Japanese street food may sound less common than other Asian counterparts like Thailand, Taiwan, or Vietnam. However, it’s certainly not uncommon to see people enjoying yakisoba or takoyaki in the lanes of Osaka or Tokyo. If traveling to Japan, you wouldn’t want to miss the heavenly delights sold by street vendors on yatai, a small food stall on wheels. Most of them are cheap and offer a delectable taste that is hard to resist. Many Japanese street foods are prepared and served on sticks, including shioyaki, yakitori, and ikayaki. They are easy to eat and ideal for a quick snack. Others like okonomiyaki and kare pan are filling and perfect to satisfy your hunger.
Takoyaki is a popular delicacy originating in the streets of Osaka. The savory golden balls made with a wheat batter are stuffed with octopus cut into tiny pieces, tempura scraps, green onions, and pickled ginger. They are skillfully cooked in special molded cast-iron pans by flipping each with chopsticks. The bite-sized delights are served hot by drizzling a traditional savory takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise. Aanori seaweed and dried bonito fish flakes are also sprinkled on top for garnish. With a slightly crisp outer layer and gooey inside, takoyaki is tasty and easy to pop inside the mouth.
A simple and well-loved snack in Japan, Shioyaki comprises baked fish on a stick. Though fish like salmon and sea bream are also used in its preparation, the most common is saba shioyaki or grilled mackerel. The fish is smeared in a generous amount of salt and left to marinate overnight. On the next day, it is grilled on open flames. This super salty platter tastes good when paired with chilled beer, which would for sure balance the taste.
Okonomiyaki is the Japanese version of savory pancakes, created with a batter of leftover ingredients from other dishes. It is a favorite street food in Japan made with a combination of flour, eggs, and a whole lot of vegetables and meat. It is usually prepared in Kansai style, which includes mixing all the ingredients together and pouring it on the griddle to cook. However, it can also be made in Hiroshima style, in which the ingredients and the batter are cooked separately and later topped with yakisoba noodles. Additional toppings like dried seaweed, pickled red ginger, mayonnaise, and a savory okonomiyaki sauce are used in both techniques to enhance the taste.
A common Japanese street food, yakitori, is skewered and barbecued chicken. Though chicken thighs and wings are mainly used, other parts like the skin, liver, or small intestine also make up the dish. It is usually seasoned with tare, a glaze prepared with soy sauce, brown sugar, mirin or Japanese sweet rice wine, and sake or traditional, fermented alcohol. The sweet and salty sauce combined with the smoky flavors of the meat creates a succulent delight that is hard to resist. Besides chicken, the beef or pork version of yakitori is also popular.
Yakisoba is a simple stir-fried noodle dish typically served in Japanese festivals. Despite ‘soba’ included in its name which means buckwheat, the noodle is made of wheat flour and is the same as the one used in preparing ramen. The noodle is cooked on a griddle with pork, cabbage, and onions, flavored with sweet and savory sauce, and topped with fish flakes, seaweed, and benishoga or red pickled ginger. Sometimes, a fried egg is also added to the top. Spicy, tangy, and slightly sweet, yakisoba is an excellent option for a quick meal or an ideal snack whenever you go hungry.
Mostly served in a bowl or plate, this savory is sometimes even presented in the typical hot dog style. The noodle is stuffed inside a sliced bun, while garlic and mayonnaise grace the top, enhancing its look and flavor.
Ikayaki or grilled squid on a stick is a favorite Japanese seafood delicacy. A whole fresh and tender squid is grilled over charcoal, coated with sweet soy sauce, and served with a slice of lemon. Its chewy textures with a hint of sweet and sour flavors make it a sought-after dish in traditional summer festivals or local pubs called izakaya. A glass of cold Japanese sake would be the best accompaniment to it.
A tasty treat, yaki tomorokoshi refers to cobs of corn grilled over an open charcoal flame. It is seasoned with a Japanese fermented soybean paste called miso that complements the smoky flavor. In addition, the grilled corn is coated with butter and drizzled with soy sauce before serving. Light and healthy, yaki tomorokoshi is a common find in yatais mostly during summer when the production of corn is at its peak.
One of the oldest Japanese street foods, yaki imo is ideal for those seeking a healthy yet yummy option. It refers to a sweet potato, mainly satsuma-imo, grilled over charcoal or wood fire. As no seasoning or buttering is required, its natural flavors dominate the taste buds. When served warm, yaki imo is perfect comfort food. Its chewy outside and smooth, creamy inside taste sweet like caramel. It is often served hot at festivals or straight from yakiimo trucks in a brown paper packet.
