In order for a travel destination to be awesome, it has to have amazing food. Tokyo street food didn't disappoint. Street food is always a bonus because it usually comes cheap, freshly made in front of your eyes and it tastes delicious. I am one of those foodie travellers and throughout my adventures, I found an interesting correlation. If a place I visited didn’t have good food, or the restaurants were way too expensive for the quality I got, I ended up liking the destination less.
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Tokyo Street Food
When it comes to Japan's capital, Tokyo street food is amazing! There is absolutely no doubt about it: Tokyo is the best place on Earth for the foodie soul. There are more restaurants per capita than in any other city on this great planet of ours, which translate to fantastic food, great culinary dedication and some of the most incredible street food I’ve ever got to try. Get a 7 day Tokyo itinerary and indulge yourself in Tokyo’s best street food.
I still remember how reticent I was in trying this. At first glance, I saw some sticky ball with lots of powdery “stuff” all over it. I was like, no thank you, I don’t know what that is and don’t really want it. But the Japanese vendor just handed me one of this mystery (apparently edible) things and encouraged me to try. I couldn’t refuse the smiley man now, could I? I armed myself with courage and tasted it. I thought one small bite won’t kill me. And that’s when the magic happened. Oh My GOD! This weird item (which is called a dango by the way) turned out to be one of my absolute favourite desserts in this whole world. Suffice to say I bought 4 more for the road. WOW, Japan. You and your amazing dangos!
The Okonomiyaki has become a phenomenon even in the Western countries. Japan managed to make us fall in love with yet another one of their famed (and very simple) dishes. The Okonomiyaki is nothing more than a type of pancake carefully crafted with leftovers. Of course, when you buy it in a restaurant or from a food stall, you won’t actually get the leftovers. This came about in Japanese families who (rightfully so) didn’t want to throw away perfectly good food which was left over from other dishes. So they created a layered pancake with batter, lettuce, bamboo shoots, egg, bacon, seafood, meat and served with nori, ginger, tonkatsu sauce and sometimes Japanese mayo and fishy.
I was in Harajuku when I first discovered the Japanese crazy crepes. No, I didn’t name them crazy, this is their actual name. Why? I have no idea, probably because you have to be crazy not to try them? The Japanese crepes are a marvellous dessert invention on this planet. Yes, even more so than the dango! Imagine a thin layer of perfectly cooked batter, filled with cream, matcha cake, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, kiwis, mangoes, chocolate sprinkles, ice cream and so much more. Are you drooling? Don't blame you! There are countless variations and they cost something like £3. Be warn though! Once you eat one, you will never be the same again, you will become a Japanese Crazy pancake addict. I should form a secret society. Who’s in?
Cotton candy (watame)
I don’t get it, how come that all these Japanese people are so incredibly skinny when all they eat is sweets upon sweets? The Watame is yet another example of how amazing life on the Tokyo streets really is: this is essentially cotton candy pre-bagged and available to buy virtually anywhere. I found some whilst strolling through Ueno. It was pink, fluffy and delicious.
This is grilled squid on a stick. I tried this in the Tsukiji market for the first time, then found it all over in the Shinjuku neighbourhood. It goes without saying that you have to like seafood to enjoy this, but since I adore squid and octopus more than anything else, you can imagine how much I recommend this simple dish. It’s usually served with some sauce on it. (I actually don’t know the type of sauce, it’s similar to soy, but a bit sweeter? Maybe you can help me if you know more about this?)
Baked sweet potatoes or Yaki Imo are cooked over wood fire. Usually, these are sold in a truck which goes around the neighbourhoods screaming “yaki imo”. Very similar to our ice cream vans in the UK for example. I would sure rather buy a healthy baked sweet potato as opposed to a calorie-packed ice cream. I bought one of these baked sweet potatoes and actually, they were incredibly delicious, especially because of the exquisite taste it acquired due to it being baked over a wood fire. Yum!
This is essentially a Japanese rolled omelette served on a stick with roe over it. I tasted this at the Tsukiji market and absolutely fell in love with it. I’ve started making it at home for breakfast and it’s now one of my favorite morning dishes.
