10 Japanese Street Food You Cannot Miss During Your Trip to Japan
One of the most important parts of traveling in Japan is tasting local street food! Once you learn to accept the local food, you learn to accept the uniqueness of the place. I have been living in Japan for 2 years now and I am in absolute love with the Japanese street food. Accepting and liking the Japanese cuisine is hands-down the major contributor to this. Here are some dishes which helped me relish the flavors of Japan.
#1 The Most Popular Japanese Street Food – Ramen
Ramen is definitely one of the most loved Japanese street food in Japan. Originally a Chinese dish, it is adopted quite well in Japan. This wheat noodle soup is oishi (delicious) and inexpensive at the same time. Ramen is differentiated based on the soup. The common ones are Shoyu (soy sauce), Shio (salt), Miso , and Tonkotsu (pork stalk). You also get to pick the type of noodles you prefer. The noodles are differentiated based on their thickness and firmness.
Now comes the best part, the toppings! Each bowl has at least 3-4 toppings amongst chashu (pork slices), menma (salty bamboo shoots), moyashi (bean sprouts), kamaboko (fish cake), tamago (boiled egg), corn, butter, spring onion, etc. I usually look for the chef’s recommendations and have not been disappointed even once. My favorite still remains tonkotsu ramen and Hokkaido miso butter ramen.
Ramen shops are clustered around the train station and its basements and almost at every corner around the station. Ramen is a fast food so you are meant to eat quickly and leave 😛 It is not a place for relaxed conversations or dates. At busier locations, you’d find only standing ramen places. Although the tourists’ flood to Ippudo or Ichiran for the novelty of it, the locals prefer the regular outlets. These ramen shops are the ones who use a vending machine for placing an order. If you loved your ramen, you can finish all your soup as a compliment to the chef (Be aware, ramen soup usually contains a lot of salt!). The most important thing! It is fully acceptable to make a slurping sound your noodles while eating 🙂
#2 Yakitori – A Yummy Take-away
Simply put, Yakitori is a grilled chicken skewer. It can be made from different chicken parts, such as thighs, breasts, liver, or innards. Each skew comprises several small bite-sized pieces and is grilled over a charcoal fire.
Savory seasoning flavors all twist together while sitting on the top of the flame of charcoal. It gives such a strong kick to the taste that caresses your mouth at every single bite.
There are some variations of this mouthwatering finger food though. The most common type of Yakitori is Negima, a skewer of grilled chicken thighs featuring a few leeks in between.
Other than that, Tsukune is another must-try style of Yakitori, a mixture of minced chicken balls, eggs, and veggies. A glass of ice-cold beer is the best companion to pair with Yakitori. This Japanese street food is widely available at the festive food stands and sold at a very reasonable price.
You can also find it in a Japanese specialty restaurant called Yakitori-ya. You can check out Torishiki, one of Japan’s most sought-after Yakitori spots with a remarkable Michelin star achievement.
For those who are intimidated by the Japanese dining etiquette, rest your worries because all you need to do is eat Yakitori straight from the skewers.
#3 Okonomiyaki – Create Your Own Dish with This Tasty Street Food in Japan
If you’re looking for a hearty bite to get your day started, Okonomiyaki is that one street food you’ve got to try in Japan! As a signature street food in Hiroshima and Osaka, Okonomiyaki is a round pan-fried dish with a bed of cabbage and a full-on mixture of toppings.
“Okonomi” literally translates to “as you like”, which indicates that you can decorate the batter with a wide range of ingredients to your liking. Meat, seafood, and cheese are the most common toppings that you can choose from.
Okonomiyaki is a fun, crowd-pleasing cuisine in Japan, as you can cook the dish yourself in some of the specialty restaurants. Sakuratei is a great place in Japan that allows you to test your cooking skills on a personal “teppan,” a traditional Japanese iron griddle.
#4 Takoyaki – Let an Octopus Ball Caress Your Mouth!
Speaking of the best Japanese street food, Takoyaki never falls out of the chart! Thanks to how tasty and chewy every bite is, this summer dish has taken the world by storm. The best part of the food comes from the grilled octopus nesting inside every pan-fried ball.
The gooey interior plays its role as the backbone for the crispy exterior. All that’s left is a lingering blissful aftertaste that gets you to ask for more.
Watching the chef swish the ball batter atop the hot griddle before they are doused in the tangy rich sauce is another fun part of the dish. Last but not least, the Katsuobushi fish flakes are then sprinkled all over to invite you to grab some more!
Kougaryu is a top-class restaurant in Japan offering authentic Takoyaki dishes. The restaurant is located in Amerikamura, Osaka, and is widely featured in many travel magazines and TV shows.
