When Spring appears, you’ll find everyone in Japan doing one thing: picnicking. Whether it’s at the park with friends, near the river with family, under cherry blossoms or pre-cherry blossom season, everyone will take their own special kinds of Japanese picnic foods to share with guests.
There are so many foods to choose from it can be difficult to judge which ones will be the best received. Let’s face it, bringing the most popular food to the party really does give you a lift. It’s great to see the smiles on everyone’s faces and good to learn a bit about Japanese picnic foods and Japanese recipes in the process.
Onigiri (rice ball) is one of the most popular Japanese picnic foods, and they are so easy to make and customize. Think of it like the Japanese equivalent to a sandwich. Found ready-made everywhere in Japan, from convenience stores to the basement markets in upmarket department stores, they are a favorite pick up while on the move.
They are small (just larger than hand-sized triangles or balls) of rice pushed together, often containing a savory filling in the middle, hidden in the middle of the ball. This filling can be anything, from umeboshi (pickled plum) to tuna mayonnaise. The best thing about rice balls is that they’re super easy to make, too.
Simply get a dollop of cooked rice, fresh from the rice cooker, and press it together between your wet hands to form a triangle or ball shape. You can either wrap it with nori (seaweed) sheets or leave it as is. To add your choice of filling, make a hole in the rice before you press it together and put the filling in. If you’re looking for filling inspiration, check out these Japanese onigiri options.
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There are many different types of Japanese salad and the most popular ones are not as green-leafed as you may think. Creamy and packed out with mayonnaise, they are the sort of salads to take you back to your childhood.
Japanese potato salad is boiled-down potatoes mixed with mayonnaise and your choice of salad vegetable. Normally, tiny slices of carrot or crunchy cucumbers are put in like tiny golden nuggets in the middle of all that potato and mayo.
Who doesn’t love a good pasta salad? Japanese Macaroni Salad is a sure-fire winner. Tubes of macaroni slathered with Japanese mayonnaise – the sweeter, tangier type kind of like salad cream – with sticks of carrot or some delicious Japanese pickles mixed in.
Macaroni Salad is another great dish to personalize. As long as you have the basics of macaroni pasta and Japanese mayonnaise, anything goes!
Japanese street food is great if you haven’t got time to whip up a storm in the kitchen – buy it when you get close to your destination so it’s still hot when you arrive.
Japanese fried chicken thigh balls, or karaage, is another favorite among picnic-goers, with even vegan guests being able to participate as vegan soy-meat karaage is seeing a boom. Making this yourself takes a bit more time than the salads but is very self-explanatory. If you haven’t time to cook then simply pop into a convenience store for some of their own-brand fried chicken.
FamilyMart and Lawson are both pretty well known for their karaage.
Heading to any picnic site will almost guarantee that you pass a stall or corner shop selling fried octopus balls (takoyaki). They’re great for sharing, and you can easily eat them with chopsticks. You can buy octopus balls in various flavors from the classic bonito flakes and takoyaki sauce through to salt and pepper flavor.
‘Maki’ simply means ‘roll’, and sushi rolls, a tasty filling surrounded by sushi rice in the center and wrapped with seaweed, make the perfect snack sushi. You can make or buy it in a range of flavors, from natto (fermented soy beans) to fish eggs and even Japanese pickles or Spam.
If you’re making your own, make a few long ones then slice. First, lay out a slice of seaweed. Then, cover one side of the seaweed with a thin layer of sushi rice, top it with a thin layer of your desired filling, then roll. When you’ve rolled the sushi, you can cut it into slices – perfect for giving out to fellow picnic-goers.
Japanese egg omelette, or tamago-maki, is loved by adults and children alike, made by beating the egg and frying it in a special tamago-maki pan. The key is ‘rolling’ the egg back as the bottom of each layer is cooked. You can cut this, too, when it’s finished and tastes great hot or cold.
There are so many things we could add to this list so here’s a short round-up of the key ones.
Who doesn’t love bread? Japanese bread, from curry-bread to fruit sandwiches and red bean paste buns, are loved by all and can be sweet or savory, depending on your mood. You can’t go wrong.
From fruit dai-fuku (stuffed mochi) with whole fruit such as strawberries in the middle, to anko (red bean paste) mochi, and warubi (softer) mochi, this Japanese snack is a great picnic food and is easily transportable too.
From cold green tea in liter bottles to cans of Strong Zero and Asahi Super Dry, it’s always a good idea to bring a drink (or 12) for your picnic party-ers. Just don’t forget the paper cups!
Let us know if you’ve any fail-safe ideas for Japanese picnic foods in the comments below.
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