Festivals, flea markets and community events in Japan all have one very delicious thing in common – freshly prepared street food, served piping hot! Japan is one of the best places to try local street food, as high hygiene standards mean you can go all out and try everything without worrying about the risk of contracting food poisoning. If you ever have the opportunity to try local delights, you should definitely go for these crowd favorites!
Takoyaki is a very recognisable ball-shaped savoury snack that is a true favourite among people of all ages. The round snacks are individually filled with octopus pieces, green onion and occasionally, tempura pieces. They are then brushed with Takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise, and finally bonito and seaweed flakes are sprinkled on top. Takoyaki is a specialty dish in the Kansai region, so even if you don’t have the opportunity to try street food, you can find it being sold in diners and even restaurants.
Okonomiyaki is a dish that is best described as an egg and cabbage pancake. It’s especially popular in Hiroshima and the Kansai region of Japan, where it is considered a comfort food (In fact, the name literally translates to ‘grilled how you like it’). Tokyo’s very similar version of this dish is called Monjayaki. The combination of the savoury pancake with the sauces, bonito and seaweed flakes has proven time and again to be a hot favourite among locals and tourists alike.
A festival food staple, Taiyaki is a fish shaped pancake that is traditionally filled with red bean paste, but now can often also be found with other flavours, including custard and chocolate. Taiyaki can be crispy like a waffle, or fluffy like a pancake, and how they are made really boils down to local preference. In recent times, you can even find Taiyaki shells being used as cones for ice cream! I can’t tell you how many times i had this in Japan, as they’re literally sold everywhere.
Ikayaki is not for the squirmish! It commonly refers to an entire squid grilled soy sauce and sometimes topped with additional sauces and spices, served on a stick. Some stalls also sell parts of the squid (just the tentacles, for example) so if you haven’t tried this one before, you can start out small. The chewy texture of squid is well loved all over Japan, especially coupled with a cold glass of beer or sake.
Yakitori is a type of skewered chicken dish that is sometimes grilled with scallions and onions. They come in all the possible chicken cuts- thigh, skin, cartilage and even gizzard. They can also be either savory or sweet, according to the seasoning and sauces used, as per the preference of locals in the area you are visiting. This one is a personal favourite, but really, who doesn’t love chicken on a stick?
Fun Fact: What’s With the Yaki?
As you may have noticed by now, all of these foods have ‘yaki’ in their names. Yaki basically means to grill or fry, and it’s really no wonder why these easy to cook yet absurdly delicious foods are often sold as street food. Yaki foods have truly become a beloved part of Japanese food culture!