Street Snacks of Japan: Affordable munchies for a richer experience
One thing I won’t easily forget about Japan is its food. To me, everything is great—from sushi and sashimi in gourmet restaurants, noodles and curry rice ordered using vending machines, to konbini or convenience stores's chilled bento boxes and pastries, everything seems to be made with heart. But if I have to pick one that I like the most, I think I must go with the street snacks.
You don’t just buy something to chew when you decide to get a street snack. You will also buy the street, and everything upon it. The sensation of having your mouth full of Japanese signature tastes while your eyes are exposed to the local atmosphere, is incomparable.
Here, I want to share to you all about my top street snacks list, where I think it should be enjoyed, and my own experience with those delightful treats.
The true face of street snacks. Anybody will say yes to this skewer dish, because a stick or two won’t matter. Yakitori is best when you are in, or about to explore a big outdoor area. I bought this snack so many times, but my best yakitori moment was when I returned from Naritasan Temple to the station. It was late, shops were closed already, and Omotesando was 800-meter long—but my yakitori made me want to do another round of strolling the streets.
Mention other snacks that are more Japanese than Takoyaki. I bet you’ll find difficulties working out the answer. Because with this box of piping hot grilled dough balls with chopped octopus, consider yourself on your way in ticking off the Japanese street food list. Enjoying Takoyaki on the street can be really pleasant, but the ultimate experience is if you do it in Dotonbori by the Octopus statues like what I did, you would be paying tribute to the home of this snack in Osaka.
This deep-fried bite size chicken meal is usually found in restaurants, complemented with salad and rice. But did you know you can have your chicken karaage on-the-go inside a carton cup? You should try this, like when I was in Osaka Castle area. And yes, parks are the most suitable spots for karaage, where you can enjoy your pop-corn styled chicken while sitting and watching the glorious colors of autumn foliage in every shade of red, orange and yellow.
Either filled with bean paste or custard, soft dough of taiyaki deserves a spot on your snack list. And speaking about its natural home, the festive fish shaped cake can be found in many festivals or matsuri —like the weekend street fair area I experienced in the entrance of Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto.
I know, crepes are not even Japanese foods. But this crispy thin French pancake is a hot item in Harajuku, and you should do whatever it takes to be a part of Harajuku vibe. Just get one out of various filling and topping selections from numerous crepes shops there, and enjoy your Harajuku exploration at a tastier level.
Served with tea, and surrounded by highlands—that’s the best scenario you can imagine to enjoy these mochi ball skewers. And that’s what happened to me, as I got to taste these sweet dumplings on the ascent to Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto. Though not exactly on the street, the shop was by the walkway exiting the shrine, where crowds passed by and animated voices were clearly in the air.
While chadango is best enjoyed calmly on a cushioned tatami, with a scenic mountainous view around you, yomogi mochi is best treated as your adventure partner. I feasted on this snack along Sanjo-dori, Nara (just before interacting with a pack of deer), and the whole experience turned out to be my unification moment with nature.
Soft Ice Cream
Ice cream is not that special, I agree, but this timeless treat will never fail you. Especially during fall season, when matcha flavor appears to compete with common vanilla and mixed-berries flavors—and you’ll find this sweet stuff very enticing. Soft ice cream can be found in almost everywhere near tourist attractions, mostly in passageways heading to shrines. And despite the weather and other circumstances, once again, this timeless treat will never fail you.
Japan has one of the world’s richest cultures I ever known, specifically for its food. I will never regret every single yen I spent for what people might consider as “mere snacks” because it’s not just about the food itself, it’s about what was around me when I enjoyed it.
While this list aren’t even close to cover all types of Japan’s street snacks, I must say that I’m pretty satisfied with all the discoveries I made. At least I got to taste Japan's top snacks in the places where it should be enjoyed. And it added up the pleasure, for real.