Japanese Street Food Explored

Street food transforms the gastronomy scene from the nooks and alleyways of Japan’s bustling cities to the dining table at Michelin star restaurants. Japan houses salivating options of a variety of street food from street food vendors known as Yatai. The extensive options of Japanese street food can be daunting, especially if you’re new to Japanese cuisine. Fret not, however, as you have arrived at the right place for Japanese Street Food 101 where I will highlight the amazing dishes that you should try in Japan as I have.

What Are The Most Popular Street Foods in Japan?

The list of delightful and savory Japanese street foods is almost limitless. Narrowing the list to 25 top Japanese street food snacks is a challenge for me as I have tried them all. Some I love more than others but rarely I have I found myself saying I don’t like it…but read on for my favorite picks!

1. Takoyaki

Takoyaki is fried balls of dough filled with pieces of octopus and topped with fish flakes (Bonito) and spring onions burst with flavors. The interesting texture between a crispy exterior, soft dough, and chewy octopus, along with a warm, savory sauce, is hard to resist.

2. Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is savory pancakes cooked on a griddle with a variety of fillings to satiate your cravings.

3. Taiyaki

Taiyaki are fried or baked batter, filled with sweet fillings such as red bean paste, custard, or chocolate but are well-known for their fish shape. The fish shape is made with a hinged metal device that has the fish design inside.

4. Nikuman

Nikuman are steamed buns with a soft, fluffy texture and are filled with pork or vegetable fillings.

5. Yakisoba

Yakisoba is a noodle-based dish, akin to a Chinese stir fry noodle which is transformed into a quick meal with protein and vegetables. The sweet and savory sauce which completes this dish will make your taste buds delight.

6. Bento

Bento is a portable lunch box designed to be convenient and serves as a well-balanced meal. Bentos can contain and endless combinations of rice, vegetables, tempura, and many other common Japanese favorites.

7. Onsen Tamago

Onsen Tamago is a special treat that is usually served at onsens, where eggs are slow-cooked in naturally heated water from the hot spring and topped with a soy sauce.

8. Yakitori

Every country has its version of a skewered chicken grilled over charcoal, and for Japan, it is called Yakitori which is simply irresistible. Yaki meaning grilled and Tori meaning chicken.

9. Kakigori

What’s better than a bowl of Kakigori, a shaved ice treat with a sweet, luscious condensed milk or syrup topped with a selection of candy, jelly, cream, or sweet red beans, on a hot summer day?

10. Yaki Imo

Almost every Japanese has a fond memory of nibbling on these sweet potatoes baked over a wood fire. This street food makes a perfect snack-on-the-go throughout the year but is ideal for consumption during chilly fall or winter months.

11. Gyoza

Gyoza is a classic street food menu, and in Japan, these stuffed dumplings are fried and served with tangy vinegar and soy dipping sauce.

12. Imagawayaki

Imagine a thick pancake filled with delicious fillings of either sweet red bean paste, savory meat or potatoes, aromatic curry, or stretchy cheese. That’s what this street food is all about.

13. Kyuri

Kyuri is cucumber on a stick, sometimes flavored with miso.

14. Tomorokoshi

Tomorokoshi are corn cobs grilled with miso, butter, and soy sauce then served on a stick for a savory twist to the classic corn-on-the-cob.

15. Kare Pan

Kare Pan translates to ‘Curry Bread’ where you can anticipate a sweet fried dough enveloping the distinct Japanese curry with a balanced blend of sweet and spicy.

16. Ramune

Ramune is a carbonated soft drink with a sweet citrus taste sometimes describes as bubble gum flavors. It’s a branded soda the same as coca cola.

17. Jaga Bata

Jaga Bata are peeled baked potatoes topped with melted butter and sprinkled with toasted seeds and spring onions.

18. Korokke

Korokke is the Japanese interpretation of potato croquette, the Japanese version is packed with meat, seafood, or vegetables then covered with crumbly Panko breadcrumbs before being fried to a golden brown.

19. Shioyaki

Shioyaki is a fish skewer, usually consisting of a salty fish that is baked or grilled over charcoal then served on a stick.

20. Curry Rice

Curry Rice is a staple in Japan, where fluffy, white rice is served along with a mildly spicy curry sauce containing potatoes, carrots, and onions most commonly.

21. Senbei

Senbei is much-beloved rice crackers that are typically cooked over a charcoal grill. It has a familiar smokiness that keeps its regulars coming back.

