For anyone who’s been to Japan, the names Lawson, Family Mart, and (believe it or not) 7/11 will start you salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs. In North America, stores like these are synonymous with Big Gulps and sad looking hot dog rollers. Not so in Japan. There, convenience store snacks are on par with your favourite bakery or upscale grocer. Think: charcuterie to go, fresh pastries, and the late Anthony Bourdain’s most-loved egg salad sandwich.
Leave the corner store in search of street food and the snack scene only gets crazier. During a G Adventures’ Backroads of Japan tour, we covered a ton of ground, saw a lot of snacks, and worked up an appetite (all in the name of journalism, naturally). Read on, sugar addicts and savoury snackers — the snack scene does not discriminate. Time to petition your local corner store to up its snack game!
Japan’s snacking scene has to be seen to be believed
OnigiriFor a relatively healthy way to start the snacking day, pick up an onigiri or two as a satisfying and extremely portable breakfast. The nori-wrapped rice triangles come stuffed with an assortment of fillings ranging from salty fermented plums to tuna, wasabi, and mayo (more on that versatile condiment later).Shutterstock
DorayakiIn Canada, pancakes are considered a totally normal breakfast food so don’t feel weird about indulging in dorayaki early in the day. This little pancake sandwich is typically filled with red bean paste, but keep your eye out for the matcha and whipped cream version and buy two.Shutterstock
DaifukuDaifuku are like those sweet sticky rice cakes known as mochi but on steroids (in the best way). The same rice dough is stuffed with ingredients like strawberry, whipped cream and angel food cake — a tiny strawberry shortcake in its own delicious, portable house. A more perfect sweet does not exist.Shutterstock
Cheese and Fry DogThis lunch substitute is popular with locals in Tokyo’s Harajuku neighbourhood. Think: classic corn dog on a stick with a thick layer of stretchy, photo-worthy mozzarella cheese inside or wrapped in its own layer of french fries. Top with condiments like ketchup or go wild and douse it in coconut powder. You’re the boss.Shutterstock
DangoWe love food on a stick (see: previous) and dango are a food on a stick street snack that does not disappoint. Street vendors like the ones outside the gates to Kyoto’s Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine sell these chewy rice dumplings hot off the grill — perfect for cold weather snacking.Shutterstock
Peach CokeAll that salt tends to make you thirsty. Peach Coca Cola has the cola taste you’re used to with just a tiny, perfect, delicious hint of peach. Why can’t we have nice things in North America?Shutterstock
Cherry Blossom PockyPocky is perfect for on the go snackers all over the world but Japan is home to some unique Pocky flavours not seen anywhere else. Leading up to Sakura season you can find cherry blossom Pocky in a select few stores. Like all Pocky, they’re delicious, but these ones are pretty and pink, too.Shutterstock
Sausage Sushi + Kewpie MayoWhen the midnight cravings hit (the struggle with jet lag is real) whip up this delicious (trust) snack introduced to us by our Planeterra host family in the coastal town of Hagi: tiny sausage sushi featuring squeeze-bottle mayo (found in every convenience story). Hot dog sushi topped with Kewpie: Cutest. Snack. Ever.Shutterstock/Amazon
Bag ‘o charcuterieAre you fancy but also lazy? Us, too (sometimes). When people in Japan want a meat and cheese spread but don’t want to work for it, they have access to the brilliantly packaged and very tasty bag of the stuff, portioned and sliced and ready to share. But only if you want to.Amazon
TaiyakiOur G Adventures tour took us to Nagano where the specialty was this fried, fish-shaped pastry filled with cream custard and apples. Red bean and hazelnut versions are easy to find all over Japan but this Nagano style taiyaki is perfection.Shutterstock