#5 Soba – Traditional Japanese FAST Food, Eat While You Wait for Your Train
These buckwheat noodles are enjoyed hot as well as cold. Soba dishes are served with a soup or with a dip. Mori soba, boiled cold noodles, eaten with soya-based dips. However, kake soba is dipped in hot soup, usually dashi (fish stalk). There are different varieties which can be enjoyed hot as well as cold. Amongst these my favorites are tororo soba, kitsune (topped with deep fried tofu) soba, and tanuki (topped with tempura bits) soba.
Soba is simple, light and fresh street food and it’s popular as it can be handy and eaten quickly when you are a little hungry. Soba stalls can often be found on the platforms at train stations!
#6 Bento – It’s Not Just a Lunchbox! It’s an Art!
Bento is a sensational Japanese lunch box that usually comes in a well-crafted decoration. This is a perfect example of how smart and attentive the Japanese can be.
Bento lunchbox is a complete meal with a variety of ingredients, tastes, and shapes. Essentially, each bento box includes daily food such as rice, meat or fish, and vegetables. It is inspired by Japanese mothers whose sole purpose is to prepare a full-on and eye-catching meal for their husbands and little ones.
Each box is neatly packed to take full advantage of the inner space. It’s not hard to find ready-made bento boxes in every convenience store in Japan today. This type of bento is known as Marukonouchi bento, divided into two sections. One side contains rice, while the other side is filled with side dishes to accompany the rice.
#7 Karaage – Popcorn Chicken for Fried Food Fanatics
Who wants some chicken fritters? Karaage is one of Japan’s most fabulous fried foods to have taken the world by storm. You may find it similar to American chicken popcorn but this originated entirely in Japan.
The best part about Japanese fried snacks is that they’re not that greasy compared to what you have sampled in the West. Japanese fried food is crispy to make you indulge your crunchy cravings but light enough to retain the intended flavor of the dish.
In Japan, karaage is dipped in potato starch before sliding into a pool of boiling oil. Plain karaage often gives off ginger and garlic notes when served plain. Karaage also comes along with miso soup and rice.
#8 Oden – A Cozy Treat for The Winter Days
If you ask me what kind of street food you’ve had in Japan to warm you up from the inside during the chilly winter months, my answer is definitely Oden.
As the favorite winter treat in this land of sunrise, Oden is a steaming hot mixture of fish cakes, tofu, eggs, vegetables, and konnyaku (thread konjac).
Oden is a comfort food that uses the savory, simmered dashi broth to treat frostbites. This delicacy comes in multiple variations from region to region.
In Tokyo, for example, the broth is salty, as it is simmered with dark soya sauce. The Osaka version is inclined towards a hint of sweetness as light soy sauce is used for the base.
You’ll find Oden offered by a street food vendor, at a convenience store, or an Izakaya restaurant (a Japanese-style pub).
#9 Nikuman – A Chinese-influenced Delicacy
You can refer to Nikuman as meat bun in English, inspired by a Chinese steamed bun that was once sold exclusively in Chinatown.
Not until 1927 did the Japanese inherit this delicious dough bun and turn it into the famous street food in Japan.
Like Oden, Nikuman becomes a hot seller in winter, even though you can grab a bite of this steaming hot piece at any time of the year. Most people head straight to a convenient store and order Nikuman as a quick take-away. However, if you’re looking for an authentic traditional type of bun, we highly recommend that you choose a specialty restaurant. All the buns are freshly made and the stuffing will blow you away.
Along with these, there are onigiri, curry, udon, and many more you can enjoy. Japanese cuisine (和食, washoku) offers an abundance of gastronomical delights with a boundless variety of regional and seasonal dishes as well as international cuisine. A foodie will not return disappointed after trying all these street foods in Japan!
#10 Shioyaki – Quintessence from the Sea
Simple and flavorful, Shioyaki is a grilled fish skewer that often uses mackerel as the most common variation. This Japanese cuisine is a healthy and fresh treat, as it is seasoned with salt only to enhance the pure flavor of the fish.
Like many other street foods in Japan, Shioyaki is a festive, crowd-pleasing food. Mackerel is usually seen as the main ingredient of the dish because of its wide availability off the coast of Japan. Yet there is another hearty variation known as Taino Shioyaki.
Taino Shiokyaki can be translated into “salt-grilled sea bream” and served as a delicious part of Japan’s traditional New Year’s Eve party. If you’re a fish lover, we highly recommend Sabar restaurant if you want to find a good serving of Shioyaki. This specialty restaurant is located between Daikanyama Station and Ebisu Station.
Where to Get the Best Street Food in Japan
Trying out street food is an absolute must when travelling around Japan. Although there are plenty of delicious dishes to try in restaurants around the country, such as ramen and sushi, street food has its own unique quality that makes it irresistible.
