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Travel Photos: Japanese Street Food

June 25, 2015

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Mitarashi dango (sweet mochi dumplings with a soy sauce glaze)

Last week I shared even more food photos from Japan, but I saved these street-food photos for last. Street food in Japan is not as plentiful or easy to find as it is in Korea, but it’s still always a treat.

IMG_3923-5Ikayaki (grilled squid)

In fact, I thought about calling this post “festival food” instead of “street food,” because the only time it’s really easy to find outdoor vendors selling food-on-a-stick in Japan is at festivals (like the cherry blossom viewing festival, summer fireworks festival, etc.), or, during the rest of the year, in little clusters of food stalls outside of shrines, temples, or other sites where tourists gather.

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Flavored fish cakes on sticks, with tourist-friendly signage in Japanese,
Chinese characters, Korean, and English.

This year we went to Japan in April, aiming for prime cherry blossom-viewing season. But the blossoms were all past their peak once we arrived, so we missed out on most official cherry blossom festivals, only catching some straggling cherry blossom festival frolickers, picnicking on the grounds in front of Himeji castle (and with only a few food stalls open across the street…).

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That didn’t stop us from eating our fill of festival/street foods on this trip, though, especially since we were already planning to visit some touristy sites around Kyoto, as well as Miyajima (an island outside of Hiroshima, and a popular tourist spot).

IMG_3796-5Japanese sweet potato fries.

Like many parts of Japan, Miyajima has some regional specialties (meibutsu) of its own, specifically momiji manjuu: maple leaf-shaped manjuu (bread or sweet dough, usually filled with sweet red bean paste).

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Since Miyajima is known for its tree-covered mountains and fall colors — as well as for the large torii gate of Itsukushima Shrine, which stands in the waters off the island — you can find leaf-shaped manjuu in just about every other shop there.

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These momiji manjuu-making machines can be seen in the windows of many shops catering to tourists (and hoping tourists buy boxes of momiji manjuu to bring home as souvenirs for their families and co-workers):

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The momiji manjuu that used to come with only bean paste fillings, now come in all sorts of different flavors, including custard cream, chocolate, cheese, and kabocha (Japanese pumpkin).

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And perhaps my favorite version of momiji manjuu is this one — deep-fried on a stick, in chocolate and cream-filling flavors:

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Momiji manjuu are so popular, that many shops on Miyajima now sell other treats in the shape of maple leaves as well:

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And this is not just for sweets, but also for savory things, like these maple leaf-shaped seafood- (and cheese-)flavored fish cakes:

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Don’t ask me why, but Miyajima is also famous for shamoji (rice paddles), and home to what I can only assume is the largest rice paddle in Japan. …so large that it was too big to fit nicely into one frame in my camera, so here’s a photo of a different one instead, which was pretty big, too:

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…and finally, Miyajima is also known for both eel-on-rice (anago meshi) and oysters, since it’s right on the water. (This should give you a general idea of just how many meibutsu — regional specialties — each particular region/city of Japan can end up with.)

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On to street food elsewhere now, much of it grilled on sticks, like this negima yakitori (grilled chicken with thick green onions):

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And these grilled take-no-ko bamboo shoots:

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Both of those were among the food stalls outside of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto, a shrine famous for its numerous bright orange torii gates:

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…and continuing with the grilled-on-sticks theme, we tried these yaki dango (toasted mochi dumplings) near Kiyomizu-dera (“pure water temple”), also in Kyoto:

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They might look like sweet toasted marshmallows, but they’re actually rice cakes, painted with a soy sauce glaze (like the one I used in my yakimochi recipe). Here are some others, in both white rice and yomogi (mugwort) flavors.

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And speaking of mochi dango, here’s a shot of someone cutting and shaping warabimochi, and coating it with kinako (sweet soybean powder). We got to sample a little — it was incredibly fresh and soft!

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Another Japanese food where freshness makes a world of difference is senbei, rice crackers. These were freshly baked, and in a variety of flavors — we tried the seven-spiced (shichimi) senbei, and a soy and brown sugar flavor (not pictured).

