Yaki (焼き) street food is one of the favorite types of food of many locals and visitors alike. If you are visiting Japan in the summer season, especially during festivals, the following types of street foods are common at food stalls, called yatai (屋台), on the streets and close to event venues.
“Yaki” simply means something grilled, fried, or cooked on direct heat. Common yaki dishes can contain meat, vegetables, flour or batter. Here are twelve street foods you should try if you’re in Japan this summer.
Since Japan is an island, seafood is never in short supply and Japanese people have different means of deliciously preparing them. Fish is prepared in different ways and the common one that you can find at food stalls is shioyaki. It is a salted fish on a skewer that has been grilled over a charcoal stove. Although this can be made with many types of fish, the most common that is generally sold is the ayu (鮎) or sweetfish.
Ika means squid, thus ikayaki is grilled squid. It is normally seasoned with soy sauce and served on sticks though at other times they are cut into rings, served as just the tentacles, or the whole body. It is tasty whichever way it is prepared so try one if you see them at food stalls.
Another seafood on a stick that you can find at a yatai is grilled prawns seasoned with salt. The word ebi (海老) actually refers to lobster, prawn, or shrimp in general. It is not as common as ikayaki, so be sure to grab one if you see stalls selling them.
Tori (鳥) means bird or poultry animals in Japanese but it is commonly used to refer to chicken. Yakitori, or grilled chicken, is one of the many popular dishes in Japan.
Yakitori is served in bite-sized pieces of meat on a skewer. With lots of restaurants serving yakitori and the fact that they’re often sold at food stalls during festivals, this is no doubt one of Japan’s favorites.
Yakiton is grilled pork on a skewer and is also known as butakushi (豚串) or buta no kushiyaki (豚の串焼き). It is normally savored with salt or glazed with tare (垂れ) sauce.
This skewered bite-sized grilled beef is one of the foods you shouldn’t miss when looking for food to try at a summer festival food stall. Japanese beef is known to be of excellent quality and good flavor, and if you’d like to drink alcohol, it goes very well with beer.
This simply means grilled corn on the cob and is often sold at food stalls in summer. The corn is either glazed with soy-based sauce or salt, thus resulting in a sweet and salty contrast. If you want to add a little bit of spice, you can have it sprinkled with seven spice togarashi (七味唐辛子).
Yakisoba is Japanese fried noodles. Although soba (そば) means buckwheat in Japanese, the noodles used for this dish is made from wheat flour. The noodles are fried with pork and vegetables and then seasoned with yakisoba sauce, salt, and pepper. It’s possible to make it at home but food stalls are also a great place to try this yummy dish.
Okonomiyaki is a pancake-like savory dish with vegetables (mostly cabbage and green onions) and slices of meat or seafood. It is said to have originated in Osaka (大阪) but can be found throughout Japan and is commonly sold at food stalls during festivals.
There are two versions of okonomiyaki. Hiroshima (広島) style often has noodles and more vegetables in it and is made by adding the ingredients layer by layer. The other, from Osaka, is batter-based and the ingredients are mixed together before cooking. Both versions are delicious.
Tako means octopus in Japanese. Takoyaki is another batter-based dish that Japanese people love. The batter is poured in a takoyaki pan and the ingredients are added, such as bits of octopus, tenkasu (天かす) or tempura (天ぷら) scraps, green onions, and beni shouga (紅ショウガ) or picked red ginger. The batter is then rolled around as it hardens until it forms into round balls. It is served with takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, and bonito flakes on top.
This is a Japanese dessert normally sold at food carts and always present on street fares or festivals in Japan. This is cooked in a special pan with hollowed circles where the batter is poured and filled with sweet red bean paste and then baked or grilled.
Tai means sea bream or snapper in Japanese. This type of fish is said to bring good luck, and that may be why it is particularly popular at festivals or important celebrations in Japan. Although taiyaki means baked sea bream or snapper, it is another Japanese batter-based dessert cooked in a fish-shaped pan similar to a waffle maker. Like imagawayaki, it is also filled with delicious sweet red bean paste. Other flavors are also sometimes available such as custard, chocolate, or matcha (抹茶), but red bean paste is the most common filling you’ll find.
Yakiimo (焼き芋), or baked sweet potatoes, could also be added to this list, although this healthy and delicious snack doesn’t seem to be as common at summer festivals.
Probably not everything from the list above will appeal to your taste buds, but there is sure to be something you’d like to try. These kinds of food sold at food stalls are very affordable, so you know you can have value for your money. Attend a summer festival with an empty stomach and an open mind and explore all the deliciousness Japanese street food has to offer!