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From sweet mochi to savory corn puffs, Japan is home to an impressive variety of snacks. Wander into any local convenience store and you’ll find yourself surrounded by unique candy, spicy rice crackers, and cartoon-shaped cookies. Given Japan’s proud food heritage and focus on innovation, it’s hardly surprising that Japanese snacks are among the most inventive in the world.
Snacking has been a part of Japanese culture since the 15th century. Samurai originally invented portable foods with a long shelf-life, so that they could eat during battle. After the 1860s, once Japan began to import sugar and grains, Western-style snacks grew in popularity. Today, the Japanese snack food industry is diverse but competitive. Limited edition flavors are regularly released and snack variations are often only available for a few weeks. However, despite the constant change, some Japanese snacks have stood the test of time. To make your food choices a little easier, we’ve rounded up fourteen of these classic snacks to try while you explore the country.
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A type of Japanese rice cracker, senbei has apparently been in existence since the 8th century. However, cracker recipes vary according to the region. In the Kanto region of Japan, for example, senbei is made with non-glutinous rice flour. Meanwhile, the Kansai region uses glutinous rice to make the crackers. Baked or fried, senbei can be spicy, salty or flavored with seaweed.
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One of the most distinctive Japanese snacks, Pocky is hard to miss. Sold in almost every convenience store and supermarket, these chocolate-covered biscuit sticks come in a variety of flavors. Although Pocky is now well-known throughout Asia, the chocolate sticks in red packaging are a classic in Japan.
3. Wasabi Peas
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Another classic Japanese snack, wasabi peas are simple green peas in a wasabi flavored coating. However, despite their small size, they have a fiery kick, so go easy if it’s your first time trying them. In Japan, often serve wasabi peas alongside beer or sake.
Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, imagawayakiis a popular Japanese dessert. Filled with a red bean paste, these sweet treats are delicious with a cup of green tea. In Japan, imagawayaki have been enjoyed for generations, making these a truly traditional snack. You’ll typically find them at festivals, in shopping centers, and at food stands near temples.
5. Takoyaki Corn Puffs
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An example of classic Osaka street food, takoyaki corn puffs are a savory snack. Street vendors make the puffs by pan-frying batter in a special pan. Each deep-fried puff has a small amount of octopus (tako) in the center and they’re usually drizzled with takoyaki sauce and a little mayonnaise. A combination of powdered seaweed, green onions, and dried bonito flakes give them plenty of flavor. You can now buy bags of takoyaki corn puffs in convenience stores, so they’re easy to find.
A popular Japanese sweet snack, daifuku is a type of mochi. With a filling of red or white bean paste, these treats come in lots of varieties and are common throughout Japan.
7. Choco Bananas
Choco bananas are a simple, but popular, summer festival food in Japan. The bananas are coated in either a chocolate or strawberry mixture, before being dipped in colorful sprinkles.
8. Kinoko No Yama
Kinoko No Yama means “mushroom mountain” and these small, mushroom-shaped biscuits have become a popular snack in Japan. With a biscuit stem and a chocolate-covered top, these are a delicate treat. Although the biscuits are typically coated in chocolate, it’s possible to find them in other flavors.
A classic Japanese dessert, is usually found at traditional cafes and ryokan. Made from flour, yeast, and brown sugar, this sweet snack dates back to the Edo-era. As karinto is deep-fried, it has a burnt appearance and a crunchy texture. Although harder to find than other snacks on this list, karinto is worth trying if you’re a sweet-toothed visitor to Japan.
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If meaty comfort food is your idea of a delicious snack, then you’ll love nikuman. A nikuman is a fluffy, steamed bun, stuffed with a meat and vegetable filling. Warming and satisfying, nikuman is often eaten as a snack during the winter months.
11. Kaki no Tane
Kaki no tane is a savory snack that consists of crescent-shaped rice crackers. The rice crackers resemble the seeds of a kaki fruit, otherwise known as a Japanese persimmon. Seasoned with a little chilli powder, pepper, or wasabi, kaki no tane is often slightly spicy. The crackers are then mixed with peanuts, and the dish is usually eaten alongside drinks.
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A traditional Japanese treat, anpan is a bun with a sweet, sticky filling. Around Japan, you can find anpan with fillings of red bean paste, white bean paste, sesame paste, and chestnut paste. Invented in 1875, during the Great Japanese Empire, anpan was one of the first snacks to incorporate Western bread into Japanese cuisine. You can find them at convenience stores, supermarkets, and bakeries around Japan.
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A traditional Japanese dessert, dango is a sweet rice dumpling. There are numerous varieties of dango and it’s particularly delicious when grilled or toasted over a fire. With a similar appearance to marshmallow, dango melts and turns golden when you toast it. It’s usually served on a stick, making it easier to eat.
These savory pretzel sticks were first released in 1962, making them a classic Japanese snack. New flavors appear on the market regularly. Although, if you’d like to try one of the popular variations, choose the “salad” Pretz.
Sampling Japanese snacks is a wonderful adventure. With endless flavors and textures to try, you’re likely to find something new in every bakery, as you explore the country. From the classic to the unconventional, Japanese snacks offer a delicious insight into the local culture.