Potatoes were introduced to Japan in 1598 as a Dutch import from Jakarta. The Indonesian port city lent its name to the tuber, as the full word for potato in Japanese, jagatora-imo, later shortened to jaga-imo. It took until the Meiji era for the Japanese to fully embrace this crop, but once they did, they went all out!
Now, Japan is home to some of the most delicious — and creative — types of potato snacks. These are our picks for the top 10 Japanese potato snacks you have to try at least once in your life!
1. Calbee (カルビ) — The Most Popular Japanese Potato Chips
Calbee frequently ranks at the top of Japan’s snack food polls. Part of the reason for the brand’s popularity is its dozens of chip flavors, like mentaiko (spicy cod roe), soy sauce-butter, and pizza. At one point Calbee even came out with 47 chips flavors, one for each prefecture of Japan! According to this poll, among Japanese, Calbee’s three most popular types are “Light”, Seaweed-Salt, and “Consomme Punch” (a light meat-broth flavor very common in Japanese snacks). Calbee is so big that they recently opened an entire store dedicated to their snacks in Harajuku: Calbee Plus!
2. Koike-ya (湖池屋) — Calbee’s Greatest Rival
Every good shonen anime protagonist must have their rival. And if chips were anime, Koike-ya would be challenging Calbee to a fight right about now. Koike-ya’s seaweed-salt flavors and lightly salted flavors are especially popular, sometimes ranking even higher than Calbee’s! Now, they have come out with a new manufacturing process, called “pride potato”, which uses only domestic ingredients. Who will win this battle? Only time can tell...
3. Chipstar (チップスター) — Japan’s Answer to Pringles
Chipstar chips have been popular in Japan since 1976. They are softer than the usual chip, with a dusting of flavoring on their surface, which melts on the tongue. Like Pringles, Chipstar Chips come in tubes. However, unlike Pringles, they come in plenty of Japanese potato chip flavors, like soy sauce-butter and plum-nori. The chips themselves are made only of pure potato flakes and water, with no additives to hold them together. Their cooking process uses less oil than the usual chip, since they are not fried, which makes them good Japanese potato snacks for the health-conscious. To learn more about the many types of Chipstar chips, check out this article!
Can’t decide which of these Japanese potato snacks you want to try? Tokyo Treat’s snack box has you covered, sending you new types every month!
4. Jagabee (じゃがビー) — Fries X Chips
The jaga in Jagabee comes from Jaga-imo, the Japanese word for potato. And they really are the quintessential Japanese potato snacks — a combination of both chips and french fries. To create the classic Jagabee shape, potatoes are sliced into rectangles then deep-fried. Jagabee’s rectangular shape makes them easier to hold than regular chips, and they are sold in a cup, so they get your fingers less oily than a typical bag of chips. Jagabee’s mainstay flavors are lightly salted, “happy” butter (a combination of honey, butter, parsley, and mascarpone), soy sauce butter, herb-salt, and “grand fromage” (a blend of cheeses).
5. Jaga Pokkuru (じゃがポックル) — Upscale Potato Sticks
Jaga Pokkuru are the more sophisticated sibling of the Jagabee. The crispy fries are made only of potatoes sourced from Hokkaido, a region famous for the crop. The potatoes are sliced thicker than Jagabee potatoes, and the skins are kept on, for added texture and a natural flavor. The slices are then kettle-cooked, and salted with salt from the Okhotsk region, to create a snack that highlights the high quality of its ingredients. Jaga Pokkuru are sold exclusively in Hokkaido or online.
6. Jagariko (じゃがりこ) — A New Kind of Japanese Potato Snack
Jagariko are different in texture than all the other spud sticks on this list. They are unique because of their production process. To create Jagariko, potatoes are steamed and smashed, then flavoring is added to the dough. Finally, the dough is formed into sticks and deep fried. This process gives the snack a lighter, airier texture than Jagabee and Jaga Pokkuru. Also, since the flavoring is mixed directly into the sticks before the cooking process, they have more depth of flavor. Jagariko come in many of the same flavors as Calbee’s normal chips.
7. Kata-age Potato (堅あげポテト) — “Hard-Boiled” Chips
The name kata-age translates to hard-fried, or as Calbee themselves translates it, “hard-boiled” and that’s just what these chips are. The chips are cut thicker than usual, so they have more bite, and are kettle-cooked, which gives them a hint of smokiness. Some of Kata-age Potato’s most popular flavors are black pepper, garlic, and plum.
8. Yaki-Imo (焼芋) — Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Photo by Grigoris Miliaresis
In Japan, whole roasted sweet potatoes are eaten straight and unseasoned as a snack. Convenience stores and supermarkets have cases filled with gently cooking sweet potatoes to choose from. The long cooking time brings out the potato’s sweetness, even more, causing the sugars to caramelize. Sweet potatoes are so beloved here, that last year, Starbucks even made a sweet potato frappucino!
9. Hokkaido Rich Butter Chips (北海道リッチバター味) — A Taste of the North
The brand Yamayoshi has created chips that combine two of Hokkaido’s specialties: potatoes and butter. The chips are made from 100% Hokkaido sourced potatoes for the genuine taste of the region. They are then coated in butter, for a taste reminiscent of Hokkaido’s buttered potatoes.
10. Royce’s Chocolate Potato Chips (ポテトチップチョコレート) — Luxury Japanese Potato Chips
“Luxury chips” sounds like an oxymoron, but that’s just what these are. Royce is a brand from Sapporo, Hokkaido, which specializes in high-quality chocolate. Its chocolate-coated potato chips elevate the simple snack to something truly luxurious. One side of these chips is coated in rich milk chocolate, while the other is salted, for a lovely sweet-salty mix. Royce has also come out with caramel, fromage blanc, and mild bitter chocolate flavors.
If you’ve already tried some of these Japanese snacks, which of them do you like the best? Let us know in the comments! If you haven’t, why not get some to compare, right here on JapanHaul?