In Japan, traditional cuisine is an art that nourishes both body and mind.
Delicious and tasty, the Japanese street food seduces more and more inhabitants of the Land of the Rising Sun as well as tourists from all over the world. Developed during the Edo period, to feed the provincial lords and samurais on the road, street food is nowadays very present at festivals and in busy places.
In this article, Japan Avenue reveals 10 culinary specialties that cannot be ignored, as well as some tips on how and where to enjoy them.
Short story about Japanese street food
So, have you heard about the origins of Japanese street food? In the 17th century, the Tokugawa shogunate regularly gathered its servants at the court. Thus, the warlords and their disciples, the samurai, traveled a lot to the capital. As a result, street stalls began to appear on the roadsides in order to provide the warriors with supplies on their way. This was the beginning of street vendors and mobile stalls, called yatai. Over time, the specialties of Japanese street food began to be democratized and thus street food took root in Japan, especially in the most crowded places. Popular festivals ("matsuri"), as well as the most visited places like temples and shrines are always surrounded by street food stalls. Today, Japanese food trucks are less present than in the past although they are still very numerous especially in the city of Fukuoka and during festivals.
Where to try street food in Japan?
Nakasu. Source: sudouest.fr
If street food is omnipresent in the archipelago, some places are perfectly recommended for tasting the best Japanese specialties: Want to experience those typical Japanese flavors and taste some of the most popular dishes of the country? You're at the right place!
The Ameyoko market is very well known for its street food. You will have the opportunity to discover many stalls offering a wide variety of local dishes. Also in the capital, a few steps away from the famous Nakamise Dori street in Azakusa district, Hoppy street is renowned for its small restaurants and yatai.
Local specialties in Kansai
On the island of Honshu, the city of Osaka is considered as the Mecca of Japanese street food with its numerous stalls and breweries. In addition, the prices are very attractive! Located in Nipponbashi district, Kuromon market is one of the best spots to try the local cuisine with its countless stalls of fresh products. Similarly, the Nishiki market in Kyoto is also a very famous place of Japanese gastronomy.
Fukuoka, the city of yatai
In the north of Kyushu Island, the coastal city of Fukuoka and its entertainment center Nakasu are well-known places where you can enjoy delicious Japanese food without breaking the bank.
Street food in Chubu
The ancient Omicho market in Kanazawa offers many culinary specialties such as amazake ice cream and seafood... And in the mountainous city of Takayama, the Sanmachi street proposes traditional Hida beef dishes with a good glass of sake.
Japanese street food specialties
Melting, crunchy, sparkling, fresh, and juicy: Japanese specialties have unique textures, flavors, and tastes for our Western palates to discover. Following are 10 popular dishes that are not to be missed during your trip to Japan.
1. 🐙 Takoyaki: octopus dumplings
This Japanese culinary specialty is a typical Osaka dish. "Takoyaki" literally means "grilled octopus". They are small fritters filled with octopus and covered with fried crumbs and dried bonito. It is served with takoyaki sauce (sweet and sour) and mayonnaise. Most of the time, this Japanese street food is sold in batches of 4 or 6 dumplings.
2. 🍢 Yakitori: Japanese skewers
These are grilled meat skewers made of pork belly or chicken thigh. Juicy and tender, these skewers covered with sweet soy sauce are very tasty. For the record, yakitori were served to the daimyo of Komoro castle during the Edo period. This Japanese snack is a real success in the archipelago as abroad and many variations of yakitori can be found.
3. 🍜 Yakisoba: grilled noodles
"Yaki" means "grilled" and "soba" "noodles". These stir-fried noodles soaked in yakisoba sauce have a sweet and salty toasted taste. Accompanied by thinly sliced meat (pork, chicken, beef) or vegetables (mushrooms, carrots, onions, tofu...) this inexpensive dish is often sold in yatai or served in izakaya (traditional Japanese food restaurants).
4. 🥞 Imagawayaki: pancakes for snacking
These are very popular desserts in Japan which look like pancakes topped with azuki bean paste (anko) or other sweet or salty fillings. Chocolate, matcha, curry or potato flavor... variations are numerous.
Did you know? The imagawayaki were invented in the 18th century and are named after the bridge under which they were sold.
5. 🥘 Okonomiyaki: a pancake for big hungers
Its name means "Grilled as you like it". This is a very thick Japanese pancake with a rather firm texture, made of many ingredients. The batter is filled with cabbage, egg, grilled pork, fish, seaweed, vegetables... and the whole thing is seasoned with a sweet and sour sauce called okonomiyaki sauce. A real treat!
6. 🍗 Karaage: delicious nuggets
These are fried meat or fish previously marinated in a spicy ginger sauce then rolled in corn or potato starch. The texture obtained is deliciously crispy. The most popular karaage are those made with fried chicken. This street snack, accompanied by mayonnaise sauce, is sure to please.
7. 🐟 Taiyaki: fish cake
Taiyaki stands for "cooked sea bream" in the land of the rising sun. This fish-shaped waffle is a typical Japanese pastry, traditionally filled with anko (sweetened red bean paste). This cake is also available with chocolate or fruit custard. It can be found frequently during matsuri events to the delight of festival-goers and tourists.
8. 🍡 Dango: colorful confectionery
Dango are very colorful sweets (green, pink...) served on skewers of 3 to 4 pieces. These are small balls of mochi (sweet glutinous rice) with matcha, vanilla, cherry blossom or fruit flavors, often accompanied by green tea. As a great classic of Japanese pastry, this greedy and regressive snack has also found its place in manga.
9. 🥯 Dorayaki: a sweet burger
A favorite treat of the famous robot cat Doaraemon, dorayaki is a kind of small sweet burger with two pancakes on top of each other that can be eaten at any time. What's inside? A red bean cream center or other sweet topping.
10. 🍧 Kakigori: the star of summer
Extremely refreshing, this Japanese dessert, particularly popular in summer, has crossed the borders. With its extravagant look and its endlessly declined flavors, this shaved ice even became a real hit on Instagram! Originally, kakigori was made for the nobles of the imperial court in the Heian era. It is a huge granita covered with syrup with various flavors and colors (green tea, red bean, strawberry, yuzu...). There is something for everyone!
Now that we have made your mouth water with these Japanese street food specialties, you must be very hungry! While waiting to discover them on the spot, you can find many recipes on the internet so as to cook them yourself. So, let's cook! What are your favorite dishes?