Foodies across the globe flock to Japan following a trail of the senses. Hailed by UNESCO for its cultural significance, Japan’s mouth-watering cuisine represents all that it means to be Japanese. And Japan street food is no exception.
These savoury, sticky and sweet treats – sold from yatai (food stands) – infatuate locals and newcomers alike. So make sure to stop by a stand on your Japan adventure to immerse yourself in local culture, fuel your sightseeing and treat your tastebuds.
What makes Japan street food so good?
Japan street food is fast-serving, sweet-smelling and outrageously addictive. There’s something magical about watching local chefs work with immense care – often using cooking techniques handed down from past generations. Food is an art-form here. And from the crunchy yet gooey takoyaki (octopus balls) to kakigori (shaved ice) – there’s something for everyone for any moment during any season. So are you ready to meet the street foods?
10 scrumptious Japan street food staples
Yakisoba is a street food classic. Traditionally made with stir-fried (Chinese wheat) noodles, thinly sliced pork, onion, cabbage and a tangy yakisoba sauce. Cooked on large grills, you can hear the sizzle calling your name from afar. Put simply: this quick, easy and filling Japan street food staple is too tasty to ignore.
Shioyaki – grilled fish skewers – is a crunchy crowd pleaser. Mackerel is often the fish used, usually with a sprinkling of salt to enhance the flavour. And the succulent, crispy skin is a particular highlight. Surrounded by seas, Japan boasts incredibly fresh seafood; and newcomers should jump at the chance to sink their teeth into shioyaki.
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‘Okonomi’ translates to ‘as you like it’ – and this the hallmark of the okonomiyaki. This savoury Japanese pancake is pan fried and perfect for all seasons and personal tastes. Made with loose batter and meat, seafood, cabbage and pickled ginger. It’s crunchy and creamy texture makes for a wonderful comfort food. To get into the local spirit, add sweet sauce if you’re in Hiroshima and spicy sauce if you’re in Osaka.
Watch and admire Japanese chefs skewer chicken and grill it over a roaring charcoal fire. The yakitori is then lathered in salty, sticky and sweet sauce that complements the smoky chicken to perfection. The result? A silky melt-in-your-mouth texture that leaves you grinning from ear to ear.
Takoyaki originated in Osaka but are worshipped across Japan. Translating to ‘octopus grilled/friend’ – these are pieces of octopus wrapped in a battered ball with green onion, pickled red ginger and bonito flakes. They are often drizzled in mayonnaise or red Takoyaki sauce. Just be warned: once you eat one… you won’t stop!
Kakigōri is Japanese summer at its refreshing best. Once served only for the aristocracy on hot days, all locals (and many visitors) tuck into these colourful cones of shaved ice. Pick a fun flavour like green matcha, melon or strawberry (to name a few) and enjoy. Deliciously complete with toppings like red bean paste, cream, syrup or fresh fruit.
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It takes two to dango! These chewy, sweet and skewered rice flour dumplings are often eaten with friends and offer a happy mood all year round. Expect three to five dumplings on a stick that gives you the sugar rush you need. Top tip: a dango goes perfectly with a cup of hot green tea.
Simplicity is perfection with Japanese food – and the yaki tomorokoshi encapsulates this brilliantly. A favourite in the colder Hokkaido region, this is grilled corn on the cob with a layer of any of the following: soy sauce, miso paste, mirin, honey and butter.
While ikayaki is not as eye-catching as other street foods, it’s undeniably delicious. This is tender, grilled skewered squid with a soy sauce glaze, which is best washed down with a cool glass of Japanese sake or beer. This Japan street food is exactly what you need during a day of eventful exploring.
Fluffy, comforting and warm. No… we’re not taking about collapsing into your duvet after a hard day’s work. Meet yaki imo – the Japanese sweet potato (a big local favourite since the 1600s). These are grilled on hot black stones and handed to eager foodies in brown paper bags. Biting through the chewy, purple skin unleashes a piping hot, fluffy potato flesh that will soothe you as well as spark your latest addiction.
These fish-shaped cakes imitate the shape of red sea bream. Packed with sweet red bean paste, they’re one of the most popular street foods for all with a sweet tooth. They offer the perfect pick-me-up for any time of day and you’d be a fool to leave Japan without a taste.
Hungry yet? Which Japan street foods have caught your eye? Tell us in the comments below!