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  • Laura Kaiser

The 5 Best UNDERRATED Japanese Street Food in Tokyo

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

When searching for the best Japanese street food online, takoyaki and yakitori almost always top any list you can find. But next to your yakisoba and okonomiyaki, let’s honor the unsung heroes of Tokyo's street food scene. We'll take you on a journey through five underrated, Japanese street treats that deserve a spot on your culinary bucket list. From savory skewers to sweet surprises, these hidden gems are sure to leave you craving for more. So, without further ado – let’s discover five of the best, lesser-known Japanese street food!

Yakitori being grilled at a Japanese street food stand
Yakitori is one of the most famous Japanese street foods - for good reason!

1. Oden: Tokyo's Best Japanese Street Food During Winter

Amidst the vibrancy of Tokyo's street food scene, one dish stands out as a comforting and lesser-known delight: Oden. As the chilly winds of autumn start to rustle through Tokyo's streets, locals turn to this soul-warming favorite. Oden is a simple yet deeply satisfying hotpot dish and is a cherished comfort food to many. While typically enjoyed from a bowl, oden also takes a convenient twist when skewered, making it the perfect grab-and-go snack.

Metal tray with various different oden on offer
Oden offering at Maruboshi in Kurume, Fukuoka

You'll often find a delightful variety of ingredients gently simmering in a savory broth at street food stalls and even your local convenience store. Common oden ingredients include daikon radish, konnyaku (a type of yam cake), hard-boiled eggs, various fish cakes, and sometimes even meat or tofu. These ingredients absorb the flavors of the dashi-based broth, creating a harmonious blend of tastes and textures.

Oden being served at a street food stall
Source: Wikimedia Commons

As you navigate Tokyo's streets, keep an eye out for the unassuming street stalls and small, cozy shops adorned with the hiragana “おでん”. A steaming pot of Tokyo-style oden is not just a culinary treat; it's a warm invitation to savor the city's comforting street food culture.

2. Yaki Imo: Sweet Nostalgia

Though Tokyo is often associated with extraordinary flavors and avant-garde aesthetics, yaki imo stands as a very humble street food that evokes pure nostalgia. Yaki imo (焼き芋) are roasted sweet potatoes, and while they may seem simple, they hold a special place in the hearts of locals and tourists alike. Vendors - often found in quaint trucks or old-fashioned ovens on wheels - emit the irresistible aroma of roasting sweet potatoes, drawing you in.

A basket full of roasted sweet potato
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Yaki imo carries with it the essence of tradition and simplicity. These sweet potatoes are slowly roasted over charcoal, allowing their natural sugars to caramelize and infuse the flesh with a sweet, earthy flavor. The experience of biting into a piping hot yaki imo, with its crispy skin and tender interior, is one of a kind! Additionally, one of the more remarkable aspects of yaki imo is its seasonal availability. Sweet potatoes harvested in the fall are denser and sweeter, while those from the summer months offer a lighter, more delicate taste.

3. Tamagoyaki on a Stick: Novelty meets Tradition

Tamagoyaki (玉子焼き) is a classic Japanese rolled omelet, known for its layers of subtly sweet, tender goodness. But here in the bustling metropolis, it has taken on a portable and playful form: Tamagoyaki on a stick.

A Japanese egg omelette on a stick presented on a plastic tray
Source: Philippine Primer

Tamagoyaki's traditional preparation involves gently rolling thin layers of seasoned egg, creating a layered, rectangular omelet. Each bite offers a burst of umami and a hint of sweetness, showcasing the magic of Japanese culinary craftsmanship. But Tokyo's street food scene has reimagined this timeless classic by skewering these egg rolls on sticks. The result? A delightful handheld treat that retains all the deliciousness of the original, but, well…on a stick!

Whether you're wandering through the bustling Tsukiji Outer Market or exploring the historic streets of Asakusa, keep an eye out for this charming twist on a classic, and savor the joy of a beloved dish, reimagined for a fast-paced Tokyo.

4. Korokke: Japan's Fried Comfort Food

While the first three entries are more traditional street food snacks, korokke (コロッケ) is an example of the Japanese putting a twist on Western dishes. Often described as Japan's answer to croquettes, korokke is a deep-fried snack that Tokyoites turn to for a satisfying, savory snack.

A Japanese croquette served with grated radish
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Korokke typically consists of a flavorful filling — commonly made from mashed potatoes, ground meat, and vegetables — encased in a crispy breadcrumb coating. These are then deep-fried to golden perfection, creating a satisfying contrast of textures. The beauty of korokke lies in its versatility; you can find an array of variations, from seafood to curry-filled korokke.

A man holding a curry pan in a Japanese street
Kare pan in Togoshi Ginza Shopping Street, Tokyo

Speaking of deep-fried street food snacks, no exploration of Tokyo's street food scene would be complete without a mention of Kare Pan (カレーパン). Often found side by side with korokke stalls, kare pan is another deep-fried favorite. It features a crispy, golden-brown breaded exterior that encapsulates a rich curry filling. The combination of savory curry and the satisfying crunch of the breaded shell makes for an irresistible treat, especially when enjoyed piping hot from the vendor.

5. Imagawayaki: The Lesser Known Cousin

As we wrap up our culinary journey through Tokyo's lesser-known street foods, there's one last sweet treat that demands a spotlight: Imagawayaki (今川焼き). Often confused with its popular cousins, Taiyaki and Dorayaki, Imagawayaki stands out as a tasty treat with its own unique charm.

A Japanese pancake with red bean filling presented on a wooden tray
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Like Taiyaki and Dorayaki, Imagawayaki is a stuffed pastry, but what sets Imagawayaki apart is its cake-like texture and the way it's cooked. The batter is poured into special molds and cooked until it becomes a tender, slightly crispy shell. The result is a fluffy, pillow-like cake that usually envelops red bean paste, custard, chocolate, or even savory options like cheese or sweet potato.

A Japanese vendor preparing Imagawayaki
Source: Wikimedia Commons

So, why choose Imagawayaki over its more famous counterparts? The answer lies in the unique texture and flavor combination it offers. While Taiyaki and Dorayaki are cherished classics, Imagawayaki provides a delicious alternative for those seeking something a bit different. Its cake-like exterior and a wide range of fillings make it a versatile treat that can satisfy both sweet and savory cravings.

A box of taiyaki with red bean filling
Taiyaki are very commonly sold all around Tokyo and are a street food staple

Unfortunately, our journey through Tokyo's lesser-known street foods has come to an end for now. From the savory comfort of oden to the sweet secrets of Imagawayaki, we've explored a diverse array of flavors that may have escaped the radar of many travelers. Tokyo's street food culture is a testament to the city's culinary creativity and a reflection of its deep respect for tradition.

If you're eager to dive deeper into the world of Japanese street food, indulge in the crispy allure of kare pan, and experience the joys of other hidden gems, we invite you to join our Tokyo Street Food Tour. Our knowledgeable guides will take you on a journey through the bustling streets of Togoshi Ginza, introducing you to the rich tapestry of flavors, culture, and history that define Tokyo's street food scene!


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