A unique Japanese street food, tako tamago, is mainly found in Nishiki Market in Kyoto and is well-loved by tourists and locals alike. It is a skewered dish in which the heads of whole tiny octopuses are stuffed with quail eggs while drizzling it entirely with a sweet soy sauce before grilling. The slightly sweet and salty flavors combined with chewy and smooth textures of the octopus and egg make it taste delicious.
Korokke is a Japanese version of the French croquette, popular at many street festivals. Its preparation includes combining cooked ground beef, mashed potatoes, sautéed onions, and seasonings like salt and pepper. The mixture is shaped into palm-sized patties that are then rolled in flour, dipped in an egg batter, and coated with panko breadcrumbs. Each patty is deep-fried to get a golden brown and crispy exterior and smooth and tender inside. They are best paired with a traditional flavorsome tonkatsu sauce and served alongside shredded cabbages and slices of tomatoes. Street vendors mostly serve korokke by wrapping it in paper to hold and eat these hot delicacies with ease.
Senbei are tasty Japanese rice crackers that come in various shapes, sizes, and flavors. They are typically made with sticky rice or rice flour and either deep-fried or grilled over charcoal. They are seasoned with mirin and soy sauce and usually served warm by wrapping them in nori or dried seaweed. These crispy and savory delights make an excellent vegetarian option and also exist in sweet versions.
Onigiri are staple rice balls wrapped in nori seaweed or rolled in sesame seeds. It’s often stuffed with appetizing fillings like salted salmon, traditional pickled plum, bonito flakes, beef, or tuna.
It is mostly said that while preparing it at home, one often makes it round if desiring to eat it later. However, its triangular form is preferred to instantly munch into these tasty treats. The flavorful street food is perfect for a quick snack or an enjoyable lunchbox treat
Kare pan or Japanese curry bread is a famous savory pastry found in Japan’s bakeries and street stalls. It consists of a bread dough covered in panko bread crumbs filled with a flavorful traditional curry. It is deep-fried till it attains a golden brown and crispy exterior. A filling food, kare pan makes for an excellent breakfast choice though it can also be enjoyed at any time of the day. The combination of crunchy and chewy textures and mildly spiced curry takes its taste to another level.
A simple delicacy, sashimi, refers to fresh, raw fish or meat cut into thin slices. Though it usually contains fresh seafood like tuna, salmon, and squid, raw meat such as beef or chicken can also be used. It is typically served with a soy sauce dip and sometimes condiments like wasabi or grated ginger for adding flavors to the raw fish meat’s light and subtle taste.
Tamagoyaki is a rolled omelet dish often enjoyed during breakfast. They are skillfully prepared by beating and frying the eggs, and then carefully rolling them into thin sheets. A seasoning mixture of Japanese soup stock known as dashi, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar goes into the egg batter. The soft and fluffy textures melting in the mouth, leaving behind the sweet and savory taste, make it an instant favorite among children and adults alike. Many also enjoy it in sandwiches and call it Tamagoyaki Sando.
Shoyo ramen is a popular ramen street food in Tokyo. The word ‘shoyu’ means soy sauce in Japanese, referring to the clear, brown broth with soy sauce base in which the ramen is served. Other ingredients included in the broth are a Japanese soup stock called dashi, a savory sauce called tare, sake, and chicken broth. It is a wholesome dish, topped with a soft-boiled egg, fish cake, and chashu or Japanese braised pork belly. Known as one of the oldest ramens in Japan, shoyu ramen has delicate flavors that would surely satisfy your ramen craving.
Besides the savory delicacies, many sweet treats are also a part of Japanese street foods. Among these, imagawayaki, a grilled pastry with mouthwatering fillings of chocolate, red bean paste, or custard, is worth mentioning. Another one, wataame, refers to tasty cotton candy, which is a favorite among children. Trying out these diverse, delectable, and affordable street foods is a great way to introduce yourself to Japanese cuisine and desserts.
Best Traditional Japanese Street Food: Yaki Imo, Yakitori, Yakitori
Best Japanese Snack Street Food: Shioyaki, Yakisoba, Ikayaki
Best Japanese Breakfast Street Food: Kare Pan, Tamagoyaki
Best Japanese Street Seafood: Ikayaki, Tako Tamago, Takoyaki
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