9 Popular Japanese Street Foods

Street food has become extremely popular around the world, eating from small stalls and vendors and sampling the real local food of the country.

Japan is known for its intricate and delicious cuisine, making it a global foodie hotspot. Street food is key to Japan’s culinary scene as you can enjoy some of its most famous and popular dishes. Local street vendors sell all kinds of Japanese treats, from small octopus balls (takoyaki) to fried noodles, from what is known as a yata, or mobile standard.

If we take a closer look at street food in Japan, it is slightly different from other countries around the world. While you may find food trucks and stalls lining the streets, Japanese food stalls are usually associated with festivals.

Throughout the year, Japan has a large number of festivals that celebrate various historical events and seasons. In addition to these festivals, several vendors have set up their food stalls so that people can enjoy the festive celebrations with some local food. Regionally, street food is available year-round, such as in Fukuoka’s Nakasu district.

However, yata was declining because people saw it as a nightlife culture. The Japanese government wanted to remove them to become more of a luxury tourist destination. Unfortunately, passing laws meant opening a yata became increasingly difficult.

Despite this, of late, a global shift in the perception of street food has increased in popularity. In Japan, it is now seen as a way to enjoy classic Japanese dishes.

If you’re not used to Japanese cuisine, fried octopus balls and the like may seem a bit bizarre, so let’s dig into Japan’s main street food dishes.

1. Takoyaki

Takoyaki

Hailing from Osaka, known as the culinary center of Japan, takoyaki are small fried dough balls filled with grilled octopus. A batter consisting of flour, eggs and dashi (a core soup stock for Japanese cuisine), is baked in round molds. Small pieces of octopus are added to give these bite-sized octopus balls a nice chewy texture. After becoming piping hot, they are topped with kewpie mayonnaise, a specialty takoyaki sauce, and finally dried green seaweed and bonito flakes.

Lately, there have been more and more variations on the takoyaki be created. Kimchi, green onion and mayonnaise, as well as cheese are just a few examples of the versatile dish. Crunchy on the outside and warm and gooey on the inside, takoyaki is the perfect street food snack with a beer.

Specialized takoyaki restaurants can be found all over Japan, with prices ranging from about 400 to 600 yen for 8 pieces. However, these are delicious during a festival takoyaki are the perfect way to enjoy Japanese culture and cuisine!

2. Yakisoba

Yakisoba

Yakisoba is the ultimate street and festival food. Wherever you go, you will find yakisoba. Egg noodles are fried with a variety of vegetables, meat and a savory yakisoba sauce. It is usually garnished with pickled ginger (benishouga) and dried seaweed.

Often sellers top it with dried bonito flakes and a fried egg. What makes yakisoba so popular is the use of an iron teppano and the simplicity of the ingredients. The savory and umami-wrapped noodles make it the perfect dish to pair with a glass of cold beer.

Teppan is a flat metal hob widely used in Japanese restaurants. Teppanyaki is a Japanese style kitchen that uses this hob to cook an assortment of food. It was originally used to cook steaks but soon branched out to cook other ingredients such as: yakisoba. The versatility of the teppano makes it a popular choice for street food vendors.

3. Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki

Continue with the teppano style of cooking, okonomiyaki is another hit among street food lovers. Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake made from flour, eggs, cabbage and slices of pork belly. Finally, it is garnished with a variety of spices, such as a special okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise, dried seaweed and bonito flakes. However, there are endless possibilities of ingredients ranging from shrimp to kimchi.

in Japanese, okonomiyaki literally translates to okonomy (as you like it) and yaki (grill). In Hiroshima there is a unique okonomiyaki that uses yakisoba noodles and is topped with a fried egg. The mix of sweetness, saltiness and firmness makes it a huge hit with the Japanese locals.

4. Karaage

Karaage

Karaage is known as Japanese fried chicken, and people of all ages love this classic dish. you can find karaage on any izakaya (Japanese style pub), supermarket and convenience store, making it easily available just about anywhere in Japan.

Boneless, skinless, chicken thighs are marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sake, and sometimes ginger; however, there are many other seasonings that are used. It is then usually topped with potato starch, but again, each recipe has different variations on the type of flour used.

