What to eat in Japan? Japan is a country filled with loads of delicious food. Here are 10 savoury Japanse street food you must try!
1. Okonomiyaki お好み焼き（おこのみやき）
Okonomi means liking. Yaki means grill (cooked over direct heat). Okonomiyaki literally means grilled as your liking. It’s said that Okonomiyaki originated in Osaka during Edo (江戸) period. Okonomiyaki’s batter is made from flour, eggs, water, finely shredded cabbage, and a various choice of meats. Okonomiyaki can be considered as a savoury pancake or Japanese pizza too!
Usually okonomiyaki is topped with okonomiyaki sauce and mayonnaise, sprinkled with katsuobushi (bonito flakes) and dried seaweed, served right after it’s cooked. It can be eaten as a main dish as well as a snack. There are shops specially for okonomiyaki where you can make okonomiyaki by yourself or they grill it in front of you. Or you can find them easily in street food stalls or carts. Enjoy your customized okonomiyaki grilled as you like!
2. Takoyaki たこ焼き（たこやき）
Tako means Octopus in Japanese. Yaki means grill (cooked over direct heat). Takoyaki if translated into English is grilled octopus balls. It’s said that Takoyaki originated in Osaka in the 1930s.
Takoyaki are round in shapes, grilled on a mould specially for Takoyaki making. The fluffy balls which are made from flour, eggs and water cover a piece of octopus in the center. Right after it’s cooked, it’s topped with Takoyaki sauce, sprinkled with katsuobushi and dried seaweed, served immediately usually on a cardboard tray with some toothpicks provided.
Unlike okonomiyaki, Takoyaki is usually eaten as a casual snack, fast food rather than a main dish. Some Japanese held casual takoyaki “party” at their fiends’ house occasionally just to relax, have a catch up or chit chat!
3. Yakisoba 焼きそば（やきそば）
Another meaning of yaki is fry. Although soba means buckwheat noodles, the noodles used in yakisoba is cyuukamen (Chinese noodles). Yakisoba literally means stir-fried noodles. It’s thought to be originated from Chinese cuisine and came to after World War II.
The general ingredients used in yakisoba are meats, cabbage, vegetables and yakisoba sauce and other seasonings. It can be served with dried seaweed, katsuobushi, shredded and pickled ginger. It’s a simple yet delicious dish!
Yakisoba is a casual dish; it can be served as a main dish or side dish. It’s easily found at the street food stalls. Don’t worry, you will know it’s nearby just by its sizzling aroma while walking on the street!
4. Yakisoba pan 焼きそばパン（やきそばぱん）
Yakisoba means stir-fried noodles and pan means bread. Yakisoba pan literally means bread stuffed with stir-fried noodles. It’s a cheap and popular food that can be found in supermarkets and convenience store. The combination of noodles and bread might sound weird but it’s actually very special and delicious. It can be a quick morning or lunch treat or supper which is satisfying. It’s a perfect dish for carb lovers too. If you have not tried this dish yet, don’t miss it out, it’s a real treat!
5. Oden おでん
Oden is a kind of hotpot comfort dish which is very popular during winter in Japan. It’s cooked in one pot with soy sauce-based dashi broth. Some Japanese families tend to make them at home when the weather starts to get colder. The ingredients used are up to each liking but generally the oden sold in stores or restaurants consists of various ingredients such as boiled eggs, daikon, konnyaku, a variety of fish cakes and fish balls, some other vegetables etc.
Oden is often sold in street food stalls or carts, izakayas, and restaurants. Although it can be found all year round, it’s most popular during winter. During the winter months, you can find them easily in convenience stores too.
6. Gyoza 餃子（ぎょうざ）
Gyoza originated in China where they called it jiaozi and gradually became a popular dish in Japan. Gyoza are dumplings wrapped in a thin skin and filled with ground meats and vegetables. The typical gyoza filling consists of mainly ground pork and cabbage but now many gyoza shops or frozen gyoza in stores provide a range of other choices such as shrimp gyoza, beef gyoza, vegetables gyoza and etc.
There are three ways to cook gyoza which are: to pan fry, boil and deep fry. The most common type is pan-fried gyoza, which is called yaki gyoza. Sui gyoza (boiled gyoza) and age gyoza (deep-fried gyoza) are less common and usually can only be found in specialized gyoza restaurants.
