“Street Food” in Tokyo

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This is the seventh post in the series titled Tasting Tour of Tokyo detailing my recent trip to Japan. Other posts include Kikunoi AkasakaRokurinshaMikawa ZezankyoKaoriyaSushi Sawada, and Sushi Aoki.

The idea of street food in Japan may almost seem like a oddity.

After all, it’s considered quite rude in Japanese culture to walk while you’re eating. Even though vending machines seem to be everywhere on the streets of Tokyo, people are expected to stand near the machine and finish their bottles before walking to their destinations.

Despite all that, you still do see street food quite a lot. One of the most famous (and most fun, in my opinion) streets is the path leading up to Sensōji Temple, a huge Buddhist temple in the Asakusa neighborhood of Tokyo (walking distance from Kappabashi, my favorite kitchen shopping neighborhood!).
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Sensōji Temple

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know that I absolutely love snacks and street food. From the unique rice wine yogurt in Beijing and the “bawan” (rice dumpling) in Taiwan to the roli roti in San Francisco and the gyros in Greece, I love it all.

If you love street food and snacks as much as I do, I would highly recommend taking a stroll down this fun path. You’ll get to see people making fresh rice crackers (sembei) over hot coals, red bean filled cakes made by hand or by robot, and many, many other fun snacks.
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One of my favorite Japanese snacks is senbei, a type of rice cracker. On the street leading up to the temple, you’ll see people “grilling” these crackers over a bed of hot charcoal.
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It’s fun to watch them puff up and brown. You can buy a pack to take home or also just try one piece.
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I was also fascinated by this guy who sat behind a window tirelessly hand-making little red bean cakes using a traditional cast iron mold.
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The crowd surrounding this man was huge, each person fascinated by the process.
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I was tickled by these Doraemon shaped cakes filled with some sort of yellow custard cream.
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Another place decided to forgo the human and use this really neat robot machine to churn out a similar type of cake. You could buy one piece to try for 60 yen, or buy packs to take home.
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Aren’t these cool? I think they are green tea mochi cakes, nicely browned on a hot plate.
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I’m not even sure exactly what this is, but it surely looks delicious. If you know what these are, please let me know in the comments and I’ll update the post! [Update! It appears that these are grilled or toasted mochi. Thanks all for your help!]
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You know you’ve reached the end of the path when you arrive at the huge temple. After this, if you’re comfortable with wandering a bit, you can meander through various side streets to reach Kappabashi, a really fun place to get very reasonably priced Japanese dishware, kitchen supplies, and fake display food. It’s one of my favorite places to shop, and probably isn’t more than a 15-20 minute walk away. I used the GPS feature on my phone, which was very helpful.

But Wait! There’s More!
Although the path leading up to Sensōji is the most famous, it’s not hard to find other types of food being sold on the streets, especially at festivals or outdoor markets. Bryan and I serendipitously stumbled upon this fun outdoor market during out most recent trip to Tokyo. Here’s a look at some of the fun foods they were selling.
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All sorts of sweets made with (presumably) taro, green tea, and maybe vanilla or mango?
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I thought these loaves were super cute. The one on the lower left corner sort of looks like Totoro.
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I believe these are okonomiyaki, the Japanese version of an omelete/pancake filled with various types of savory fillings, such as vegetables, seafood, and even noodles!
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Cold cucumbers on a stick! Perhaps they are marinated?
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I am guessing this is puffer fish, based on the cute little inflatable pusher fish on the left side of the case. They were giving out free samples. Though Bryan has had the nerve to try puffer fish once in the US, I’ve been hesitant. Nevertheless, we tried a bit and it was fine. It sort of tasted like normal fish, actually.
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I guess it’s popular to grill this special type of fish, which is brimming full of eggs inside. I had tried something sort of similar at Sushi Mitani, shako filled with eggs.
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Here’s a pic of the finished product.
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The Japanese love their fried fish cake products, and this guy is selling all sorts of shapes and sizes.
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And then there were these peculiar yellow-orange citrus fruits.
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They’re like oranges but with a very different colored skin.
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And my favorite? These guys were hand pounding rice in this huge wooden bowl to make mochi.
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So fun! Here are the fruits of their labor – all different types of freshly pounded mochi.

Hope you enjoyed this light and casual post! We only have a few more posts left in the Tasting Tour of Tokyoa gorgeous 1-star Michelin teppanyaki place where Bryan tasted “the best steak I’ve ever had in my life“, a fun “pop-up” coffee shop inside a traditional Japanese house, and the highly anticipated Sukiyabashi Jiro.

Stay tuned!

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Comments

  1. DSuech says

    It definitely looks like grilled mochi similar to the dry mochi cakes you can get at Asian markets in bags. My mom would pop them in a toaster oven and we would eat them dipped in a mixture of soy and sugar. These look so much better because of the charring but you get a crusty exterior and the mochi inside is soft and warm.

  2. Christina says

    Ditto to the Mochi – I’d say they’re more grilled though. I’ve had them plain, with soy sauce, with sugar, with both soy sauce and sugar, in red bean soup, really, it pretty much can go in anything you’d like :) Eating it with soy sauce reminds me a bit of senbei.

  3. says

    Yes, it looks like grilled or toasted mochi, like what my Japanese-American friend’s family eats for the New Year’s. :) Also, the name of the temple should be “Sensōji.”

  4. says

    Wow, thanks for all the information! Glad there’s someone out there who can read the signs. :) And thanks for the temple info – I fixed it in the post!

    Yes, the fruits are really pretty, and I’ve never seen anything like it here in the US.

    I can’t believe you might be moving to Tokyo – SO LUCKY!!

  5. says

    My guess would be that the purple stuff was some kind of sweet potato. If you go down to Kamakura they sell sweet potato ice cream, cakes, etc and it is usually purple. The fruits look a bit like some types of yuzu, but I will defer to the commenter above as i’m really not sure.

  6. says

    Glad it was helpful & not annoying! :) I’m excited to go back to Tokyo~ Last time I lived there was right after college, so it’s very nostalgic. I will have to go back to Asakusa and try all these sweets!!

  7. says

    Definitely not annoying! I very much appreciate it when people find mistakes in my posts. I should have checked more carefully, but it was probably late and night and I was tired!

    Oh, definitely enjoy!! I spent a summer there during college as well and absolutely loved it. Would love to live there short-term some day.

  8. says

    Ah, I haven’t been to Kamakura since high school, so I don’t really remember the food there very well. One of these days I’ll have to venture outside of Tokyo and visit the surrounding places again.

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