The ingredients used give the karaage its distinct and unique taste, while it goes perfectly with a slice of lemon and some mayonnaise. Every seller has a different way of marinating and frying, so every set karaage unique and fun to try. Along with a glass of cold beer, karaage is the perfect street food dish.

5. Yakitori

Japanese Skewered Chicken

Japanese Skewered Chicken is a simple dish in terms of what it consists of – chicken on a skewer. However, the delicately grilled meat requires skill and years of practice to master. It is a classic dish that can be found on izakayas, Japanese pubs, along with a nice cold beer. In some high-end places, chefs buy specialty chicken varieties for their unique taste and texture.

By using the whole bird none of the parts go to waste with a wide selection of cartilage, liver, hearts, gizzard and more. Japanese Skewered Chicken is not limited to just chicken, but can also include beef, pork, and vegetables. Usually cooks grill over charcoal, adding a smoky, barbecue flavor that makes it even more delicious.

6. Grilled Sweet Corn

Grilled Sweet Corn

This simple classic is a huge hit with street food goers. Sweet corn is simply grilled on charcoal and gives a delicious smoke and barbecue taste. While it’s being grilled, a mixture of soy sauce and butter (a popular mix in Japan) is slathered over the sweet corn, enhancing the sweetness of the corn and adding a salty punch.

7. Baked Sweet Potato

Baked Sweet Potato

When summer is over and winter sets in, sweet potato (or yaki imo) trucks come in season. Sweet potatoes are wrapped in foil and baked until sweet and tender, creating a sweet, almost candy-like flavor.

The potato’s aroma and flavor are both savory and sweet, leaving you wanting more after every bite. Food trucks often drive through the streets of the neighborhood with a bang”yaki imorepeatedly as people flock to get a piece of the sweet snack. In addition to the food trucks, there are some food stalls near local supermarkets and at local festivals.

Another variation of the simple sweet potato is daigaku imo, which translates to “university potato.” In the 20th century, sweet potatoes were cheap and filling, making it a popular snack for college students to eat, and got the name daigaku imo. Even today they are still very popular, especially in food stalls and festivals. Daigaku imo are bite-sized sweet potato pieces that have been deep fried, coated in a simple syrup and finally topped with black sesame seeds.

8. Pancakes

pancakes
credit: b.beecrepeboba

Although originally a French dessert, pancakes are an essential part of Japanese street food culture. On the streets of Harajuku, in Tokyo, food trucks started the boom of the crepe scene. Harajuku is best known as the fashion center and the kawaii (cute) culture in Japan, which led to the growth of pancakes. A standard crepe consists of whipped cream, various fruits and sauces. The crepe scene is of course about the taste, but also about which one looks the most kawaii.

Some popular unique Japanese flavors include red bean paste, mocha, and matcha. Seasonal, in the spring, cherry blossom flavors are popular and in the fall, pumpkin and sweet potato are very popular.

9. Dango

dango

dango are small round balls formed from glutinous rice flour and water, which are then cooked until firm. Three or four dangos are skewered and then topped with a variety of sweet and savory sauces or pastes.

The most popular type is: mitarashi dango, which is topped with a sweet and salty soy sauce glaze. Its contrasting taste and textures make it very popular. Other popular toppings include red bean paste and kinako (a toasted soybean meal). Furthermore, the dango itself may differ in flavors including matcha and sakura.

final

Japanese street food plays a vital role in the Japanese culinary scene. Traditionally, it has been a popular way for people to enjoy the local cuisine in the evening. While this is still present in today’s society, street food is more associated with festivals and celebrations. Nevertheless, it is still one of the best ways to enjoy some of the classic Japanese dishes.


Related: Popular Korean Street Food
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Related: Popular Japanese Dishes
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Japanese Chef & Food

Andy Cheng

Andy grew up with a Japanese mother and has extensive knowledge of Japanese culture, life and food. Originally from England, Andy began training as a chef after graduating and moved to Japan to begin his culinary journey. Aiming to run his own restaurant, he studied with Michelin-starred chef Namae Shinobu and Akihiro Nagao. He is now studying how to roast coffee in Northern Japan.

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