However, unlike in China, gyoza is usually served as a side dish rather than a main dish in Japan. It’s often eaten with rice or noodles which could be considered uncommon combinations in some countries. How do you like to eat your gyoza?
7. Karaage 唐揚げ（からあげ）
Karaage means a kind of cooking technique which the process involves coating small pieces of meat with flour or starch, and frying in oil. Although karaage literally means a kind of cooking technique, in most situations when karaage is mentioned it means fried chicken. Karaage is generally made with boneless chicken thigh that is cut into bite size. It’s marinated in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, sugar etc before being deep fried. It’s crispy yet moist and tender. It is so full of flavour and addictive! Karaage can be found anywhere whether in street stalls or carts, izakayas or restaurants.
Karaage is often served with a wedge of lemon although there have been some continuous debates among the Japanese whether it should be served with lemon or not. Some say that the lemon juice makes it less crispy while some say that the lemon juice brings out the flavours. Well, it’s up to you to decide how to eat it!
8. Korokke コロッケ
The name korokke originated from a French dish, croquette. Korokke is usually in a flat patty shape. It’s a deep-friend mashed potato patty that is coated with flour, eggs and panko (breadcrumbs). For a classic korokke, the mashed potato is generally mixed with ground meat, chopped onions or vegetables. It’s often served with tonkatsu sauce which carries a sweet-savoury taste.
It’s a snack that is very popular in Japan. They can be found in convenience stores or street stalls. They are also available in restaurant as a side dish or part of a set meal. Some Japanese mums like to make korokke for their kids who refuse to eat vegetable but who will never refuse a tasty and crispy piece of korokke.
9. Senbei 煎餅（せんべい）
Senbei is a savoury rice cracker which is a traditional treat in Japan. It has been enjoyed for centuries ever since Edo (江戸) period. Senbei has a crunchy and airy texture. They are mainly round but can be found in many different shapes too. It is made from crushed rice that is formed into a flat disc and then roasted over a charcoal grill. The most common flavours are senbei coated in soy sauce, with or without nori (seaweed). There are also other flavours such as black sesame, red pepper, sugar, black soybean, shrimp and so on.
Senbei can be found easily everywhere in convenience stores, supermarkets or street stalls. However, the street stalls senbei are usually those hand-made by senbei artisan and their senbei taste so fresh, original and full of flavours. They make good snacks and are suitable as souvenirs too!
10. Kare Pan カレーパン
Kare means curry and pan means bread, so Kare pan means curry bread. Kare pan is filled with Japanese curry, and covered with a bread coated with panko (breadcrumbs). The common method of making kare pan is deep frying. Kare pan is just like a savoury version of stuffed doughnut. The panko crust is crispy, the bread itself is fluffy and the filling is very flavourful.
Kare pan is a popular food which can be found in supermarkets, bakeries and convenience stores. Enjoy it for breakfast, lunch, or simply at anytime of the day!
You might want to read: 10 SWEET Japanese Street Food You Must Try
Japanese Vocabularies in this article
- Katsuobushi 鰹節（かつおぶし）
Katsuobushi is also known as bonito flakes. It is dried fish prepared in hard blocks from smoked skipjack tuna.
- Cyuukamen 中華麵（ちゅうかめん）= Chinese noodles
- Pan パン = bread
- Dashi だし
Dashi is a clear stock made from katsuobushi and konbu (kelp)
- Daikon 大根（だいこん）= daikon
- Konnyaku 蒟蒻（こんにゃく）
Konnyaku is a jelly-like healthy food made from a plant called konjac.
- Izakaya 居酒屋（いざかや）
Izakaya literally means stay-alcohol-shop. It is a type of Japanese bar which typically inexpensive dishes and snacks are served to accompany the drinks.
- Sui gyoza 水餃子（すいぎょうざ）= boiled dumplings
- Age gyoza 揚げ餃子（あげぎょうざ）= deep-fried dumplings
- Panko パン粉（ぱんこ）= breadcrumbs
- Edo 江戸（えど）
Edo is a period between 1603 and 1868
- Tonkatsu とんかつ = deep-fried pork cutlet
- Nori のり = seaweed