquity and slowly push out mom-and-pop shops, a catch-phrase from a popular science fiction television show comes to mind: resistance is futile.