Call us bias but Japanese street food is amongst some of the best street foods in the entire word. From world-renowned dishes such as takoyaki and sweet crepes, to lesser-known but equally delicious foods such as chocolate banana and yakisoba, you’re really spoilt for choice.
One of the best memories you’ll have in Japan is perusing through the streets, stopping by at random yatai just to try something new. Not only will you be guaranteed a feast for your senses, but the hospitality of street vendors is always warm and welcoming – just like the rest of Japan.
Japanese street food is great during any time of the year, but it is during summer that the atmosphere really comes alive! There are hundreds of matsuris (festivals) that happen around the country during summer. During these matsuris, there are usually rows and rows of yatai that set up to sell all different types of street food.
The 10 Best Japanese Street Foods
There are way too many types of Japanese street foods to try in one sitting, but if you’re game, we dare you to complete this entire list of the best Japanese street foods!
- Yaki Tomorokoshi
- Choco Banana
This famous Japanese street food dish, commonly referred to as octopus balls, is the most popular dish to try at yatai. The simplicity of this dish, quick method of cooking, and unique tastiness makes it a MUST-TRY whilst in Japan!
They are essentially small golden balls of batter filled with octopus tentacles, fried tempura bits, pickled ginger, and spring onion. They are normally topped with Japanese mayonnaise, a savoury brown Japanese sauce, nori, and bonito flakes.
They originated from Osaka and Osaka do claim theirs is the best of the best, but you can get them almost anywhere around Japan. They usually come in servings of 6-8. Whilst you’d be inclined to order maybe 1-2 pieces per person, we recommend at least 3-4.
They go way quicker than you realise!
If you want to make Takoyaki at home, we recommend you to get the Takoyaki maker that we listed in this article: Japanese cookware.
Yakisoba, like takoyaki, originated from Osaka and is considered as one of their prize dishes. We see it somewhat as takoyaki’s lesser-known cousin, but it’s equally as delicious and addictive!
Yakisoba is essentially wheat noodles (similar to hokkien-style noodles), pork slices, cabbage and onions, stir-fried with Japanese savoury sauce, mayonnaise, topped with nori, red pickled ginger, and bonito flakes. In some ways it’s similar tasting to takoyaki, but the textures are completely different.
Yakisoba is almost sold exclusively at Japanese matsuris. The smell of sizzling yakisoba in the air signifies that it is indeed the place to be at. Holding a plate of fresh yakisoba fresh from the pan whilst sitting down on the grass listening to live music is like heaven.
Ancient Japan comes alive when you take your first bite of yakiimo. This potato-based Japanese snack is hundreds of years old, and it is still enjoyed by the elderly and youths today.
Satsuma-imo, which is a particular type of Japanese sweet potato with golden filling, is baked over wood fire. The fire gives it a woody scent as you bite into the potato. The skin of yakiimo is pleasantly chewy and the potato flesh is pure fluffy goodness
It’s a simple and humble Japanese street food, but during autumn and winter, it really hits the spot!
One of the most exciting foods to eat at yatai is, of course, sweet crepes! The Japanese version of this delicious dessert is one of the most popular street food snacks, especially amongst the youth.
Japanese crepes consist of a thin batter that is cooked flat. It is then filled with delicious ingredients such as whipped cream, ice cream, vanilla custard, fresh fruits and chocolate and folded into a cone shape.
These days, there is a huge variety of flavours to choose from. You are bound to find a crepe food stall at most festivals. However, shops and malls are now also filled with crepe stores as they’ve soared in popularity.
Skewers plus a barbeque grill is pretty much a street foodie heaven. This dish is a classic Japanese must-have at festivals!
Yakitori is essentially chicken skewers that have been marinated and then grilled. The chicken pieces can range from thigh to random parts of the chicken such as its skin. It is a simple dish but it is full of intoxicating flavours.
Aside from the traditional chicken skewers, you can also get pork and beef, although chicken is the most common. Often there are also vegetarian options such as Japanese mushrooms and green onion.
When you smell the aroma of grilled chicken skewers, you know you’re in for a treat!
Deep-fried dumplings, need we say more?
Japanese gyozas are a treat for people of all ages. These deep-fried little pockets of goodness consist of a delicious mix of minced pork, green onion, cabbage, garlic ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and green chives. They are served with a side of soy sauce and vinegar.
Gyozas actually originated from China (known as jiaozi there), but the Japanese people have really taken it and made their own unique version. Traditionally eaten at izakaya and small ramen shops as a side dish, they are also a popular street food dish.
7. Yaki Tomorokoshi
Char-grilled whole corn cobs are the thing to eat at festivals. It sounds quite basic but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
For this street snack, whole corn cobs are glazed with a sweet and salty mix of soy sauce, mirin, and butter, and then grilled. The umami of this mixture makes eating this corn an interesting experience, as it’s neither too sweet nor salty, but the perfect mix of both.
This dish is at its peak popularity during summer (as corn is in season then), however, you can still find it every now and then at festivals during other seasons.
This, alongside yakiimo, is one of the healthier Japanese street food options. It’s also a great option for vegetarians!
Dango consists of cute round dumplings made from glutinous rice flour mixed with water. They are then skewered and boiled and served with either a sweet or savoury sauce. Quite often they appear white in colour but sometimes vendors make colorful ones which are aesthetically pleasing – perfect for an Instagram picture!
The most common version of dango is the mitarashi dango, which is skewered dumplings covered in a mix of soy sauce, sugar and starch.
There are also popular sweet versions such as kinano, which is when it is covered in toasted soy flour, and botchan, when it comes in three colours for three flavours: pink for red bean, green for green tea, and white for eggs.
Okonomiyaki is a delicious Japanese pancake that’s considered one of the most popular street food snacks across the country. It consists of flour, eggs, and cabbage as a base, and different toppings are added depending on what you order. They mostly include meats such as pork as well as additional vegetables.
Various regions claim to have the best style of making these, but the two most popular methods are the ‘Kansai’ and ‘Hiroshima’ styles. The former includes mixing all the ingredients together and pouring it into the grill. The latter is when the batter and other ingredients are cooked separately and served on top of yakisoba noodles – a double whammy!
10. Choco Banana
Lastly but definitely not least, the choco banana! This sweet dessert is a staple food stall dish. It is common to see yatai sell this at festivals and around on the streets.
It is a very simple type of street food. Essentially it is a whole banana which is skewered, dipped in chocolate, and then covered in sprinkles. Certain vendors will add their own little flair to it, like googly eyes, which makes this a great snack for the kids!
And there we have it, a complete list of Japanese street foods that you absolutely need to try from yatai! Some of these are a completely unique invention, and others are Japanese takes on foods you might have already eaten. Regardless, having the food made the Japanese street food-style is an experience in itself.
Have fun crossing off this list!
Wondering where to find all these foods? Check out our last articles about the 10 best street food spots in Tokyo, the 7 best street food spots in Osaka and the 6 best street food spots in Kyoto!
If you are looking for more “low calorie” Japanese food, make sure to read this article: Healthy Japanese Food.