Very Fast Food: The Best of Convenience Store Snacks

Once in a while, you may find yourself standing in stretching lines at McDonald’s or KFC, wondering, “how can they call this fast food?” In an age when fast is too slow, there’s only one option for the quickest bite.

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Admittedly, I am a particularly fussy customer when I eat. How a dish is presented and naturally, how good the food tastes is of utmost importance. After all, we are paying for it.

I find plenty of good eateries in Dongguan, but the vast majority of places implore you to write off at least an hour or so for a meal. For those of us that live in the real world, this is not always an option. Naturally, there are the mainstream international fast food joints virtually everywhere you go, but what about something even quicker? Imagine a place where you don’t really need to even queue and wait for preparation.

Where I come from in the UK, convenience store snacks are big business. Notably, large supermarket chains that have downsized branches with fast-paced names like “express” or “metro.” From a consumer perspective, this is obviously fantastic: walk in, grab a cheap meal, self-service check out, job done. Countering that, there is also a national bakery chain in the UK that has a similar setup and has cornered the market in terms of sandwiches, baguettes and pastries.

Sadly, China seems to have missed a trick in this department. Bakery selections here are somewhat odd and Western food is not always in high demand. Fast food options from the street range from dodgy ma la tang (spicy soup) to stinky tofu, fried in reclaimed gutter oil, or perhaps freshly slaughtered lamb that’s heavily garnished with cumin.

For the average expat, familiar pickings are pretty slim, but there are at least some limited quick fixes available from local convenience stores in Dongguan. To get a lay of the land, I decided to rough it in the urban jungle and attempted to decipher what is the best bang for your yuan when ravenous and short on time, particularly for foreigners on the go, needing sustenance at a moment’s notice. I went after “the big three,” which are the tried and tested shops found saturated across our fair city.

Meals from here probably won’t go down as your best dinners ever, but in a pinch, they’ll fill you up just enough to get you where you need to go. In the spirit of convenient fast food, let’s get this done—quickly.

 

FamilyMart

With over 1,000 stores in China, the Japanese-originated FamilyMart is found in many places, but still not everywhere. They also generally offer a cozy seating area, where one can immediately—and conveniently—consume their steaming (or not) purchase.

I really tried my best to enjoy these and not focus on the numerous and unnatural “E-numbers” that were undoubtedly within. I even added a dab of the Hong Kong sweet chili sauce that was on standby.

The best of the cold food options include the ham and cheese sandwich for 15 RMB or the California roll sushi box for 22 RMB. Hot foods range from udon noodles to a selection of skewered meat combinations that will set you back roughly 10 RMB a pop. There are also meals and salads on tap, similar to what you’d find on offer from convenience stores in Japan.

For the traditional medicine fans out there, FamilyMart also has a special heater that warms traditionally cold drinks like soy milk and sweet tea.

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Having starved myself beforehand, I tentatively opted for noodles and a few fish balls.

I really tried my best to enjoy these and not focus on the numerous and unnatural “E-numbers” that were undoubtedly within. I even added a dab of the Hong Kong sweet chili sauce that was on standby.

In the end, they were just too oily and I ended up leaving half the tub and going back for the infallible sandwich. Not everyone would feel the same, though. While I was there, plenty of hungry diners were happily slurping them away.

 

7-ELEVEN

Having established itself in South China during the early nineties, 7-Elevens’s Texan roots are now firmly part of daily life for many in Dongguan.

Now, open far longer than seven am to 11 pm, the internationally familiar shop stocks plenty of import products—like carbonated Red Bull—and also possesses a similar range of noodles and various meat products that wait in a zingy red brew until rabid consumption.

However, for the unfamiliar convenience gourmet, do not miss their stuffed hotdog. Picture a warm sausage that’s filled with cheese or ketchup and rests in the warm embrace of a steamed bun. You honestly can’t go wrong for less than 10 RMB.

While a similar selection of hot dishes are on offer, the convenience store-food skeptic may prefer to pick up one of their bao zi—a soft, semi-sticky bun with meat or sweet fillings for a mere 3 RMB.

1_DSC04137However, for the unfamiliar convenience gourmet, do not miss their stuffed hotdog. Picture a warm sausage that’s filled with cheese or ketchup and rests in the warm embrace of a steamed bun. You honestly can’t go wrong for less than 10 RMB.

I personally used to associate hot dogs with going to the cinema and also think a decent hot dog needs fried onions so it felt a bit weird at first, but hey ho.

Taking the plunge on the last cheese-filled tube steak available, I dove into an experience that matched a slightly soggy bread with a mildly rubbery wiener. This isn’t a Michelin starred bite, but it’ll mostly fill a belly and do so quickly.

 

MEIYIJIA

Seemingly firmly established as China’s home-grown flagship convenience store, it is nigh impossible to walk by any block without seeing the familiar M logo that somewhat resembles a house.

DSC04157After recently undergoing a transition from yellow to white, the icon is now ubiquitous across the nation and the familiar stereophonic entry jingle of huan ying guang lin tends to stick in one’s mind like an ear worm.

The chain’s quick, hot snacks are fairly standard, but may differ slightly, depending on the location. The vast majority have the basic options, but if you happen across one in a bus or train station, your choices will be pretty much bao zi or zong zi—hot, sweet rice wrapped in a triangular shaped bamboo leaf.

Countering that are usually sausages available for 2 RMB, but these are quite sweet and very far removed from what most foreigners would consider a banger.

Seemingly firmly established as China’s home-grown flagship convenience store, it is nigh impossible to walk by any block without seeing the familiar M logo that somewhat resembles a house.

I spurned the hot counter and picked up a good old cup of instant noodles. Fortunately, most Mei Yi Jia shops offer boiling water and at 5 RMB, a reasonably tasty and filling snack can easily be had. In fact, I could not even finish the one that I chose.

If you are not a fan of spicy, go for the standard roasted beef flavor coming in the red carton—guaranteed winner.

Interestingly, the chain also provides a few other secret services besides the hot water like a place to eat (they can set something up if it isn’t already available) and a package holding service—send your package to your local shop and pick it up on the way home.

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