The street food scene in Tokyo is often centered around train stations and major pedestrian areas. As such a fast-paced city, it’s an ideal place to eat on the go.
Here are 10 of the best sweet and salty items to try, most of which will cost you less than 500 yen.
Ikayaki (grilled squid)
Ikayaki from the Tokyo Skytree — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
“Ika” means squid, while “yaki” means grilled. This paper-thin, salty Japanese street snack has a flaky outer edge and chewy middle.
The raw tentacles are dipped in potato starch and then pressed flat on the grill, which is first coated with cooking oil. Unlike the more popular takoyaki (balls of fried or grilled octopus), it’s a lighter snack, which will leave room for some of the other items on this list.
Nure okaki (wet rice crackers)
Variations of nure okaki — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
These super-crunchy rice crackers can be eaten on the spot or taken to go as they have a long shelf life. Some are soaked in soy sauce, while others come wrapped in seaweed. Shapes vary as well.
There are also spicy versions which come coated in red pepper. Nure means wet, while okaki means rice cracker.
Oinarisan with salmon — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Also known as inari sushi, oinarisan is a rice ball stuffed inside a deep-fried tofu bag. That’s the simple version, but you can also get toppings.
Most toppings are similar to what you would get with traditional sushi. As traditional sushi is omnipresent in Japan, inari offers an affordable variation on Japan’s most famous dish.
Calbee potato chips
Calbee chips with maple cream — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Calbee is one of Japan’s leading snack food companies, and they have multiple locations in Tokyo. Check out their small storefront on crowded Takeshita Street in the Shibuya district, where they sell potato chips with various toppings, such as honey, maple, butter and chocolate.
Most toppings are salty and sweet, while some change with the seasons. If you take a liking to them, you can find their brand items in most stores around the country.
Karaage (Japanese fried chicken)
Karaage is closely related to American popcorn chicken — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
The Japanese have their own version of what is commonly referred to in America as popcorn chicken (salt and pepper chicken in Taiwan). The Japanese version is dipped in potato starch and then deep-fried.
If you eat karaage plain, you’ll likely notice hints of ginger and garlic. Depending on where you go, they may be served cold. If you plan to eat them on the spot, ask your server to heat them for you.
Dango (rice flour dumplings)
Goma dango — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
These sweet and gooey rice flour dumplings are among the most versatile street foods in Japan. They’re bite-sized and typically come three to four to a skewer.
Different dango come with different coatings. Kibi dango (named after the ancient Kibi province) are coated with roasted soybean powder, known as kinako. They’re a year-round snack, with different varieties being more popular according to the the given season. Most go well with green tea.
Korokke (Japanese croquettes)
Kobe croquettes — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Korokke are a perfect example of how the Japanese are able to take food from around the world and put their own unique spin on it. Like they did with ramen (originally Chinese), the Japanese have taken this late 19th-century French invention and made it one of the more popular street foods in Tokyo.
Their usually round, deep-fried version is crispy and flaky on the outside and gooey on the inside. Potato croquettes are the most popular, probably followed by the beef croquettes, which are actually potato croquettes mixed with beef.
Some vendors (like Kobe Croquettes) offer seafood versions. Although they can be eaten with chopsticks, you’ll also see people eating korokke with their hands. Be warned that they can get a bit messy.
Age manju (fried buns with filling)
Fresh age manju — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Manju refers to buns made of buckwheat, rice powder and flour, while age means fried.
Red bean paste is omnipresent in Japanese street snacks and it’s a common filling in age manju. Matcha/green tea are other common variations. All are sweet, though.
If you’re looking to save room for other delicious Japanese street foods, try the regular manju, which will either be baked or steamed, with similar fillings.
Melonpan with ice cream
Melonpan stand near Asakusa Temple — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
Melonpan is a sweet bun made from enriched dough coated with a layer of crisp cookie dough. The result is a crunchy outside with a softer inside. It tastes nothing like melon, but gets its name from the bread’s melon-like shape.
Some street vendors sell melonpan stuffed with ice cream, which make it an ideal dessert. In recent years, certain bakers have even started to infuse their bread with actual melon flavor. Compared to most Japanese street snacks, melonpan is on the larger and heavier side, especially when you add the scoop of ice cream. It’s the takoyaki of sweets.
Kobe beef skewers
Kobe beef skwerers cost an average of 1,200 yen — Photo courtesy of Brian Cicioni
If you want to try the world-famous Japanese Kobe beef, but don’t want to sit down for an hour-long dinner and pay premium restaurant prices for an already premium cut of meat, just buy it in the street! Skewers are a popular Japanese street food item, so all you need to do is find a vendor that sells Kobe beef.
Anyone who has it will flaunt it. You’ll likely see a large sign advertising Kobe beef skewers for around 1,200 yen. If you decide you like the savory, rich taste of Kobe beef, then a visit to a proper restaurant will be the next step.