Okay, I’m sure most you are are going “Did I just read that right? Is Rich reviewing 7-Eleven, the convenience store?” Indeed, I am. I’ve mentioned before that Hawaiian culture and Asian culinary traditions have influenced each other making a fairly distinct Hawaiian culinary tradition, but one of the more interesting things to me is that this culinary tradition is strong enough to influence chains imported from the mainland. Sure, that 7-Eleven you wander into in New Jersey is probably nearly identical to a 7-Eleven in, say, Southern California, that’s not quite the case in Hawaii. In Hawaii, 7-Eleven fully embraces Hawaiian cuisine, in that every single one on the island has, in addition to the standard 7-Eleven items (like Slurpee and chips), a substantial amount of counter space at the front dedicated to serving up a selection of Hawaiian items, with the notable items being Spam musubi (in several varieties) and Manapua (also in several flavors), pork hash, and several other island treats. Seriously, you can even check out their menu.
So, when we had just completed a hike out at Kaʻena Point (the Western tip of Oahu) and wanted a snack, there was 7-Eleven, where I was able to both indulge one of my guilty pleasures (a Slurpee, since we don’t actually have 7-Elevens back in rural NH) as well as grab a few musubi and a manapua. For both, despite the clerk apologizing for the poor selection at 3pm, they had a reasonable selection, with four different flavors of musubi (Spam, Teri Spam, Spam Deluxe with Eggs and Furikake, and Chicken) and three flavors of manapua (char siu, teri chicken, and curry chicken). We opted to go simple, grabbing two musubi (Spam and Teri Spam), and a Char Siu Manapua.
How were they? As convenience store food goes, these were great. The musubi were both really pleasant: rice slighty firm but right at the point of stickiness, the spam having just a light bit of sear on it, and a reasonably good nori wrap around it. The straight-up Spam musubi was probably the best one I actually had in Hawaii (although Zippy’s came in a close second). I enjoyed the Teri one as well, especially since back in NH there’s generally one flavor of Spam available in stores: “Spam”. The teriyaki one added a nice note to it, but I think I enjoyed the plain one just a bit more. As far as the manapua? Over the trip I ended up having several better examples of a char siu manapua, but this one was actually quite good, with a nice slightly sweet fluffy bun, and no shortage of nice char siu pork in the middle.
Overall, I’ve got to hand it to 7-Eleven: they’ve taken a Hawaiian tradition and run with it, and doing so with good quality (heck, they are a perennial winner of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s “Best Spam Musubi” award) and a very reasonable price. Next time I go on a long hike in Hawaii I’ll be stopping at 7-Eleven to get one for a mid-hike snack.
I should also mention that this phenomenon is not unique to 7-Eleven: a substantial number of mainland companies end up getting Hawaiianized when they open up here. Another great example is McDonald’s, which in addition to the normal McDonalds has (and has had, since they first opened in the state) several local items, ranging from breakfast platters of Spam, Portuguese Sausage, eggs and rice, to cups of saimin, to the ever-present plate lunch and haupia-filled pies. But a full writeup of McDonald’s will have to wait for another trip, we didn’t go this time.