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Across the street from that senbei shop (near Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto), we spotted this sign advertising an interesting selection of tea-flavored ice creams:

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As much as I was intrigued by the idea of mugi-cha (barley tea) ice cream, we ended up getting some ice cream from a different shop down the hill. (Side note: these are definitely not the weirdest ice cream flavors I’ve seen in Japan — once on a visit to Otaru, on the island of Hokkaido, I went to an ice cream place whose flavor selection included: black squid ink, kimchi, cream cheese, and beer.)

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Here’s a shot of one of the crowded hills with tourists walking to/from Kiyomizu-dera — the temple at the top. The streets are lined with shops selling souvenirs — many of them edible, and SO many of them sell ice cream; it was hard to avoid the temptation, even though it was chilly outside!

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Paula and I shared cones of black sesame and green tea ice cream — and you can see that I was too impatient to taste the black sesame ice cream (my favorite!) to even wait until we’d already snapped  a photo.

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The line at a takoyaki stand outside Fushimi Inari Taisha, Kyoto.

Last but not least, my very favorite street food of them all: takoyaki, which for lack of a better translation, one could translate as “octopus balls”…

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Takoyaki are balls of fried dough, stuffed with pieces of octopus, and topped with Japanese mayonnaise, katsuobushi (bonito shavings), and other garnishes. Here are some photos of them being made:

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And I’ll end with a photo of Osaka-style okonomiyaki (which I waxed poetic about in last week’s installment of Japanese food photos). These were being sold outside of Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto for 500 yen apiece (or about $4 each).

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If you want to see more, there are plenty of other photos from my previous travels in Japan in the travel section of my recipe index. (Maybe just don’t look at them on an empty stomach!)

Related recipe posts:

Black Sesame Coconut Milk Ice Cream Soy Glazed Chicken Wings and Quick Tsukemono Pickles Black Sesame Mochi Dango Yakimochi
Black Sesame Coconut Milk Ice Cream Soy Glazed Chicken Wings & Quick Tsukemono Pickles Black Sesame Mochi Dango Yakimochi
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13 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura permalink
    June 25, 2015 10:21 am

    I am so jealous! I have been to Japan, but I only got to see Tokyo and a few parts of Osaka and Nagoya, but after seeing these pictures I really want to visit Kyoto and some other cities just to try these foods as well!

  2. June 25, 2015 12:08 pm

    These photo posts are such a public service! OMG I really want to go on an eating tour of Japan :) Thank you.

  3. June 25, 2015 3:08 pm

    Reading this post was like taking a trip down memory lane.Thank you. I remember visiting Nara in the Autumn many, many years ago and being offered deep fried maple leaves as a street food snack. I think they had been brined before being dipped in tempura batter and fried. Isn’t Otaru magical? On a clear day it is said you can look out across the water and see Vladivostock (Russia). Hoping to visit Japan again early next year – I fell in love with it’s beauty on my very first visit and have been drawn back time and time again.

  4. June 25, 2015 6:43 pm

    Wow! I knew so little but earned so much about Japanese street food from this post. Thank you!

  5. June 25, 2015 6:55 pm

    what a delicious post!

  6. misenplacememoir permalink
    June 26, 2015 3:39 am

    Nice! Some of this reminds me of Honolulu in the 60’s when I was growing up.

  7. June 26, 2015 7:34 am

    Love this post. I have never seen “flavored fish cakes”. Are they all fried on the spot? The momiji fish cakes are cute but again never knew about the fried momiji manju with sweet fillings! Oh well, I’ve only been to Hiroshima/Miyajima once and that was more than 30 years ago…

  8. June 26, 2015 7:09 pm

    I’ll take one of each, please.

  9. June 28, 2015 10:19 am

    i will eat basically all of that. if i had unlimited funds i would – not kidding – just travel everywhere and eat all the things with zero second thoughts given. You look like you had the best time!

  10. July 5, 2015 4:00 am

    i love street food

  11. July 28, 2015 11:02 am

    I love Japanese festivals and the street food venues ! Street food vendors are so graphic with the wild colors and tasty food. Here are a few of my favorites Japanese Yatai, if I can share this post. http://travelphotodiscovery.com/japanese-street-food/

  12. Cultivate Wellness permalink
    August 14, 2015 4:45 pm

    Someday we will make it to Japan, I can’t wait to try the food!

  13. August 24, 2015 5:19 am

    Awesome overview of Japanese street food! Freshly cooked senbei are my all-time faves :)

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