When it comes to Japanese snacks, sweet and savory treats like Pocky, Pretz and even the matcha-flavored KitKat have won legions of fans around the world. Given the popularity of these snacks, it is certainly easy to overlook the classic snacks that are still popular in Japan today. Let us take a look at five underrated Japanese snacks that deserve your attention. You can find these delicacies in convenience stores, supermarkets and even in the basement of department stores, so keep your eyes open while exploring Japan.
A classic Japanese snack that will make you wonder why you waited so long to try is Kaki Pi or Kaki no Tane. Both refer to the same snack: peanuts (pi) and crescent-shaped rice crackers covered with a slightly spicy soy sauce. Kaki refers to the Japanese word for persimmon, whose seeds (burrows) resemble pieces of rice crackers. This snack pairs perfectly with alcoholic or carbonated beverages and is available in many flavors that evoke a sense of Japan. Look out for wasabi (Japan’s famous spicy green pasta) and shiso (a tasty leaf with a bold flavor).
One of the reasons why classic Japanese snacks are so great is that they use few ingredients but still provide few ingredients when it comes to flavor. Okaki is one such snack. Prepared only with rice and seasoned with soy sauce or salt, okaki are crispy and crunchy and full of flavor in every bite. Okaki are made with mochi, or rice cakes, which have been cut into small pieces, then fried, making them a great snack to have on hand when you are bingeing on the last J-drama or anime.
Also known as imo (potatoes) kenpi, these snacks are made with sweet potatoes cut into long strips and then fried. Originating from Kochi Prefecture, on the small island of Shikoku, kenpi have become one of the most popular snacks in Japan. Although they resemble the golden fries just out of the fryer, their texture and flavor are completely different. Kenpi are sweet and crunchy treats that will keep you coming back for more and more until your bag is empty!
A sweet and sticky snack found in everything from classic brown sugar (kokuto) to apple pie, karinto are pieces of fried dough that are sure to be a hit with anyone with a sweet tooth. Although it’s an old school delicacy hundreds of years old, karinto remains a favorite of all generations in Japan. With an incredible assortment of flavors available, you will surely enjoy testing the many varieties of karinto.
Deceptively simple but tasty, Tamago Boro are round, mouth-shaped snacks that go well with almost any drink. They are made with few ingredients, are lightly baked and melt in the mouth instantly. These egg cookies are a popular snack for kids, so if you need a gift from Japan for the little ones, take a few bags of Tamago Boro. Don’t forget to buy some for yourself!
Bocchan dango is a multi-colored variety of popular Japanese dango sweets. It consists of three balls on a skewer, each one with a different color – red, prepared with red bean paste, yellow, prepared with eggs, and green, prepared with green tea.
This dango variety is often associated with the city of Matsuyama, because the sweet treat appears in Natsume Soseki’s 1906 novel Botchan. In the novel, the eponymous hero is a Tokyo academic who is posted to a school in Matsuyama, and he finds great solace in this dessert that now bears his name.
Sesame seed balls or goma dango is a variety of Japanese sweet treats known as dango. These small rice flour balls are filled with sweet red beans (anko) on the inside, while their exterior is crispy due to the process of deep-frying – first at low temperatures, then at high temperatures near the end of frying.
The process is quite complex and one should be careful not to burn the sesame seeds while the dough cooks. When freshly prepared, the sweet bean paste is piping hot inside, so be careful not to burn your tongue. The sweet and salty goma dango is often consumed in August as a summer delicacy at street fairs or in restaurants.
In China, sesame balls are known as jian dui, and in Japan, these balls are considered chuka (food with Chinese origins).
Nerikiri is a Japanese wagashi that should reflect the season it’s being served in. The most popular shape is that of a cherry blossom, called sakura nerikiri, and it can be bought only in spring. Other shapes might include scenery, flowers, and birds.
This wagashi is traditionally made with sweetened white bean paste and glutinous rice flour. Nerikiri is often served at tea ceremonies, but it also makes for a great sweet snack that can be consumed any time of the day.