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Japan is renowned for its exceptional food and Tokyo, in particular, is known as one of the best places in the world to eat. When it comes to street food, Tokyo is experiencing something of a renaissance after years of street food vendors being on the decline. Now, Yatai is thriving and it's the perfect time to head out onto the streets of Tokyo and discover some incredible dishes.

Why is Tokyo street food becoming more popular?

Japanese street food has historically been associated with festivals and events rather than everyday living. It was once only available year-round in a few key places, such as the Nakasu district in Fukuoka. In locations where Yatai - street food vendors - did exist, they used to be linked with nightlife culture, which is something that has been frowned upon by the Japanese government in the past. For several decades, street food was on the decline due to the association of Yatai with nighttime drinking and strict laws to discourage this scene.

In recent years, and thanks to the massive growth in street food culture around the world, Yatai has been on the rise again. Since 2016 especially, when certain laws on street food vending were relaxed, more and more vendors have cropped up not only in Tokyo but throughout Japan. Although you will still find a huge variety of street food stalls at festivals, such as the Meguro River Cherry Blossom Festival or the Chestnut Festival at Ōkunitama Shrine, you'll also find them year-round in some key spots in Tokyo.

Where is the best street food in Tokyo?

Nakamise Dori

Right in front of Sensoji Temple is Nakimise Dori, a long street that is best known for vendors selling tasty Japanese sweet treats. This area is best for a daytime visit as many of the stores close in the early evening.

Ameya Yokocho

Beneath the elevated railway tracks running to Okachimachi Station lies Ameya Yokocho, a flea market that is home to a vast array of Japanese and international food stalls. Lots of the stalls are open late into the night so you can grab a delicious bite any time.

Omoide Yokochō

This iconic alleyway located in Shinjuku is renowned for its array of yakitori stalls. Omoide Yokochō translates as Memory Lane; it has an old-fashioned, familiar and nostalgic atmosphere that attracts locals and tourists alike.

Shibuya

Many of the best street food stalls in Shibuya are dotted about in backstreets and hidden spots. The best way to find them is to take a guided Japanese street food tour where you'll not only get to taste a lot of wonderful food, but you'll also get to see parts of the city popular with locals that most tourists would miss.

What is the most popular street food in Tokyo?

There are too many types of Japanese street food to mention them all, but here are some of the most popular that you shouldn't miss on your trip to Tokyo.

Yakitori

Perhaps one of the simplest and most popular Japanese street foods is yakitori; skewers of meat chargrilled over charcoal and usually finished with sweet and savoury sugar and soy sauce. Chicken is the traditional version of yakitori, but tender and flavorful Wagyu beef has become an increasingly popular variety.

Takoyaki

These round, savoury batter balls are stuffed with pieces of octopus and flavoured with dried kelp and pickled ginger. Takoyaki has a savoury seafood flavour and a soft, moist texture which lets them melt in the mouth.

Dango

These chewy dumplings are made from rice flour and can be compared to mochi, but their texture is much firmer. Dango can be either sweet or savoury, and the dumpling itself can be flavoured, but often toppings such as soy flour and red bean paste are added to plain dumplings.

Taiyaki

This fish-shaped cake has a light, fluffy texture and is usually filled with red bean paste. However, you can also find custard, chocolate, sweet potato and cheese-filled taiyaki. These cakes are incredibly similar to imagawayaki, which are made from a similar batter, only they are baked in round pans and are significantly bigger.

Yakisoba

Perhaps the most iconic Japanese street food dish is yakisoba; egg noodles stir-fried with vegetables and coated with a sweet and savoury sauce. You'll usually find bean sprouts, cabbage, onion and carrots in this dish as standard, but sometimes it comes with chopped chunks of chicken, pork, Spam, or hot dogs.

Okonomiyaki

This is a savoury pancake cooked on a flat griddle called a teppan, and filled with cabbage and meat or fish. Although it tends to be associated with Hiroshima and Kansai, okonomiyaki is popular all over Japan and is easily found in Tokyo.

Why is street food so popular in Tokyo?

Japanese food is known for its exceptional freshness and high-quality ingredients, and this goes for street food as well as restaurant food. Since Tokyo is such a populous, bustling city, there is always high demand from both busy locals and adventurous tourists for delicious food that can be grabbed on the go. Japanese street food blends traditional flavours and cooking techniques to satisfy the locals, along with fresh new takes on classic dishes inspired by the tastes of international visitors.

You might know Japan best for its sushi and ramen, but with such a diverse array of snack foods on offer in Tokyo, you'll want to step away from traditional restaurants and head for the street vendors to get a true taste of the city. Check out some of our Tokyo food and drink tours or experiences, available to book online with tabl.com.

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