As this year’s extended rainy season has given way to the hot and balmy vibes of August in Tokyo, there’s still a lot of “new normals” that we have to adjust to.
The sprawling, bustling summer matsuri festivals we look forward to every year may not be panning out the way we all hoped. A lot has changed this year, but if there’s one thing that hasn’t – it’s our appetite! Japanese festival food is something we look forward to every year, and we won’t let anything stop us from fantasizing about our favorite Japanese street foods!
Let’s break down five fantastic options to much down on during your next trip to Japan!
Of course, we’ve gotta kick it off with the undisputed champion of the Japanese festival food market – the always on-point Yakitori.
Yakitori literally means “grilled chicken” in Japanese, though the term can refer to lot’s of different things that are, basically, just grilled on a stick.
Plump cherry tomatoes wrapped in bacon, fresh veggies like Japanese shishito peppers, pork cheek, chicken thigh, liver, hearts and more are all a fantastic way to fill your belly at the local matsuri. The great unifier of all Yakitori is the undeniably delicious smokey char that comes from traditional Japanese grilling techniques. Yakitori is constantly rotated, hovering over ripping hot coals – cooking the small pieces of meat and vegetables in a matter of seconds, not minutes.
Enjoyed dipped in sweet and savory tare sauce or just with salt, Yakitori is a reasonably priced way to experience the essence of what makes Japanese cuisine so special.
The Japanese seriously know how to cook a chicken.
While Yakitori takes grilled chicken to another level, traditional Japanese style fried-chicken, or karaage, is a uniquely Japanese interpretation of a global dish. Karaage is marinated in a combination of soy sauce, sweet cooking wine, grated garlic and ginger. After it soaks up the love, it’s tossed in a mixture of rice flour and cornstarch, giving it an insanely crunchy texture that blows any other rendition of fried chicken out of the water. The marinade gives karaage a signature Japanese accent that’s hard to achieve elsewhere – making it a must have at any respectable Japanese food festival.
If you ever find yourself in Osaka (the undisputed street food capital of Japan), you’ll without a doubt be chowing down on some yakisoba.
Literally meaning “fried noodles” in Japanese, yakisoba is yet another example of how Japanese cuisine can take something that seems so simple and transform it into a texturally complex and flavorful dish. Thick, chewy noodles are fried on a flat grill or pan, tossed together with cabbage, onions, bean sprouts, slices of pork belly and yakisoba sauce (similar to Worcestershire sauce). Served up hot-out-the-pan, yakisoba is typically topped off with nori powder, Japanese mayo and pickled ginger.
Quick, cheap, filling and absolutely delicious – yakisoba is a serious contender for Japanese street food champion.
Takoyaki is probably one of the most visually iconic dishes in the realm of Japanese street food. Across anime, manga, TV and movies – basically anyone that’s interested in Japanese culture or cuisine has seen Takoyaki.
What makes Takoyaki such an awesome dish is the fact that it essentially takes every flavor and texture that makes Japanese cuisine unique, and wraps it up into a soft, fluffy fitter.
Chewy pieces of octopus, pickled ginger, green onion and crunchy pieces of tempura flakes are folded into dashi-infused batter and poured into a special grill that’s designed to form the mixture into little balls of happiness.
You’ll definitely see charismatic cooks rolling up takoyaki at any Japanese food festival, and it’s always worth a stop. Perfect to share with friends, (and on the ‘gram), takoyaki is truly the crowd-pleaser of this list.
I mean, there’s always room for dessert.
While the choco-banana may seem incredibly simple, it’s actually the least common item on this list. There’s a lot of technique involved in getting the chocolate to the perfect consistency, and there’s just something about it that’s hard to nail down at home.
No matter how hard we try, we can never recreate the delicious, snappy chocolate the way that you’ll find it at a Japanese matsuri. That’s exactly why the choco-banana is such a favorite among locals. It really is the perfect way to celebrate summer with something fun and unique that you can’t find just anywhere.
Well, that’s it for this list. Summer is already winding down here in Tokyo, but our cravings for Japanese street food shall never waver! What dish on this list is a must try on your next trip to Japan?
Tanner is a content editor and marketing associate based in Tokyo, Japan. As a former professional cook, he loves exploring Tokyo's food scene and cooking at home for his partner. He also enjoys bad puns, decent coffee, oxford commas, and reading fantastic genre fiction.
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