When I was a little girl, me and mum used to buy grilled or boiled corn when visiting the seaside. It was almost like one of those cute family traditions for us. We loved walking on the beach, chilling by the sea and admiring the sunset whilst munching on corn on the cob. It probably sounds a bit weird to you, but I am still really fond of those memories. Tomorokoshi is grilled corn on the cob served on a stick of course, with a bit of miso, soy sauce, butter and salt. When I saw this in Tokyo, my heart skipped a beat in excitement as I immediately thought of mum and our time spent at the seaside. I must say though, the Japanese version of corn on the cob is the most delicious I have tried so far.
Yakitori is basically a Japanese skewer with chicken or seafood and vegetables. You can find Yakitori everywhere in Tokyo but here’s what I recommend: go to the Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane or Piss Alley) in Shinjuku, because that’s where you will find the best yakitori. You are welcome.
First time I ate this, I was most excited to run to a nearby vending machine and buy 5 litres of water! Shioyaki is a baked mackerel served, you guessed it, on a stick. It’s so salty, you will honestly feel as if you just ate one kilo of salt in one bite. If you are not into salty stuff, then probably skip this one, but otherwise, it’s really delicious (in small quantities).
Ok, there is something rather awesome about grabbing a large portion of fried soba noodles and eating it on a bench in Ueno Park. I don’t know why, but I loved that so much. I didn’t feel weird, eating in a park, I actually loved it. Many people do it in Tokyo, so it’s perfectly fine. The only thing you need to know about eating yakisoba as street food? Make sure you know how to handle your chopsticks as otherwise, your outfit will become a yakisoba plate.
Tsukune is a type of chicken meatball served in a very similar manner as they yakitori. This is something I tried in Shinjuku and I really liked it. Although I found this type of street food in Shinjuku and Ueno Park, it’s also possible to enjoy it as part of a larger dish in a restaurant.
The Japanese know how to sell you things alright, take the Taiyaki for example: a pretty little fish-shaped cake filled with custard, chocolate or savoury cheese. I personally prefer the custard version, but they are all equally amazing. It looks super cute and delicious. I found this in Harajuku, where you will find Japan’s kawaii packed in a few streets.
Whilst meandering around Ueno, I came across this food stall selling lots of handmade mochi. I particularly loved the sakura and matcha tea flavoured ones. You can usually find mochi with red bean paste, but I’m a sucker for green tea so I always go for the green matcha goodies. I can eat 10+ mochies without blinking, although, given the high content of sugar, I probably shouldn’t.
This is another Tokyo street food favourite which becomes very addictive, very quickly. Takoyaki is a Japanese ball shaped batter, filled with bits of grilled octopus. You can also call it Octopus Dumplings if you wish. It’s a really cheap and satisfying snack, usually served with sauce, mayo, nori and green onion. It’s fun to see the way the street food vendors cook the octopus balls, it’s a lot of fun.
I was surprised to see street food vendors selling cucumbers on a stick. This is a type of street food usually served during the summer months as it’s cooling and refreshing. What a great idea, right? They are served with some miso paste on them. You might be sceptical now, but after the first bite, you’ll be going back for more green cooling cucumbers on a stick.
There is no trip to Tokyo without allocating time to eating lots and lots of gyoza. I like the prawn gyoza the most as I find them less heavy. Of course, you can find tons of dedicated gyoza restaurants in Tokyo, but I really enjoyed eating them as street food from street sellers. They were always made to perfection and oh, so delicious.
Red bean paste cakes
Sure you remember me telling you about those cute fishy shaped cakes. Well, the red bean paste cakes are very similar to the Taiyaki, only that they are cute cartoons, animations, kittens or robot shaped. They are usually quite tiny and very yummy. They make the perfect snack in between meals. I reckon those should be sold as part of a bento box, as they look so incredibly appetizing and super fun.
There is a ton of Japanese street food to be enjoyed in Tokyo and these are my very favourite which I recommend you try. Do tell me what’s your favourite Japanese street food and let me know why you love it so much. Tell me all about it in the comments section below.