22. Ramen

No visit to Japan would be complete without ramen, a noodle dish known for its deep broth and tantalizing flavors.

23. Dango

Dango is either sweet or savory round dumplings which are usually served on a stick. They are made from rice flour and cooked to achieve a firm but chewy texture.

24. Bebi Kasutera

Bebi Kasutera Bite-sized pieces of soft sponge cake with a very moist texture. It makes the perfect snack for individuals of all ages.

25. Oden

Oden is an assortment of meat, fish, and vegetables that have been braised and served in a mild, delicate broth.

What Is The Most Popular Steet Food In Tokyo?

Of course, taste buds may vary, but if I were to select the most popular street food in Tokyo, I think it would be the TAKOYAKI.

More commonly known as Japanese octopus balls among tourists, this street food is a quintessential Japanese snack. They come as round fluffy balls of dough that are drizzled with savory takoyaki sauce. In contrast to the fluffy texture, each ball comes with bits of chewy octopus meat at the center. They are commonly topped with spring onions and a pinch full of fish flakes to complete the tasty snack.

Is Mochi A Japanese Street Food?

Mochi is a dessert typically consisting of a ball of sweet rice dough that encapsulates a wide variety of filings. These fillings have undergone various transformations, from the classic red bean paste or more innovative options of ice cream or fruit-based fillings.

Rather than street food, mochi is a traditional food often eaten during the Japanese New Year.

However, it should be noted that due to increased commercial preparation, Mochi is becoming more highly available for sale, including those at street vendors.

Is Okonomiyaki A Street Food?

Yes, okonomiyaki is indeed one of the best street foods in Japan. To put it simply, it’s comparable to a pancake as it starts from a batter then is enhanced with a variety of vegetables, usually shredded cabbage and meat. The selection of fillings is limitless. Kimchi, cheese, bacon, ham, corn, bean sprouts-literally, there is no limit. The pancake is later cooked on a griddle sizzling with heat and oil. Before serving, it is topped with ketchup, mayonnaise, or a soy-based sauce.

Is Japanese Street Food Safe?

Japanese street food is safe for consumption. Based on the Food Sanitation Laws, Japan prohibits the production, sale, or use of products that can be detrimental to human health. Overall Japan has some of the highest standards of keeping its establishments very clean.

The level of food inspection and standards are extreme in Japan, so don’t worry about indulging in some of the best street foods in the world.

How Much Does Japanese Street Food Cost?

Street food in Japan is very affordable. You can easily find street food that costs less than 500 yen (5 USD). Of course, the volume and variety of food upgrades can significantly affect the pricing. But, as a general rule of thumb, regular street food can be purchased between 500-1000 yen per serving.

Even if a samurai hasn’t eaten, he holds his toothpick high.

Japanese proverb

What Is The Most Popular Street Food Among Tourists?

Taiyaki is one of the most popular Japanese street foods among tourists for two reasons. Firstly, it has a taste that most people, regardless of their country of origin, love. Essentially, this treat consists of a sweet pancake batter with a hollow center that can be filled with highly customizable fillings. Choose from sweet options custard, chocolate, red bean paste, or even Nutella. Or, move to savory fillings like cheese, sweet potatoes, or vegetables.

Secondly, they look adorable! When cooked, they come in a fish shape with a golden brown crisp exterior that makes the perfect photo addition to any social media post!

Where In Japan Is The Best Street Food?

If you are still wondering where to go for the best Japanese street food, Here is a list of the cities/prefectures and the street food most associated with them!

· Osaka-Takoyaki

· Hiroshima-Okonomiyaki

· Himeji-Himeji Oden

· Miyajima-Momiji Manju

· Sapporo-Corn butter ramen

· Tokyo-Monjayaki

· Osaka-Kushikatsu

· Kagawa-Sanuki Udon

· Fukuoka-Tonkotsu ramen

· Nagasaki-Castella

· Kagoshima-Sweet potatoes

My fascination with Japan began several years back at a roadside bonsai stand while on vacation. I became more interested in the where and why's more than the trees themselves. My love of Bonsai led me to further research my interest in the gardens where they originated from and the places and people that surrounded those little trees. My curiosity was well rewarded upon visiting Saitama where the National Bonsai Museum was located and Omiya Village the bonsai mecca for lovers of this ancient art form. Exploring many towns and villages and even making my way to Japan's furthest southern prefecture of Okinawa. I hope to share my love of this wonderful and exotic place with all those who want to know more about Japan.