Have you seen Netflix’s “Street Food” featuring a street food vendor, “Toyo“? If you haven’t, take a look. After watching it, you’ll want to try yatai food in Japan. Yatai is a Japanese word for street food vendors. Indeed street food has been part and parcel of Japanese culture.
But, while watching Street Food, I realized that I don’t really eat street food in Japan any more. I loved it in the past. In the 70’s and 80’s, Japanese street food was more affordable and venders were everywhere. It made sense to eat on the street than dining at a restaurant. Street food was cheap, quick and available everywhere.
Now street food in Japan has become quite expensive. Elsewhere in the world, particularly in Southeast Asia, it’s cheaper to eat street food than going to a restaurant. This is not the case in Japan.
Depending on the type of food you are planning to eat, restaurants can be cheaper, and often more delicious (and nutritious and hygienic) than yatai’s street food. For instance, a bowl of ramen at a yatai costs anywhere between 600 yen to 900 yen. My favorite ramen shop, Seiya, offers an amazing tonkotsu ramen for 500 yen.
But if you are coming to Japan for the first time, street food is something you should definitely try (at least once). It’s fun and not so hard to find in most big cities. And the good news is, if you like them, you can always try cooking them at home. Surprisingly, you don’t really need a whole lot of ingredients or cooking knowledge to recreate Japanese street food at home.
Here are three Japanese street food you could try while visiting Japan:
Top 3 Japanese Street Food
1 Okonomiyaki (お好み焼き)
Okonomiyaki is probably one of the most beloved yatai food in Japan. It is a savory version of pancake, often made with flour, eggs, shredded cabbage, meat or seafood with a variety of condiments. There are many different styles of okonomiyaki, but the most representatives are Osaka, Hiroshima and Tokyo styles.
While the number of yatai is on decline in Japan, you can almost always find okonomiyaki yatai at any festivals across Japan. The price ranges from 600 to 800yen and it’s kind of fun to wash them cook okonomiyaki on the large hot teppan.
Looks good? But not coming to Japan anytime soon? Good news here – you can easily cook okonomiyaki at home. If you are looking for authentic made-in-Japan okonomiyaki ingredients, have a look at them.
2 Oden (おでん)
I don’t really understand why, but oden hasn’t really become that popular overseas yet. Oden is a very popular winter food in Japan, consisting several ingredients such as vegetables, tofu, eggs, fishcakes, konjac, seafood and meat cooked stewed in a flavoured dashi broth. In Japan, it’s one of the cheapest and healthiest street food, and no Japanese spends an entire winter without ever eating oden. Karashi, Japanese yellow mustard, is a typical condiment.
Typical ingredients include:
- Daikon – Horse radish
- Tamago – boiled eggs
- Konjac – konjac potato
- Hanpen – white, flat fish cake
- Chikuwabu – flour paste cake
- Atsuage – deep fried tofu
- Jagaimo – potato
Today, oden is most commonly purchased from convenience stores during winter in Japan. At the same time, oden is still widely available all year-round at yatai and restaurants, too. You can buy oden from one piece, such as fishcake, which can be as cheap as 100 yen.
3 Ramen (ラーメン・らーめん・拉麺）
Finally, ramen, although I don’t think it needs an explanation. Ramen has become one of the most popular Japanese food in the world and it is indeed everywhere here. But street ramen venders have become a rarity, due to various regulations that have become stricter over the years.
Yatai ramen makes me nostalgic. When I was a child growing up in Yokohama in the 70s and 80s, I often had what we call “Yonaki (‘night cry’) ramen”. It was a yatai on the wheels that comes around your neighbourhood at night, as the yatai master would play a recorded ‘charumera‘ tune thorough the speaker. My parents would run out of the house with empty bowls, asking the vendor to stop in front of our house and cook ramen. It took him only a few minutes to prepare Tokyo ramen (shoyu based broth) at the back of his truck, and it was something like 300 – 400 per bowl of ramen.
Unfortunately, this type of charumera yonaki ramen doing the rounds is almost non-existent, due, again, to the regulations getting stricter. But, you do find some ramen-serving yatai at train stations in major cities in Japan today. You won’t have much problem finding them in Hakata, Fukuoka Prefecture.
If you wish to cook ramen back home, make sure to visit supermarkets in Japan and get yourself a plenty of supply before heading home. If you have run out of your supply, you can always order Japanese ramen from Takaski.