This article summarizes seven of the top Japanese street foods. Food culture in Japan is huge, and visitors to the Land of the Rising Sun often arrive excited to try new dishes. But travel is expensive and eating out for every meal can put a dent in the pocketbook. The solution to eating cheap and yummy in Japan? Street food! It’s everywhere you go, it’s delicious, and inexpensive, and the perfect way to sample a variety of Japanese foods without breaking the bank. Check out our list of Japan’s top seven street foods and get your chow on!
Top Seven Japanese Street Foods
You’ve flown all the way to Japan and you’re no doubt excited about trying out all that delicious Japanese food you keep hearing about. But what happens when you are two days in and you realize how expensive it is to eat out at fancy restaurants every night. What is one to do when it’s time to tighten the purse strings? How do you eat well in Japan without breaking the bank or resorting to eating McDonald’s three times a day?
Don’t worry; it’s street food to the rescue. Japanese street food is anything but pedestrian and it’s your chance to sample regional and national delicacies in small, economical portions. You’ll find street foods served at Japan’s thousands of festivals, in the shopping arcades leading up to major shrines and in small stalls or carts on side streets. Here, Japanese street vendors are known as yatai. Their offerings are quite specialized, meaning that each cart will offer only one type of food or – at most – a very limited number of options. The upside of this is that the food is delicious!
Here, a list of seven of the must-try street foods of Japan.
These fried octopus “fritters” are popular all over Japan, but Osaka in particular is known for them! The savory, fried balls of batter are delightfully crispy and are typically filled with a mixture of octopus and green onions. Other fillings can include small pieces of tempura and ginger. They are served piping hot. (And we do mean HOT -be careful with that hot, gooey filling.) They are served with a variety of toppings such as sauces or mayonnaise and pickled ginger or vegetables and takoyaki sauce. Many first-time takoyaki-eaters are pleasantly surprised at its mild treat.
The suffix or word “yaki” in this and takoyaki refer to the fact that the food is served on a stick. Shioyaki is, simply, grilled fish on a stick. It may be simple but it’s absolutely delicious and extremely popular as a quick snack or a Side dish. Most commonly, you’ll find saba shioyaki, or mackerel. Shioyaki is traditionally served with nothing but salt to accent the freshness and the texture of the fish itself.
Dango are small, glutinous rice dumplings that are served skewered on a stick, with one order containing 4-5 dango. The most popular type of dango are mitarashi, which are covered in a sticky, slightly sweet soy-based sauce.
You will see imo, or sweet potatoes, sold at festivals and around town primarily during the colder fall and winter months. Japanese sweet potatoes, as a rule, are generally sweeter than the type that we are used to eating in America. They are served a variety of ways – one of the most popular being “university potatoes” (daigaku imo.) Daigaku imo are deep fried. They are topped with a sweet, syrupy sauce and toasted sesame seeds. The result is a uniquely crispy and sweet delight.
Whale, grilled sweet potatoes, sweet potato chips and or pan-fried sweet potatoes can also be found and are most often served with nothing more than a simple sprinkling of salt or sugar.
Yakitori, or skewered chicken, is one of Japan’s most ubiquitous street foods. You will also find it on the menu of some restaurants and izakayas (pubs). Yakitori consists of small pieces of chicken that are stacked on wooden or bamboo skewers and brushed with one of two types of sauces: tare (or simply “sauce”) and salty. The salty sauce is a savory soy-based sauce, while the tare sauce has a salty-sweet taste due to the infusion of mirin (rice wine vinegar) and sugar.
Although yakitori can be ordered with either sauce as a matter of personal preference, it is believed that certain parts of the chicken are better paired with one sauce or the other. If in doubt, a chef or server will always be happy to give your their recommendation. To ask for a recommendation in Japanese, simply use the phrase: Osusume wa naan desu ka?
Oden, like imo, is very popular in the cooler months. It’s is a type of winter stew that is simmered in a light fish-based sauce. It’s got a reputation as a type of Japanese “soul food” for its qualities of warmth and its comforting aroma. There are numerous types of oden. When it’s really cold out, you will even find vats of it sold in convenience stores!
The ingredients will vary by type but you can always expect to find some combination of vegetables and seafood. These can include everything from octopus and squash to deep fried tofu and fish dumplings or sausages. It is not served with the broth; rather, the large pieces of meats and vegetables are spooned out and then topped with additional flavorings such as dashi (dried fish) flakes or dry mustard.
If you find yourself craving a light and crispy snack, rice crackers (senbei) can’t be beat.. While conbini (convenience) stores carry pre-packaged senbei in a rainbow of colors and flavors, there is nothing like enjoying it directly from the grill! The texture of senbei is determined by the type of rice used and ranges from light and airy to a denser type. The types of senbei available are almost innumerable but two of the most common are shoy and nori flavors. The shoyu variety is simply basted or grilled with a light soy-flavored sauce while the nori type is either wrapped in a sheet of nori or has small pieces that are introduced into the batter before grilling.
Although most flavors of senbei are savory, you can – from time to time – find sweet varieties, such as the sugar-dusted zarame senbei.
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