At first, finding street food in Japan might seem difficult, but it’s easy if you know where to look. The best places to find street food are at markets, festivals, and traditional shoutengai (shopping streets). There, you might find delicious noodle dishes like yakisoba, or fried delights like takoyaki (battered balls with octopus).
Here, we’ll take a look at some of the best places to get delicious Japanese street food in Tokyo and Osaka. These cities are well-known for having lots of different street food options and small family-run stalls, so they’re the best place to start. But you can find street food in other regions too, so you can use these cities as a starting point to get to know your Japanese street food!
Where to Eat Japanese Street Food in Tokyo
Tokyo is an amazing place for any foodie. The huge city is absolutely packed with tons of tiny restaurants and bars everywhere you look. But it’s also a great place to find funky food stalls and takeout joints that you can’t find anywhere else.
Your first image of street food might be small moving stalls that only stay around for a short while. While those temporary stalls do exist at Japan’s festivals, the more common type of street food is actually served from a permanent store with a small window to receive your food from.
One of the quirky things about Japan is that people don’t usually eat while walking, or eat in the street. It’s sort of an unspoken rule. So you’ll usually find seats just outside the store, or perhaps inside, where you can have a quick bite. Otherwise, people will likely stand right outside the store to eat their food. Usually, there’s no reason you can’t eat and walk, but do be careful and make sure you don’t bump into anyone with your piping hot takoyaki!
Ameya Yokocho (AKA Ameyoko)
Ameyoko in Ueno is possibly the most famous place to get street food in Tokyo. Its full name is Ameya Yokocho, which means candy store alley, but many names in Japan are shortened for ease, so most people call it Ameyoko.
Here, you can get a wide variety of different cuisines. Of course, there is a lot of candy here, like at the huge candy store Niki no Kashi, but there is also Chinese, Korean, and Thai food everywhere. Walking down the lively streets, you’ll feel like you’re at a market, because there is plenty of fresh and rare produce being sold. You’ll have to wander around to find the street food goodies, but one of the fun ones to try is the simple fruit stick at New Fruit. The delicious seasonal fruits of strawberries or melons will call to you!
If you’re looking for something more filling, don’t worry, you’ll find plenty of fried and meaty food here, too. There are takoyaki, freshly fried chicken karaage (fried chicken), yakitori (grilled chicken skewers), and various Chinese street food options, too. Stay a little longer and get some drinks at a standing bar!
Tsukiji Fish Market
This one might sound a little strange to some. Why is there “street food” at a fish market?! But in Japan, this is quite common. The idea is that you’re not going to get fish as fresh as this anywhere else, so why not eat it then and there?
Some of the fishy favourites are grilled eel skewers at Nisshin Tasuke, or grilled tuna skewers with a delicious glass of beer to wash it down at Higashi Indo Maguro Shokai. Look out for steamed scallops and oysters around here, too, because you won’t find them fresher or cheaper elsewhere!
If you’ve overdone it on the fish, though, there are other Japanese street food options at Tsukiji Fish Market too. You can try tamagoyaki (thick omelette) on a stick, matcha ice cream, or even a crispy fried meat cake.
Harajuku is most widely known for its crazy colours and cosplay lovers, but it’s also a great place to try Japanese street food. The street food in Harajuku isn’t too crazy either, so it’s easier for international visitors to get used to. No unknown fish or strange meat options here!
The place to get street food in Harajuku is on Takeshita-dori. The street is popular among young women, so most of the street food here caters to that market, with photo-worthy colourful snacks and sweets. The most well-known type of street food, and the easiest to find, are the crepes. There are a lot of crepe stalls all along the street, offering to pack your crepe to the brim in a cone shape. You can get the classic cream and fruit or savoury options, or go big and order one with an entire slice of cheesecake inside!
Some other fun options are the rainbow grilled cheese, with different colours of cheese that stretch out in front of you, the “tornado potato” at Long! Longer!! Longest!!!, or the animal ice cream cones at Eiswelt Gelato. Just wandering down this street, you’ll find so much to eat, so take your time.
Yanaka Ginza Shoutengai
We mentioned that shoutengai are a good place to get your hands on some tasty Japanese street food. The Yanaka Ginza Shoutengai is a great example of that.
The shopping street is actually nowhere near the costly Ginza area, and is locted next to Nippori station. There are plenty of family-owned shops to do some bargain hunting here, but of course a major reason to visit is for their street food.
Your first stop should be Manekiya for their adorable cat shaped taiyaki, a pancake-like sweet filled with red bean paste, custard, or matcha flavours. Another popular spot is Niku no Suzuki, for their warm and freshly fried meat croquettes. But you’ll also find other options with a home-cooked vibe, like more takoyaki, and fried onigiri rice balls.
