You may be familiar with the standard selections of traditional Japanese dishes you see at Japanese restaurants in America. But if you haven’t had the chance to try authentic Japanese street foods, then you’re missing a real treat.
In recent years, the Japanese street food culture has become lively, diverse, and brimming with umami. Street foods can be found in abundance during the many festivals that take place in Japan throughout the year, where vendors sell a wide range of sweet and savory fare. Some of the dishes may appear strange to the uninitiated, but the smells and flavors will soon delight your senses.
Some of these foods will be difficult to find in the United States, but if you’re ever in a major Japanese city during one of its many festivals, you’ll get the chance to try some, if not all, of the following 10 popular Japanese street foods.
You’ve never truly enjoyed octopus until you’ve sampled takoyaki. A favorite Japanese comfort food as well as a popular street food, takoyaki refers to pieces of octopus fried up in a ball of batter which also contains ginger and green onions. You enjoy them with a special sauce and mayonnaise, and the end result is divine fishy goodness.
A common appetizer on menus, gyoza are also quite popular at festivals. The small dumplings contain a mixture of ground pork, ginger, garlic, green onions, and soy sauce. The Japanese street foods vendors, called yatai, offer the gyoza deep fried with a dumpling dipping sauce made from vinegar and soy sauce.
Also commonly found on menus in Japanese restaurants, you’re bound to be familiar with yakitori— simple skewers of grilled chicken. In Japan, you find quite a few additional ingredients on skewers, including beef tongue, chicken gizzards, and small pork intestine. The yakitori typically comes with a savory-sweet sauce or simple salts.
Perhaps a worthy equivalent to America’s funnel cake, kare pan is a deep fried dough containing a filling of rich Japanese curry. The sweet, crispy outside and savory inside makes for a wonderful umami combination.
Somewhat similar to yakitori, yet these skewers contain fish rather than meat. Shioyaki translates to “cooked with salt.” Shioyaki typically includes ayu, sweetfish, seasoned with salt. You often see shioyaki at street festivals and/or on boardwalks by the ocean.
These Japanese pancakes contain a number of ingredients consisting of both vegetables, meat, or both. The pancake batter is mixed with the ingredients and poured on the grill, and the savory result is a comforting dish topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, and bonito flakes.
Boiled round dumplings made from a mixture of glutinous rice flour and water, these mochi balls are served on skewers with a variety of dipping sauces. Dango often comes with kinako, healthy soybean flour. Thus, dango is not only tasty, but also healthy!
Yaki Imo is a baked Japanese sweet potatoes. It’s a typical street snacks from autumn to winter. Just like everybody knows that ice cream truck song, yaki imo truck has its own music. When you hear the song in Japan, you feel the beginning of the fall.
Obviously not a Japanese invention, but a favorite food sold by the yatai during festivals in Japan. The crepes are wrapped into a cone and contain a variety of ingredients, including sweet azuki beans and whipped cream, grilled chicken and teriyaki sauce, or mixed fruits. Crepes have become so popular in Japan that there are actually thousands of crepe trucks, shops, and street vendors throughout the country.
These whimsical cakes are in the shape of a fish and filled with a variety of sweet or savory ingredients. Delicious fillings include chocolate, red bean paste, custard, or cheese. This is a perfect snack when you are craving something sweet.