What I loved most about travelling Japan is the availability of snacks and food at every street corner. Now, don’t get me wrong, food is nice and all, but what we really travel for is the sights and culture, right?
Let’s not kid ourselves. We’re all in for the food. And the pictures.
That’s what I travel for, but don’t tell anybody!
Here are 10 Japanese street snacks I tried out and loved. I hope next time you find yourself in Japan, you’ll cut back on the Pocky and try something new. I mean, how much Pocky can one really have? (Don’t ask me)
1. matcha drinks
If aliens ever do invade, I hope they decide to kill me with a matcha overdose. I can pretty much live on matcha-anything for the rest of my life and probably wouldn’t complain, so imagine my great excitement in Japan at the sight of so many delicious, unique varieties! I told you it was all about the sights and culture… Now for the culture bit, this matcha red bean frappe is from Tsujiri Tea House, founded in Kyoto over 150 years ago. This guy, Riemon Tsuji, was a pretty big deal in the tea industry at the time, credited for devising new ways of enhancing the sweetness and flavours of green tea. You can even find his statue if you wander around the streets of Kyoto long enough!
This popular Japanese street snack, which originated in Osaka, is a pan-cooked wheat ball, filled with octopus and topped with tempura, ginger and green onion. It is a bit fishy, so don’t say you haven’t been warned! If you’re lucky enough, you’ll find a vendor that manages to form / roll over the balls in milliseconds, with a speed faster than you running away from your problems – which is pretty impressive to say the least. Say I ain’t right!
3. sweet potato fries
Believe it or not, sweet potatoes are a big thing in Japan. There are many different variations with unique seasonings you can buy off street vendors in markets throughout the country. A popular version is called ‘daigaku imo,’ which translates to ‘university potato’ and originated as a snack served at student fairs held on campuses. The neat thing about it is that they are even sweeter than normal, being candy coated! I know what you’re thinking, but hey, it was all in the name of celebrating the start of a new year, so why not take on the extra calories? The looming stress of exams will take care of bouncing you back in shape anyways! There’s a theory for everything..
Don’t confuse it with matcha, because although equally delicious, they are two completely different things. What if I told you there is matcha motchi? (Say that out loud, fast, five times if you wanna scare your cat.) Mochi is a glutinous rice wonder cake, which can be filled with all kinds of delicious paste or fruits, found in ice cream and drinks or served by itself as a pastry or dessert. I love the ones with fresh fruits inside, especially the cold mochi filled with strawberries! Did you know that a matchbox-sized mochi treat has the same amount of calories as a bowl of rice? Their high energy content is one of the reasons why samurai used to consume mochi in battles throughout history.
For all of you manga fans, no further explanation is necessary. I know we’d all love to find someone who can look at us the way Doraemon looks at dorayaki (picture below). Goals. For those who don’t know, this is a type of Japanese pancake with various sweet fillings. During spring of every year, you can try the famous cherry blossom filling. Mind you, it’s very sweet. I would recommend having it served with some cold green tea, in order to relax your taste buds. You can find packaged dorayaki in many Japanese confectionary shops, however for first timers, I would encourage you to consume it hot and have it made fresh.
P.S. It just dawned on me, but Doraemon might just be my spirit animal!
6. agedashi tofu
This isn’t your typical tofu dish! It’s a thousand times more delicious! Agedashidōfu is lightly-fried tofu, topped with grated daikon white radish, katsuobushi (dried bonito tuna flakes), green onion and ginger. The combination of flavours are so balanced that it feels like such a light, yet filling dish. I remember having to go for seconds just because it was that good!
7. okonomiyaki cracker
This simple snack consists of a shrimp cracker topped with okonomiyaki sauce, tenkasu flour batter, fried egg and mayo. Okonomi actually means ‘as you like it’ in Japanese, so this dish is the definition of on-the-go and easily customizable. I really admire how the Japanese are able to add simple, cooked, staple foods (e.g. eggs) to snack-like bases (e.g. crackers) and turn it into something akin more to a meal rather than a snack. Rest assured, you will never go hungry!
8. udon noodles
The chewy texture of udon makes these noodles my absolute favourite. They are extremely easy to make and can be consumed both hot or cold, by themselves, or as part of soup or other dishes. When visiting Japan, you’ll realize soon enough that udon is almost like a staple dish; wherever you go, you can find a parlour specializing in udon dishes! What I loved most about it, is how due to its popularity, availability and relatively cheap cost, these noodles became synonymous to ‘street food,’ which is pretty nice, if I may add.. Who wouldn’t want a hot pick-me-up while on the go, especially during the winter months? This particular udon bowl (pictured below) was served from a vendor in a market in Kyoto. You could eat anywhere, including standing up, before returning your cutlery and getting back ‘on the road.’
9. karaage chicken
These deep-fried chicken bites are worlds apart from your usual KFC nuggets. They are pieces of chicken breast with a crispy outer layer and extremely juicy and tender meat on the inside. To be honest, this deserves a spot on the list only because you need to try it in order to taste the difference. It’s such a popular comfort food item that there are entire sake bars which pretty much only serve that and karaage. What can I say? I assume it goes down well with a cold beer…
10. kintsuba sweets
What is most unique about this sweet bean paste dessert, is that most likely, it will be produced right there in the shop, in front of your eyes. If you’re like me, this sweet treat will also be consumed right there in the shop. Good things in life can’t wait; that seems to be my new mantra nowadays.. Historically, this dessert was reserved for the aristocracy, but due to the commercialization that took place during the Edo period, it became more widespread to the general public. It comes prepared in different flavours, from sweet potato, to sesame or chocolate. Presently, kintsuba is a popular accompaniment at tea ceremonies or something that you would give as a gift to your great-aunt when you go visit. For me, it was a gift to myself – because, quite frankly, you need to be generous to yourself before anyone else, eh..
And a bonus treat…
11. deer cookies
These cookies are a combination of crispy, sweet and chewy! Just kidding, don’t eat those. But do buy them for the cute (and extremely respectful) deer in Nara when visiting. Talking about being generous towards others, that’s your chance. And you might just get a bow. And then you’ll ponder how these deer are more polite than most people there. That’s why the aliens will invade, and that’s why the deer will be saved :P.
Happy nom nom nom.
© maki @ justhungry.com | Mochi, New World Encyclopedia