When in Japan, go on a street food crusade. It will pose a bit of a challenge since street food stalls are generally confined to events like matsuri festivals, or in certain areas like tourist shopping streets and sightseeing attractions. Nevertheless, it is well worth the effort because as you already know, food in this gastronomic paradise is nothing short of awesome. From sweet to savory flavors, you will not regret digging in. To get you started, here’s a rundown of street food favorites you shouldn’t miss.
Ball-shaped octopus in batter, that is takoyaki for you. It is among the most unique food finds in Japan and while it is sold in many parts of the country, it is best experienced in Osaka, the city where this snack was invented. Besides its taste, ordering takoyaki from street vendors is by itself an interesting experience. The speed and skill needed to toss and turn batter into savory balls are pretty amazing to watch.
Soft-serve ice cream
Of all the items on this list, soft-serve ice cream is the easiest to find. You will surely find stalls at any place flocked by tourists, and on top of that, you will be spoiled for flavor options: from familiar vanilla to something extraordinary like miso, wasabi, and even squid ink! The unusual flavors are more often than not limited to specific regions, created to reflect the specialties of the locale. For instance, it will be hard to come by squid ink ice cream outside of Hakodate – the Hokkaido city renowned for its seafood and the originator of this truly one of a kind ice cream. Aside from region-based varieties, there are seasonal offerings too. Come spring time, cherry blossoms viewing won’t be complete without licking on sakura-flavored ice cream.
Taiyaki is shaped like a fish but doesn’t taste like one at all. Instead, it is a waffle-like pastry with a red bean paste center, the stuff usually used in traditional Japanese confections. A simple and timeless treat, taiyaki is also considered a comfort food for colder months. Hence, it is best enjoyed warm and freshly-baked.
Simply put, Ikayaki is grilled squid – usually put on a skewer and marinated with soy sauce. Best paired with a chilled drink like beer or sake, this chewy seafood is a favorite grub at summer festivals.
Ayu fish BBQ
From one seafood skewer to another, the ayu (or sweetfish) is another popular item to be barbecued in Japan. It is doused in salt and slow cooked on a charcoal grill to extract its natural juices. Obviously, the fresher the fish, the tastier it is. Thus, if you happen to be in a riverside locale during the summer months, you’re most likely to stumble upon this fish barbecue. Don’t miss your chance and go grab a stick.
Like taiyaki, melon pan got its name from the way it looks and not so much from how it tastes. Nothing about this bread tastes like melon; it is actually a classic sweet bread recipe that makes use of milk, butter, and sugar. Apart from its melon-like appearance, its distinguishing feature is its texture – crusty on the outside, but soft and fluffy inside. You must definitely try this right out of the oven.
As one of Japan’s most popular bread treat, you won’t have a hard time finding this in stalls and bakeries. In case you find yourself sightseeing in Asakusa, do check out Kagetsudo. Their version is melon pan at its finest.
Address: 1-18-11 Asakusa, Taito, Tokyo
Price: ¥200 per piece
Website: http://www.asakusa-kagetudo.com/ (Japanese only)
For something heavy, try the Okonomiyaki. Dubbed as the Japanese savory pancake, it is a teppan-grilled batter of mish-mashed ingredients which includes cabbage, eggs, flour, bits and pieces of meat and seafood, vegetables, mochi, and cheese. Some renditions, especially in the Hiroshima area, also add yakisoba noodles to the mix.
Another filling street food dish is the Yakisoba. It is stir-fried ramen noodles with meat and vegetable toppings cooked in a sweet and savory sauce. It can be eaten as it is or as yakisoba-pan – a hot dog bun stuffed with yakisoba noodles.
Satsuma-age is a specialty from Kagoshima, a seaside city at the southwestern tip of Kyushu island. It is made of ground fish meat and flour seasoned with salt, sugar, and other spices. Molded into different shapes, it is served as deep-fried goodies or in tandem with udon and other stewed dishes. On the streets, however, it is often sold in skewers.
Taking a cue from the French, Korokke is the Japanese take on the croquette. It is essentially the same breaded and deep-fried snack, but with the filling tinkered to suit local tastes more. The standard version is a lot like the original – made up of mashed potato, minced meat or seafood, herbs, and vegetables. However, popular local ingredients such as sweet potato and kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) are likewise used to make alternative versions.
Agepan is somewhat like a donut. The simplest version is just with a sprinkle of sugar or sweet soy bean powder, but most stores do get creative with their offerings.
Senbei rice crackers
Senbei is Japan’s old-school bite-size snacks that come in different shapes, sizes, and flavors. It is a type of rice cracker slightly seasoned with soy sauce, traditionally baked over charcoal, and often consumed with green tea. The pre-packaged ones can be found literally everywhere as they are popular everyday snacks among locals and hot souvenir items for tourists. However, nothing beats the senbei that is served right off the grill.
Delicious food need not always be complicated. Sometimes, it can be as simple as a corn on a cob, smothered with butter and roasted to perfection. It is all the more correct if you’re enjoying this treat in Hokkaido. This prefecture up north is especially famous for its farm produce, which includes premium sweet corn.
Almond-crusted sticks filled with rich custard cream, Zakuzaku is a familiar but original dessert creation which exemplifies the innovation that makes Japan’s food scene so exciting. Originally from Hokkaido, the company behind these yummy sticks have successfully expanded their operations in Tokyo. Do check out any one of these four stores located in Shinjuku, Harajuku, Ikebukuro, and Kamata.
Address: B1F Lumine Est Shinjuku, 3-38-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Price: ¥250 per piece
BAKE cheese tart
What makes this cheese tart a cut above the rest? Three things, actually – A mousse made with three different types of cheese; a twice-baked tart pastry; and premium dairy ingredients from Hokkaido. BAKE cheese tarts are so sought after that you’ll normally see a line outside its shops despite its multiple locations in the country. And as you know in Japan – if locals are queueing up for it, then it must be really good.
Address: 1F Lumine Est Shinjuku, 3-38-1 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Price: ¥216 per piece
All price information in this article is as of February 2017.
Thumbnail image is from Flickr.