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Christina Torres is a teacher, runner, and writer in Honolulu, HI. When she's not doing those things, she's probably searching for a cheeseburger. More about her at christinatorres.org.
For a full-time teacher with a lot going on, cooking every meal is hard. At one point my apartment had one sink — in the bathroom — and I was juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet.
Fortunately, I discovered a saving grace a five-minute walk away: 7-Eleven.
Local folks already know the joys of 7-Elevens in Hawaii. Transplants like myself, however, have to be shown that the food in these convenience stores is leagues beyond the frozen taquito affairs of their mainland cousins. Once I made that discovery, 7-Eleven became the place where I could pick up something hot, affordable and delicious, even on my darkest days. Especially on my darkest days.
Here are five 7-Eleven meals that save the day.
When you’re dead on your feet
Local Scramble Breakfast Bento
I’m a huge proponent of breakfast at any time, so when I’m trying to balance being in theater shows with a full-time teaching job, this is my staple. After being out of my house for 14 hours, my body aching, I pray there will still be a local breakfast bento left, and sigh with happiness when I see one. There is no problem that doesn’t look a little better through the steam coming off a plate of breakfast food. It’s inherently comforting, designed to be starchy, filling and rich.
The Local Scramble Breakfast Bento is no exception: rice, scrambled eggs, potatoes, chives, furikake, cheese, Portuguese sausage and breakfast meat. Sure the regular breakfast bento is good too, but I love the kick of flavor that Portuguese sausage and furikake add to the palate. I throw it in the microwave for the recommended 75 seconds, cover it in ketchup and Sriracha, and take a deep breath knowing that, even if my world is shaky, this meal will be comforting and filling enough to help me drift off to sleep.
When you need a reason to keep going
Matcha desserts are one of the lovely experiences I didn’t have until I moved to Hawaii. Matcha is a tough flavor to describe to folks who have never had it: it can certainly be very sweet, but has a milky bitterness to it as well. It’s earthy and helps brighten your day while also bringing you back to the present. It’s comfort with a kick.
I generally try to be healthy, but I am absolutely the type of person that eats my feelings when I’m frustrated or upset. In the middle of a long night of essay-grading, I’ll stand up when I desperately need a break and want something sweet, small and affordable. I spot the moss-green pudding shining in its plastic cup, snatch it up and walk home. My spoon cuts through the top and there’s something weirdly soothing about dragging it through the creamy pudding, like my own snack version of a Zen garden. I take a bite, appreciating the sweet matcha melting on my tongue, and take a breath, ready to start on another stack of essays.
When your body screams for healthy
Quinoa Boost Bowl
A convenience store is the last place I would expect to find fresh, healthy food. But when you know that eating something rich or greasy is going to leave you feeling terrible the next day, or perhaps you’ve made some questionable decisions and want to have a clean start, enter the Quinoa Boost Bowl.
This recent discovery has made it a lot easier to be healthy and save money when I can’t meal prep and want something fresh. The bowl is full of fresh ingredients: lettuce, kale, quinoa salad, multigrain rice, edamame, and chicken breast! It comes with a bi bim kook sauce — a nutty, garlicky, sweet dressing to drizzle over. A Buddha bowl, which this looks similar to, can cost anywhere from $10 to $15, but this sizeable meal only costs $5.69.
When the day is dragging
Fried Rice with Portuguese Brand Sausage Menehune Pack
There are some moments where you just need a snack. Not a whole meal, but more than a piece of fruit. Just something to tide you over when the days are dragging and you have to make it through.
The Portuguese Sausage Menehune Pack is a go-to for me. It’s the perfect amount of snack when you just need something in your belly to make it through the day. The fried rice doesn’t play to Westernized palates: It’s got bonito (fish) flakes and each bite packs a lot of umami. Plus, there are four thick wedges of Portuguese sausage. There’s no skimping here. One parent-teacher night, I hightail it over 7-Eleven, grab one, and take a second to sigh and enjoy the perfect combination of savory fried rice, spicy Portuguese sausage and a bit of fluffy egg. Each bite is a little pick-me-up, just enough to fuel me for the next few hours.
When I'm missing my mom
Chicken Adobo and Pancit Noodles Bento
Ok, this sounds like sacrilege when I first see it. My mom is Filipina, so chicken adobo is sacred. It’s what we got after a hard day, my mom ladling delicious gravy with whole peppercorns over rice.
This is different, but still good. The chicken is actually barbecued instead of stewed, and the adobo looks more like a teriyaki sauce than a gravy. That said, a lot of the flavor combinations I love — deep, pungent garlic, salt, whatever comforting flavor lives in gravy (probably chicken fat) — are there, and much easier to keep fresh in a plastic bento box. The pancit noodles are the winner, though. They aren’t too soft, and chives and carrot slices give a nice crunch that offsets the tangy, vinegary noodles. One particularly hard day, all I wanted was to be at home with my mom, have a cry and be comforted. Unfortunately my mom was 3,000 miles away, and I lacked the ingredients and time to make a full meal. I picked one of these up and, as soon as the microwave started warming it, it smelled like a family party. I closed my eyes and felt a little closer to home.