It’s not the tropical climate, white sand beaches or abundance of delicious street food that I’ll miss the most about Thailand — it’s the 7-Elevens. If you’ve only been to a 7-Eleven in America, forget everything you think you know about this convenience store chain.
There are over 11,000 7-Elevens in Thailand — the second-most of any country in Asia. While studying abroad at Mahidol University this past fall, I lived in a Bangkok suburb that had three 7-Eleven stores within a quarter-mile radius.
My days felt off if I didn’t start them with a 7-Eleven breakfast, and I hardly ever missed a chance to stop in for a quick sushi roll and bag of edamame for lunch. When I returned to my apartment after class, I always had to say hello to the stray dog who consistently slept in the doorway of my most-frequented store.
7-Eleven is the ideal destination for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night munchies. With a versatile menu of delicious hot and cold Asian and Western classics, 7-Eleven fully transcends the category of convenience store and rivals even the fanciest of restaurants in Thailand (a bold claim, I know!).
Here are eight of the many reasons why 7-Elevens are the best and most versatile restaurants in Asia.
1. They offer a new twist on comfortable classics
In a foreign country with few familiar food options, I often found myself craving my favorite American snacks. For lovers of Lay’s potato chips or Pringles, 7-Eleven has you covered with just about every flavor to ever exist. You can stick to classics like barbeque and sour cream and onion, or try Thai-exclusive options such as spicy basil chicken, shrimp tom yum or my personal favorite: green curry. For sweeter treats, I recommend Thai tea KitKats and dried pineapple with chili flakes.
Much like a five-star restaurant, 7-Eleven will take you on a culinary tour of local Thai flavors, for a fraction of the price!
2. Toasties (yes, these require their own category)
Although these deliciously cheesy creations are not technically called toasties, this is the most recognizable way to refer to a 7-Eleven panini. The sandwiches are located in coolers typically near the register. When you purchase the sandwich, the cashier will ask if you want it toasted—the answer is ALWAYS yes. In less than three minutes you will have a steaming pouch of cheese, meat and the occasional vegetable.
Served in stylish carrying cases, toasties can easily be transported to class or slipped into a purse for a night out. You can also save some cardboard by consuming your toastie on the spot. There are no toastie-related rules … only that you try at least one while you’re in Asia!
I rate my top three toasties based on months of repetitive data collection:
- The most superior toastie is the spinach cheese danish
- Another strong contender is the classic grilled cheese toastie
- The elusive cheese pizza toastie comes in third due to its limited availability
3. They are open (basically) 24/7
Most restaurants in Thailand are family-owned, meaning their hours of operation can vary from day to day based on national holidays and personal religious observances. On days when my favorite smoothie stand was closed, I could always count on 7-Eleven to fulfill my snacking needs.
Most locations are open 24/7, making them the ideal stop for breakfast before your 6 a.m. flight to Vietnam or for a 3 a.m. toastie after a night out in Bangkok. No other restaurant in Asia can match the reliability of a 7-Eleven.
4. They give a unique look into the culinary styles of different countries
Not all 7-Elevens are created equal. I feel like I’m betraying my loyalties to Thailand when I say that 7-Elevens in Singapore may be the best in all of Asia. Discovering bottled milk tea was the highlight of my trip, as were the Japanese soaked eggs and Hainanese chicken potato chips. Singapore has cultural and culinary influences from China, Malaysia and India that are reflected in the foods available at Singaporean 7-Elevens.
Singapore is a very expensive country compared to others in Southeast Asia. A way that my travel buddy and I saved money was by stocking up on drinks and snacks at the 7-Eleven in the MRT station. Instead of paying nearly 5 USD for tea at the tea shop, we grew addicted to the $2 milk teas at 7-Eleven.
An old Chinese proverb once said: To know a country, one must first know their 7-Eleven.
5. Most locations sell cheap beer and liquor
Another way to save money while abroad is by purchasing alcohol at 7-Eleven. My friends and I would load up on bottles of Chang and Hong Tong at our local store before heading downtown for the night. In general, alcohol is very cheap in Thailand, with beer and mixed drinks costing between 5 and 10 USD at nicer restaurants and bars. A large bottle of Chang can be purchased at 7-Eleven for around 2 USD and bottles of liquor can be as cheap as 10 USD.
So go crazy! Just remember that nationwide restrictions ban the sale of alcohol between the hours of 2 and 5 pm.
6. They are the most convenient of convenience stores
7-Eleven has you covered with everything you could possibly need for your meal. If you’re willing to settle for plastic silverware and paper ramen cups, you’re getting (basically) the same treatment that you would receive at a five-star restaurant! The cashier will heat your food for you, give you hot water for your instant noodles, and hook you up with chopsticks, napkins and endless sauce packets.
While convenient, the amount of single-use plastic offered at 7-Eleven is disheartening for anyone who is even remotely environmentally conscious. I typically carried my own chopsticks and spoon, but for times that I forgot my reusable items, the conveniences of 7-Eleven were … convenient.
7. They have an awesome reward system
If the cashier hands you a strange set of stamps with your receipt, do not throw them away—they are worth real money! You get a one baht stamp for every 50 baht you spend and earn three baht stamps by purchasing special items that are denoted by signs in the store. While one baht is worth about one-third of a US penny, if you save stamps over time you can ball out on one big 7/11 meal.
The stamps are decorated with adorable anime characters, making them a perfect decoration on notebooks, dorm walls and phone cases. I saved these stamps over my four months in Asia and bought 300 baht worth of snacks as a final 7-Eleven hoorah.
8. 7-Elevens are a social hub
The first time I went to lunch at 7-Eleven with my Thai classmates felt like a rite of passage into their secret club. We shared laughs and toasties in the fluorescent glow of the drink coolers. (Yes, I’m trying to set the scene in the cheesiest possible way. Yes, I’m making it worse with a cheese toastie pun.)
But seriously, some of the most special memories I have from traveling abroad involve my Thai friends excitedly showing me their favorite 7-Eleven snacks and asking me all about life (and food) in America.
If you do any traveling in Asia, I guarantee you’ll become as addicted to 7-Eleven as I was during my time abroad. I can only hope that American stores will someday get on the level of Asian 7-Elevens, or at the very least, start selling green curry Lays and steamed veggie buns. Until then, I will be mass-ordering my favorite Thai snacks from Amazon and compiling Pinterest boards of DIY toastie recipes.
So embrace the weird and gross! Opt for the unrefrigerated, packaged meat sandwich or abnormally long hotdog. You’ll be missing it when you’re back in America.