Japanese cuisine is some of the most diverse on the planet. Raw fish, fresh vegetables, and rice are mainstays in the cuisine, as is ramen. But there is so much more to Japanese food than that. That’s especially true when you venture out into Tokyo to check out its legendary street food markets, where you’ll find one of the tastiest and most unique dishes around, including the Japanese street foods you must eat in Tokyo, Japan.
It is at these markets that you’ll get a peek into a grittier, more authentic look at life in Tokyo. You’ll get a chance to witness patrons clamoring for incredible baked, boiled, and fried treats whose aromatic scents waft their way through the crowd, enticing locals with their favorites and tourists with new gastronomical adventures.
I went on several street food tours during my handful of days in Tokyo, and I honestly didn’t even know where to start with this list because everything I tried was more phenomenal than the last! In the end, I decided to include the dishes that stuck out to me the most for their uniqueness and flavor. But know that there are dozens of others I could have included here. But for now, these are the 5 Japanese street foods you must eat the next time you’re in Tokyo, Japan!
When I visited Tokyo in January of 2019, the weather was seasonably cold. Despite the cold, I found myself outside a lot as I explored the city and its street food markets. One of the markets I visited was Sunamachi Ginza Shopping Street, located in the Koto Ward in the eastern part of Tokyo. There, you can find a wonderful, steaming, broth-based hot pot dish called oden, which was served from massive vats by a pair of nice, older ladies.
Oden is a soup-like dish that contains a variety of different items. In each serving, you get a cod fish cake with a nice, spicy kick to it and a daikon radish, both of which have been soaking up the flavorful, miso-like broth for hours. The broth also contains onions and carrots and is the perfect way to beat the cold on a frigid January afternoon! It’s meaty, filling, and fresh, and is also quite healthy for you! It’s a must when it comes to Japanese street foods to eat in Tokyo, Japan!
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While you’re exploring Sunamachi Ginza Shopping Street, keep your eyes peeled for clear, plastic containers containing three fritter-like objects and a vibrant, reddish vegetable on the side. This is inarizushi, another of my favorite Japanese street food creations. This dish consists of a tofu pocket that has been deep-fried until it turns golden brown. Inside the tofu pocket is a ball of sushi rice and some soy sauce. Pickled vegetables are served on the side.
With so much rice and tofu in them, inarizushi is pretty filling, so I suggest sharing them with a friend. But it may be hard to give them up, as they’re absolutely addicting! The outside of the tofu pocked is brushed with a sweet, honey-like sauce. The tofu is perfectly fried and contrasts nicely with the sticky rice inside. I also liked the way the sweet sauce on the outside counterbalanced the saltiness of the soy sauce. Best of all, they’re super cheap! You can buy a container of three inarizushi for only 150 Yen, which translates to about $1.35 USD.
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When you travel to Japan, one dish you are sure to find in multiple locations is yakitori. Not only did I find some in Sunamachi Ginza Shopping Street, I also ate it in several sit-down restaurants in both Tokyo and Osaka. Yakitori is basically grilled and skewered meat. There are countless varieties you can try, including kinds with fish balls and even quail eggs, but the original yakitori is made up of skewered, grilled chicken with spring onions.
Along Sunamachi Ginza Shopping Street, you can find a shop that sells seven different varieties of yakitori. I don’t suggest trying them all, as it’s easy to fill up that way and not have room for other foods along the street. Instead, go for the original and the pork neck, which I chose because I’d never eaten pork neck before!
The pork had been grilled over charcoal, which gave it a smoky, rich flavor. But the meat wasn’t dry; instead, all of the juices had been sealed inside it. That, along with the combination of crunchy green onion and tender, moist chicken, made this yakitori some of the best skewered meat I’ve ever eaten in my life!
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Japan is extremely well-known for having some of the freshest and highest-quality seafood on the planet. You would be remiss if you didn’t try some of it during one of your street food crawls. Several of my personal favorite Japanese seafood experiences in Tokyo were at Ameya-Yokocho Market, better known as Ameyoko Market. There, at this 164,227-square-foot open-air market, you’ll find incredible raw seafood bowls and massive oysters, as well as a fish dish called shishamo.
Shishamo is a type of small, saltwater fish called smelt. Because of their size, they’re served whole, and come deep-fried. While you’d probably expect them to be full of bones, don’t worry, as they’re small enough to easily chew through and swallow. They’re also not overly fishy or salty, so they’re perfect for people who don’t like powerful seafood flavors. If you’re lucky, you may get one that’s full of roe, which adds a delicious brininess. Try them with a squeeze of lemon and some Japanese mayo for a zesty pop of flavor that will wake up your taste buds!
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Of course, with so many savory treats, I had to add a sweet one for dessert! When my friend Shinichi took me to the Asakusa area of Tokyo, we tried a variety of savory and sweet dishes including kibi dango, monja, ningyoyaki, menchi katsu, and melon pan, which is an incredible ice cream sandwich made from creamy matcha ice cream inside a fluffy, sweet bread bun. But my favorite sweet snack I tried was one called ichigo daifuku. This amazing dish takes one of my favorite things in the world—mochi—and takes it up a level!
At one of the many street food stalls in Asakusa’s Nakamise Dori street, you’ll find two varieties of these large, flavorful mochis. They have one that is filled with a thick, creamy custard and another that is stuffed with red bean paste and a gigantic, juicy strawberry! Both are incredible, but the strawberry one is truly out of this world. The mochi is sweet, chewy, and glutinous, and the combination of sticky red bean paste and fresh, tart strawberry was heaven on my palate. It’s definitely one of the best Japanese street foods you can try in Tokyo, Japan!
Obviously, there is a nearly never-ending number of Japanese street foods that could have made this list. From dozens of other savory dishes to outstanding treats that will satisfy any sweet tooth, Tokyo is one of the best cities in the world when it comes to sheer variety in its street food. I highly recommend researching some of the city’s best street food locations and then exploring them to see what catches your eye. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Book a trip to Japan today to experience the 5 Japanese street foods you must eat in Tokyo, Japan!
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