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Yatai: The Best Japanese Festival Food On Wheels!

Linh LeLinh Le
Published Time
Posted on June 28, 2022

Yatai are Japanese food stands that show the best street cuisine! They include world-famous Japanese foods like sushi, sashimi (sliced raw fish), and tempura (fried fish and vegetables). All of these dishes require careful prep by skilled cooks.

Street food sold at yatai have its own appeal and is worth a try! Today, we’ll take you on a journey to every corner of the Japanese street food world and show you some of the best of it!

Why We Love Yatai

Since yatai are movable, vendors used to push stalls from one place to another, but nowadays, most yatai are located in specific areas, usually crowded with residents and tourists. Every day, Japanese street vendors push their mobile stalls out on the street in the late afternoon and close at around dawn. 

However, food stalls are usually at Japanese festivals, considered the soul of any celebration. If you come to a festival in Japan, such as hanami (cherry blossom viewing), or a summer or winter festival, you might be unable to resist the lively cooking sounds and fragrant food from these stalls. 

People sit around a yatai that is selling ramen and beer at night.
There are even some areas where yatai are around all year. Fukuoka especially loves its stalls. Image via Shutterstock

These Japanese food stalls might also have a roof, table, and stools. This gives you the option of dining in or eating takeaway. people can also sit and grab a quick bite. Diverse dishes with affordable prices and the comfortable yet bustling space to enjoy a few drinks are definitely the attractions of yatai.

Since everything is prepared in a small stall, most dishes are simple and handled quickly. The most significant feature of yatai is that you can always enjoy the delicious taste of a freshly cooked dish. The wait time is also never dull because the quick hand movement of the vendor is interesting enough to watch till you forget the time.

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Famous Yatai Foods 

Takoyaki 

Workers at a yatai hand flip dozens of takoyaki cooking on a griddle with chopsticks
Takoyaki is a staple of the Japanese street food scene. Osaka is the place to go for this dish. Image via Shutterstock

As a specialty of Osaka, takoyaki (grilled octopus balls) is an iconic image of Japanese street food. It is made of flour, baked in a special frying pan, and uses chopped octopus as the main ingredient, sprinkling seasoning, and various sauces.

Perhaps takoyaki’s baking process is the most fun to look at as we can see how cute little takoyaki balls are formed and how they get turned over quickly several times.

Okonomiyaki

A plate of okonomiyaki a  a savory pancake of meat and vegetables.
Okonomiyaki is especially popular in the Kansai region. Image via Shutterstock

Okonomiyaki is a famous savory Japanese pancake. Similar to takoyaki, cooks bake it on a teppanyaki hot plate along with cabbage and meat. People usually eat it with delicious okonomiyaki sauce and toppings such as aonori (seaweed flakes), tuna flakes, pickled ginger, and mayonnaise.

Yakisoba

A plate of yakisoba with pork, onions, seaweed and pickled ginger sits in a black plate on a wooden table.
Yakisoba is an excellent festival food if you want something cheaper and more filling. Image via Shutterstock

Another popular yatai dish is yakisoba (stir-fried noodles). Yakisoba is made from wheat flour and served with vegetables and meats such as pork, beef, or chicken. Worcestershire sauce’s sweet and savory taste is the secret to this dish.

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Yakitori 

Grilled chicken skewers, or yakitori, on a grill. This is a common yatai food.
Yakitori is usually smothered in soy sauce or sprinkled with salt. Image via Shutterstock

Yakitori, are grilled chicken skewers. It’s a popular street food that anyone, regardless of age, can easily fall in love with! The most common yakitori flavors are salt or tare sauce, made from soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sugar. This flavoring creates a balance between salty and sweet.

Ikayaki 

Ikayaki being cooked on a grill at a yatai as the cook glazes the squids with a brown sauce using a brush
Ikayaki may jump out for its strange appearance, but it’s super tasty and full of flavor. Image via Shutterstock

Ikayaki–soft grilled squid cut into small rings–is another popular fast food in Japan. Its most common flavors are soy sauce, teriyaki, or a traditional Japanese marinade, including rice wine, miso, ginger, and soy sauce. Because yatai cooks prepare ikayaki quickly, people usually eat it soon while the squid is still soft and hot.

Ramen

Most of us eat ramen (Chinese-style wheat noodles) at a specialized ramen shop, but ramen sold at yatai will never fail you. Almost every part of Japan has its own version of ramen. Sapporo ramen, for example, is especially famous for its miso ramen, often served with sweet corn, bean sprouts, minced pork and garlic, and sometimes local seafood. 

A bowl of ramen, including chopped boiled eggs.
Ramen is a mainstay in Japan, whether in the street or at a restaurant.

Tokyo-style ramen consists of slightly thin curly noodles with broth made from soy-flavored chicken. Meanwhile, Yokohama’s signature ramen consists of thick, straight noodles with soy-flavored pork broth.

Taiyaki

Six taiyaki sit in a special fish-shaped griddle at a yatai with one side having batter and the other having whole taiyaki filled with chocolate cooking.
Taiyaki is one of Japan’s favorite treats, and you can even get unique shapes with your favorite characters at places like the Sega Game Centers. Image via Shutterstock

Taiyaki is a traditional Japanese confectionery shaped like tai (sea bream) and uses a variety of sweet fillings. In addition to the classic anko red bean flavor, there’s also chocolate, custard, and matcha (green tea).

Dango

Plates of skewered dango on a plate.
Dango is a sweet and savory sweet food. Image via Shutterstock

Dango is a small Japanese cake of glutinous rice flour, similar to mochi. It’s a year-round treat that pairs well with green tea. However, there are unique, seasonal dango cakes such as hanami dango during the sakura season. The dango also has delicious a layer of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin and then baked before eating.

Yaki-imo

A makeshift grill filled with hot coal with seven Japanese sweet potatoes grilling over the coals.
Grilled sweet potato is quite a simple dish, but it tastes incredible! No wonder vegetarians living in Japan love this treat. Image via Shutterstock

Yaki-imo (grilled sweet potato) is one of Japan’s most symbolic autumn and winter foods. In the recent past, cooks sold these sweet potatoes out of trucks, lively announcing their presence throughout the neighborhood!

Today, people buy yaki-imo at supermarkets. Yaki-imo is also delicious alongside vanilla ice cream, as the sweetness of these two complements each other. 

What Japanese yatai food do you like the most? Share your favorite with us in the comment section below!

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