Yatai: Japan’s Delicious Street Foods
In Japan, foods that are sensai, or delicate, are popular. Many enjoy the subtleties in different flavors in foods such as the broth of soups and more expensive sweets like Kyoto-styled Japanese sweets and these delicate foods are often considered more refined. There is another type of food group in Japan however, called B-rank gourmet, which refers to foods that are working-class and cheap but delicious.
B-rank gourmet foods can be foods that are eaten in homes and restaurants, but are commonly associated with yatai, or street food shops. Unlike the sensai foods that often take a lot of time and effort to make, these foods are fast and inexpensive but still are one of the most tastiest foods to eat in Japan.
Here are a few must-try Japanese yatai foods:
Often referred to as the Japanese pancake, okonomiyaki is a savory pancake made out of a batter and ingredients that vary depending on the region. Popular ingredients include seafood, beef, pork, cheese, noodles, etc. The pancake is fried on a teppan, or a hot plate, and is often topped off with dried bonito flakes, aonori, mayonnaise, and okonomiyaki sauce.
Yakisoba are Japanese fried noodles. Just as okonomiyaki, there are different styles of the food with different ingredients depending on the region, though most include cabbage and pork and garnish the dish with a Japanese pickled dish called beni-shoga, or red ginger.
Ikayaki, literally fried squid, are whole squids that are cooked on the spot with a slightly sweet soy sauce based sauce. Although it’s a simple yatai food, ikayaki are a delicious chewy treat to have.
Takoyaki, meaning fried octopus, refers to a ball-shaped food made out of batter with octopus pieces and vegetables inside. There are many different variations of takoyaki as well such as changing the takoyaki sauce to ponzu, or a Japanese citrus-y sauce or sprinkling green onions instead of dried bonito flakes.
This food is often extremely hot when you bite into it, so be careful!
Dango are Japanese sweet dumplings. There are endless types of dango but one of the most common to see as a street food are mitarashi dango, as they’re very cheap to make. Plain dango are covered in a sauce made out of soy sauce, sugar and starch to make a gooey sauce texture.
Apple Candy (Ringo-ame)
Ringo-ame are apples that are coated in sugar to make a sweet apple candy. Although apple candies are the most common and traditionally popular, there are different types of coated sugar candies with different fruits inside them. You can find cherries, tangerines, pineapple, and about any type of fruit you can think of now. Since they’re chilled to harden the sugar coat, these sweets are perfect for a hot day at a festival.
Chocolate Bananas (Choco-banana)
Choco-bananas are just as what they look like. Bananas on a stick that are dipped in chocolate and covered with nuts, fruits, sweet sauces, or sprinkles.
Imagawayaki, also known as ōban-yaki in some areas, is another popular sweet that is often seen sold by street vendors. This simple pastry sweet has batter that resembles a pancake with different fillings. The most basic filling is azuki, or Japanese red-bean paste, but other popular flavors include custard, white-bean paste, chestnut, etc.
So, where can you go to eat these street foods? It’s most common to see street food stands during festivals. During summer and autumn festivals, firework festivals, and cherry-blossom season festivals you will see men and women often in yukata purchasing all different street foods from yatai. Sadly, it’s uncommon to see these stands during other times of the year although there are a few in some areas that are popular with tourists like Yoyogi Park and other places where people tend to gather in large numbers. However, you can still find most of these foods in places other than yatai, in restaurants and shops all over Japan.
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