Best Japanese Street Food
Takoyaki are golden balls of fried batter filled with little pieces of octopus, tenkasu (tempura scraps), benishoga (pickled ginger) and spring onion. Originally from Osaka, the dough balls are fried in special cast-iron pans, and you can watch on as takoyaki vendors skillfully flip the balls at a rapid pace using chopsticks. The cooked takoyaki, a savory brown sauce similar to Worcestershire, aonori (dried seaweed) and katsuobushii are eaten piping hot, slightly crisp on the outside, gooey on the inside and slathered in Japanese mayonnaise (dried bonito fish flakes). Although originating in Osaka, takoyaki is now commonly enjoyed in Tokyo and in the rest of Japan. Takoyaki is extremely delicious and addictive – just be careful not to burn your tongue!
Without the familiar sizzling of yakisoba, no Japanese festival will be complete. This is a regular food item at any place where yatai are collected and is relatively easy to produce. Benishoga, katsuobushi, aonori, a squeeze of Worcestershire sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and sometimes a fried egg are fried on a griddle with wheat noodles, pork, cabbage, and onions. This dish’s intensely savory flavors give it wide appeal.
Yakitori are chicken skewers, a truly classic Japanese treat, which are grilled over charcoal and can be found all over Japan. Yakitori is processed from all parts of chicken, such as thigh meat, tail meat, and even skin, each with its own distinctive taste. The most popular seasonings are tare (soy grilling sauce) and shio (salt), but at yakitori stands you can also find wasabi, umeboshi (sour pickled plum paste), and karashi (Japanese mustard). There are also variations such as negima yakitori – pieces of juicy chicken thigh and green onion, and tsukune (chicken mince) mixed with other flavorings. Although chicken is the most common variety of skewered meat, pork and beef may also be available.
Imagawayaki is a sweet Japanese street food treat that is made from a batter of eggs, flour, sugar, and water that is ‘baked’ in disk-shaped molds. The end-product is a golden, bite-sized sponge filled with either anko (red bean paste), chocolate, or custard. Named after an Edo-era bridge in Tokyo where they were first sold, imagawayaki is known as taiko-manju in the Kansai region.
While whole-grilled squid on a stick does not sound like some of the most glamorous or enticing snack, Japanese street food chefs have mastered a simple idea to bring out the best. Over charcoal, fresh, tender squid is grilled, given a generous coating of shoyu (soy sauce) and served with a lemon or lime slice. For those that haven’t, the chewy texture peculiar to squid meat is a must try. Ikayaki is a meaty and tasty meal-on-the-go that is almost immediately ready to order.
For a taste of old-world Japan, try yakiimo. Satsuma-imo (a type of Japanese sweet potato) are baked over a wood fire and served in brown paper packets. Bite through the pleasantly chewy skin of yakiimo to the soft, fluffy flesh, which has a caramel-like flavor. While more of a warming autumn or winter snack, in other seasons, yakiimo can also sometimes be found. These snacks are not only sold at festivals and the like, they are traditionally sold directly from a yakiimo truck that drives around looking for potential customers often. Follow the sweet scent of potatoes wafting down the street to find a yakiimo seller, or keep your ears pricked for the signature song played by vendors to draw in passers-by.
Yaki tomorokoshi are whole cobs of maize char-grilled, brushed with a glaze of soy sauce, mirin, and butter, giving a sweet, savory and creamy depth to the corn. During summer, corn is at its height, and yaki tomorokoshi can be found commonly at yatai in Japanese streets and at festivals during this season. Grilled corn from the other fried and sugary snacks may give a lighter, healthier Japanese street food alternative.
Originally a French dessert, Japanese cuisine has wholeheartedly embraced crepes and adapted them to Japanese tastes. In Japan, crepes have also become a popular street food snack, made famous by the buzzy Harajuku neighborhood in Tokyo. For eating on the go, crepes are made from a batter that is fried on a griddle and then filled with sweet ingredients such as whipped cream, chocolate, fruit, and even ice cream, folded into a cone shape and wrapped in a paper case. Nowadays, these are not only sold in yatai, but in stores in malls and other shopping locations. We recommend you try the classic yatai style first though!
If you’re in need of satisfying your sweet tooth, look no further than wataame. Wataame (also called watagashi), is cotton candy and can be found at Japanese street food stalls and festivals all over Japan, where you can watch the cotton candy being spun around a stick, or buy ready-made cotton candy in packets that are often decorated with manga characters. This novel treat is especially popular with children.
Candied fruit can be found throughout Japan and in several variants, as a street staple everywhere. These different fruits dipped in candy syrup will leave you wanting more from anzu ame (candied apricot) to ringo ame (candied apples). For a true Japanese treat, you should especially try ichigo ame (candied strawberries) at the height of the strawberry season or, if you can find it the rarer mikan ame – a Japanese-born mandarin.
This playful dessert-style street food leaves no surprises with its name – a banana coated in chocolate! The chocolate may be milk, dark or white, and is often dunked in colorful sprinkles. Minus the ice cream, it’s like a banana split on-the-go!
You may think you’ve already tried this treat, but think again! Kakigori also comes in special flavors such as matcha green tea and lemon and is topped with everything from sweet red beans to mochi (pounded rice), jelly and whipped cream, although similar to its western shaved ice equivalent. It turns out that the end result is a very hearty dessert! If you truly want to experience Japanese culture, try eating kakigori while wearing a yukata under a fireworks-filled sky during a Japanese festival in the summer. Now that’s how to do festivals in Japan right!