January 25, 2009

Street Food in Japan

Akihabara - Shibuya - Shinjuku - Asakusa
One of my favorite winter memories of life in Japan is of eating at street vendor stalls in the different neighborhoods of Tokyo.

Inexpensive Snacks
Walk along the streets and you'll find lots of inexpensive choices on a cold day or night.

There are great food stalls often in front of department stores and train stations -- or underground inside the bottom of the store [e.g. Mitsukoshi-Ginza is BF1] or still inside the subway station [e.g. Shinjuku].

In such an expensive town, it is great to find inexpensive [$2.00 to $5.00] savory and filling snacks while out exploring - and I never got sick from any of my savory excursions! That was a different story in Mexico and in Thailand.

I discovered amazing stuff like grilled mochi (pounded rice) wrapped in crispy & salty seaweed. Little pancakes filled with cheese or azuki (sweet red bean) paste. A year round favorite turned out to be the takoyaki (grilled octopus chunks in savory batter). And lastly, a great discovery was yakiimo (sweet potato) sold by vendors in winter - which was reminiscent of baked potatoes eaten during night football games in high school.

This is at the top of my list.... I look for it during annual street fairs in Japantown here in San Francisco. This snack is popular with little kids - which explains why you can find little grill pans in the Hello Kitty section of department stores.

For moms since the recipe is quite simple, these are easy to make at home. And a fun activity. In the US - cupcake or cookie baking sessions are very popular in my neighborhood.

The photo above is a typical street vendor making the batter and tossing in a chunk of octopus. For toppings: fried bonito flakes or shavings and takoyaki sauce are my favorites but some people like mayonnaise. The bonito flakes dance as they react to the heat of the dough.

One of my other favorite winter snacks in Japan was yakiimo or sweet potato. A man would usually push a cart or drive a truck with a red lantern on it and often a fire going roasting the sweet potatoes - yes, a real open flame can be seen next to a gas tank.

You can hear his voice echo "yakiiiiiiiiimooooooooo" up and down the streets and alleys. I'm including a clip below - experience it for yourself....


  1. Takoyaki, I remember it well when I was living there. I used to love walking past these stalls in the cool evening and breath in the smells. It's a little different here in Seoul. Some of the food is hmmmmm different (boiled silkworm lavae). It has a smell that reminds me of wet socks.

  2. Maybe the lavae is a bit like Red Hawk (a cheese sold here)? It tastes great but the smell is 'stunning' and for some, difficult to get past..



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