Plump buns of steamy goodness, nikuman take the spotlight in the winter season. During warm months in Japan, there is a small chance of running across a heated case in the local convenience store. However, as the weather turns cold, these steamed buns multiply in both variety and number!
About the size of a small hamburger, classic nikuman (肉まん) is a steamed bun stuffed with a mixture of minced pork, mushrooms, and other vegetables. Each convenience store chain has variations of the humble nikuman, and it's not uncommon to find that people have strong opinions on which brand’s nikuman reigns supreme. That being said, there is a common thread that links all the brands together. In general, there is a similarity in the variety of steamed buns on offer. For example, each brand will have its own version of the traditional nikuman. Additionally, most will also have a sweet version, such as a red bean paste version called an anman (あんまん). Finally, almost all convenience stores have a pizzaman (ピザまん) made with cheese and tomato sauce.
Every year, the additional varieties of steamed buns changes as well. For example, 7-11 often offers a premium version of their nikuman with additional filling and options with extra gravy to make them “juicy.” Family Mart does the same, advertising a premium version of their nikuman as well as a pizzaman with extra melty cheese. Lawson is the wildcard of the nikuman game, rolling out a premium line of nikuman every year with some truly unique choices! In the past, they’ve sold Chinese-style minced chicken, sweet potato, and even chocolate mousse versions! Finally, it'd be remiss not to include Seikomart, the Hokkaido-exclusive chain of convenience stores. They often carry special nikuman like curryman (カレーまん curry steamed bun) and chasumayoman (チャーチューマヨまん), which is slow-roasted pork with mayonnaise.
However you choose to enjoy your nikuman, you can’t go wrong with a piping hot steamed bun on a cold day. But, just in case, be sure to do your own investigation and test which nikuman tops your list!
About the author:
Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen. Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!