Japan is a country that is internationally renowned for its incredible food scene. Tokyo boasts some of the greatest Michelin-Starred restaurants that offer unique, one-of-a-kind experiences well worth the plane ticket. On the other hand, the Japanese street food scene requires a bit of navigation.
There’s usually no eating on the trains or buses, no eating while walking, and no garbage cans for people looking to avoid bringing their trash home. Despite all of these societal norms and conventions, street food has carved out a distinct identity within Japan’s food culture. Read on to learn about some of the best street food that Japan has to offer.
Japan is a country with many festivals and every festival features food stalls, or yatai, that attract customers with their colorful displays and amazing scents. Streets are often filled with people moving about as they stroll leisurely and go with the flow of the crowd as they enjoy the event. Festivals are one of the few rare occasions that Japanese people can be seen eating while walking. Many festival goers often look forward to festival foods that they can eat on the go.
Want to learn more about these delicious food stalls and all they can offer, check out our blog about Japanese yatai!
Also known as octopus balls or fritters, these treats are perfectly golden fried balls with a crispy exterior and a soft and chewy inside. Their main claim to fame are the little bits of octopus inside that are accompanied by tempura crumbs, pickled red ginger, and green onion.
This festival classic originated from Osaka and is cooked on a piping-hot specialty cast iron pan with half-spherical grooves for the perfect batter pour and shape. Once the batter is half-cooked, the cooks then use skewers to flip them over, allowing the remaining uncooked batter to slowly enclose and complete the ball-shape.
Takayaki are often served with sauce, mayonnaise, aonori (seaweed bits), and katsuobushi (bonito flakes).
Looking to learn more about this delicious octopus street food, take a look at our blog all about takoyaki!
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Another festival classic, noodles are expertly tossed around with two spatulas over a sizzling flat iron plate along with your choice of meat, sliced cabbage, and onion until they become perfectly cooked. Towards the end of the cooking process, a special yakisoba sauce is added to give its unique flavor.
The noodles are then topped with katsuobushi, aonori, and Japanese mayonnaise. Many people also enjoy their yakisoba with a fried egg with a half-cooked yolk on top, mixing the two flavors together to create a delicious combination.
For more information about yakisoba, check out our blog!
Thanks to the bamboo skewers that are used as the vehicle for this food, it’s only natural that yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) became an iconic street food in Japan. Seasoned cooks are able to use all of the chicken from head-to-toe to provide an in-depth experience for the eater.
The meat is usually grilled over charcoal which provides a subtle smoky flavor and is finished with a special tare (sauce) or salt. These foods can often be seen in the hands of many festival goers since they can be enjoyed by people of all ages.
Chicken skewers may not seem complicated, but with so many different types and flavorings, there’s more to it than you would think. Check out our blog all about yakitori to learn more about it!
Known throughout the world for its iconic fish shape, this street food is a reshaped version of another Japanese dessert, imagawayaki. Both desserts wrap sweetened red bean paste with batter. However, imagawayaki looks more akin to a hockey puck while taiyaki takes on the form of a tai or red sea bream.
The shape was created when an imagawayaki store owner in Kobe was struggling to sell his dessert. He decided to shape his desserts to resemble red sea bream, hoping that the high-class status of the fish would resonate with his customers since only the rich and powerful could eat red sea bream on special occasions.
The original creator of taiyaki is actually still in business today in Kobe, and they say that the creator wanted to share the taste of the rich with the masses.
Today, many people in Japan can be seen holding the fish-shaped dessert in their hands as they walk around both in and out of festivals, a sign of the popularity of this treat. Taiyaki has evolved from its red bean origins and now features other fillings like custard, chocolate, cheese, and sweet potato. It is usually made in a cast iron mold and baked rapidly over high heat.
Check out our blog all about this tasty treat and why Japanese crepes are just as good as France’s!
You might be surprised and think, “Crepes? In Japan?”
But yes, crepes in Japan.
Crepes have been adapted for the Japanese palate and have become a popular Japanese street food. They can often be seen in the hands of young women as well as children.
Made from a thin sheet of batter that has been cooked on an iron griddle, they are filled with sweet treats like whipped cream, chocolate or fruit that are wrapped into a cone shape to be eaten on the move. Many crepe shops will have a range of variations for their customers to choose from.
There are even savory crepes filled with things like sausage, lettuce, and salsa. Learn more about these sweet or savory treats in our blog all about Japanese crepes.
While all of the Japanese street food so far catches the eye with beautiful, tasty-looking presentations, shioyaki (grilled fish skewer) has a more unique presentation. This fish combines the slightly sweet ayu, or sweetfish, with salt, creating a perfect flavor combination. It is then skewered in a wave pattern and grilled to perfection.
The name actually comes from a cooking technique of salting and then grilling various types of fish, so you may see plenty of different types, like salmon, sea bream, or mackerel. That being said, the type you’ll see at festivals is usually ayu.
Want to learn more about the different types of this odd yet tasty street food? We have a whole blog about shioyaki for you to check out!
Like we mentioned before, walking while eating is generally frowned upon here in Japan. That being said, there are areas all around the country where people can enjoy street food and can walk from place to place trying all kinds of local foods. You just have to know where to look.
If you’re a fan of seafood, try the Tsukiji fish market which is full of delicious options like eel or tuna skewers, Japanese rolled omelet, and grilled scallops. Meanwhile, Fukuoka prefecture’s Nakasu is the perfect place to experience dishes like the legendary Hakata ramen or delicious yakitori while chatting with the chef or other diners. And there’s plenty more where that came from!
For our recommended Japanese street food spots, check out our blog!
Have you tried any of these foods or visited some famous street food spots in Japan? Is there a specific Japanese street food you would like to try? Let us know in the comments below!
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