Nakamise Dori in Asakusa
A popular place for travellers looking for Japanese street food and a traditional Japanese atmosphere is Asakusa’s Nakamise Dori. The scenic street makes its way up to a large traditional shrine, so many visit the area simply to take pictures or pay their respects. But the street and the streets around it are absolutely packed with delicious Japanese street food, too!
One of the best snacks on the street is the age manju, which is a deep-fried, filled mochi, which you can find at Asakusa Kokonoe. Another popular item is the ningyo yaki which gets its name from its doll shape. Each item is baked before your eyes in a variety of fun shapes, like the pagoda at the temple itself. You’ll also find various other fried goods like menchi katsu (deep fried minced meat), and sweets like little traditional candies.
Where to Eat Japanese Street Food in Osaka
Now let’s take a trip further south to continue our street food adventures. Osaka is in Japan’s south-western region called Kansai, whereas Tokyo is located in an area called Kanto. Historically, Kanto and Kansai have always been rivals when it comes to food, with each saying that their way of doing things is much tastier! There are plenty of dishes unique to each region, but there is also a lot of crossover, too. A fun idea for a Japan trip is to try out the flavours in one region and compare them to the other – who do you think will win?
Just like in Tokyo, there are a few interesting streets and markets where you can get Japanese street food. These areas make for a great pit-stop on an Osaka tour after exploring what the city has to offer. You can visit the various museums, temples, shrines, and even the castle, and then reward yourself with a delicious bite of Osaka street food.
Dotonbori is a famous tourist spot in Osaka, well-known for its scenic river and the lively store fronts that light up the night.
When it comes to Osaka street food, there is one thing that the locals always say you must try. That’s the takoyaki. We’ve mentioned takoyaki a few times already, as the octopus balls are one of Japan’s most common street food. But they’re also the most common point of rivalry between Kansai and Kanto! The Osaka ones are supposedly more salty and umami, in comparison to the slightly sweeter Tokyo ones, so try them out and see which ones your like more.
For bite-sized standing street food, you can also try yakisoba noodles, freshly fried crab, and tasty gyoza dumplings. But there are also a lot of sit-down options for a quick bite, such as for ramen, kushi katsu fried meat skewers, and yakitori grilled chicken.
Kuromon Ichiba Market
Kuromon Ichiba Market is a covered market street that is great for rainy days. It’s often called “Osaka’s Kitchen” because many professional and amateur cooks get their supplies and ingredients here, but it’s also a haven for great street food.
Of course, there are the famous takoyaki here, but a local favourite is the grilled scallops, because the market is well-known for its fresh seafood. Following on with more fish, there is also the takeaway sushi at Corner Stall that offers generous portions of tuna sushi.
At Kuromon Ichiba Market you’ll also find various home-cooked style items, including meat skewers and oden, a hotpot with various ingredients. Look out for the grilled chestnuts in autumn and winter, too!
Ebisubashi-suji Shopping Street
The Ebisubashi bridge is a famous landmark in Osaka that goes across the scenic river. Here, if you can tear yourself away from marvelling at the city lights, you’ll find various signs for street food and standing bars.
One of the most popular types of street food here is the pork buns, often considered the soul food of Osaka. They’re warm and soft, making them perfect for a chilly night by the river.
The shopping street is actually within Dotonbori, an area we’ve covered above, but it is considered one of the best places to get fresh street food in the area, so make sure to visit and try out the different dishes.
Hozenji Yokocho makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, walking along the cobbled streets and visiting the traditional temple. So, it’s no surprise that there are some tasty and traditional options for food here too.
This area is not so much known for its food that you can grab and eat as you walk, but rather, has a variety of casual dining options that serve fresh food quickly.
One of the most popular dishes can be found at Meoto Zenzai, which serves a sweet red bean soup with soft mochi rice cakes. There are also a lot of savoury options, like kushi katsu (deep fried meat on skewers), okonomiyaki (thick savoury pancakes), and teppanyaki (hotplate grilled food). Here you can even find warming duck nabe (hotpot), which is pretty rare in Japan!
Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shotengai
Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shotengai is known for its annual festival called the Doguyasuji Festival, where you’ll find even more street food available than usual. But during the rest of the year, there are still plenty of tasty options to choose from.
Outside of the festival period, you won’t find many stalls or instant takeout options, but you will find quick and cheap (and very tasty) small restaurants. Here, one of the most popular options is to get a warming bowl of udon noodles. Udon noodles are thick and springy, and perfect for the cooler seasons.
You can also find a shabu-shabu meal for one at Shabuchin Namba. Shabu shabu is a dish usually meant to be shared, but this spot specialises for solo customers. You’ll also find the Osaka classics, like kushi katsu and okonomiyaki. So don’t be afraid to peek your head in to a restaurant and try out something new!