When it comes to street food in Japan, there's a bit of a stigma regarding what Japanese street food actually is. While it's not commonly seen on every crowded street like it might be in Istanbul, or fill markets as it does in Taiwan, street food is still an essential part of Japan's cuisine - just not in the way many people think.
With that being said, there are some dishes that are quintessential to Japan and its local flavors. These are dishes that one might be familiar with along with some that take a little hunting to find but are well worth it.
Here's what to know about Japan and its delicious version of street food, and how to find it.
Japanese Street Food & The Etiquette Surrounding It
The misconception when it comes to street food, especially in Japan, is that many people walk around its streets with Takoyaki while on the run to their next stop. In reality, it's actually considered somewhat rude to walk around the street eating, which is where the confusion about 'street food' in Japan comes from. After all, isn't that the point of street food - to be able to walk around mulling while enjoying some quick, delicious eats?
While this has changed somewhat in modern times, it's still something that keeps many locals from doing so. Many food vendor stalls at Japanese markets will have signs that request that customers finish their food in front of the store from which the food was purchased. Those who purchase food from a convenience store or another local vendor often find a spot in a nearby park to eat, or simply just find a table within the shop to sit down.
However, there are some markets, according to Will Fly For Food that have accepted the eating of street food in a more traditional manner, which means walking and eating at the same time. The term for this is tabe-aruki, and it is becoming more widely accepted throughout Japan. Keeping this etiquette in mind, there are some 'street' foods that visitors absolutely much add to their list when visiting Japan.
Takoyaki: Fried Dough Filled With Octopus
Takoyaki is easily found throughout Japan, specifically in Osaka where it's practically a rite of passage to enjoy this delicious food. These are fried in large batches and consist of a light dough which is filled with chopped octopus, pickled ginger, tempura, and green onion. The batter is also made with wheat flour, which gives it a unique flavor that complements the mild octopus perfectly. These are topped with bonito flakes and Japanese mayo, adding some texture to an otherwise flawless dish.
Yakitori: A Delicious Chicken Skewer
Some say that everything is better when served on a stick and yakitori is no different. This easy snack consists of chicken that's treated on a skewer and marinated with a special sauce that's slightly sweet and salty. While the umami flavor is unreal, it's the act of grilling the chicken over a charcoal flame that really adds incredible flavor to the meat. This is a common street food that can be found throughout Japan and is also popular during festivals, as it is easy to walk around with.
Many people recognize this cute snack because of its unique fish shape. While these treats have nothing to do with fish, they are similar to a waffle that has the texture of a dense cake. Inside the fish is a surprise that usually consists of red bean paste, sweet potato, chocolate, cheese, or custard. These can also come in a more savory form and include fillings such as sausage or gyoza.
Find these from street vendors when visiting the Fushini Inari Shrine in Kyoto.
While not technically a food that can be found on the street, bento is considered a Japanese 'street' food. These can be found at convenience stores and even in Japanese vending machines! Usually consisting of multiple compartments that store things such as dumplings, rice, sandwiches, meat, or vegetables, a bento box is the perfect way to try multiple things at once - all wrapped in a nice, neat package.
That's right - ramen is another food that's technically considered a 'street' food in Japan. This fast, easy dish can be found in any ramen shop, and visitors have a choice of anything from shoyu-style to tonkatsu. With bowls of steaming broth, noodles, meat, and any number of vegetables from sprouts to bamboo shoots, ramen is a comfort food that shouldn't be missed.