Japanese snacks have taken the world by storm with their exciting varieties and unique flavors. Even before I learned anything about Japanese culture, I coveted the colorful boxes of Pocky and charming mascots of Hello Panda at the local Target as a kid. But as I've come to discover, there are so many more Japanese treats to enjoy! So why not dip a toe into Japanese snack culture with some beloved favorites, as well as my own personal recommendations?
Here are 10 popular Japanese sweets to try.
Here are 10 must-try salty and savory Japanese snacks.
If there's any Japanese snack you likely already love, it's Pocky. Pocky Japan has perfected the art of putting chocolate on a biscuit stick, and their varieties like the "luxurious" (贅沢) line with extra thick chocolate that's fun as a novelty snack! Also, check out another brand called Toppo if you're curious about what an inside-out Pocky would taste like.
Country Ma'am cookies are tiny, soft, and come in flavors like vanilla, chocolate, matcha, and strawberry, depending on the season. They're oddly addictive and can even quench a chocolate chip cookie craving in a bind! Try microwaving one... you won't regret it.
Of all sweet Japanese snacks, Choco Pie is the one that seems to show up at every party without fail. These soft Little Debbie-esque snack cakes come in vanilla and chocolate cream. The crack of the hard chocolate shell on the outside when you bite into it is surprisingly satisfying!
Along with Pocky, the sprawling world of Japanese Kit Kats boasts global fame! The intriguing specialty flavors, like Japanese sake and green tea, are either infused into the filling in the middle or into the chocolate coating itself. The flavors are often disarmingly realistic and delicious; my personal favorites are apple pie and "adult" (オトナの甘さ) raspberry!
When you come to Japan, dispose of what you know "caramel corn" to be. This Caramel Corn isn't popcorn, but caramel-flavored corn puffs with a smattering of nuts at the bottom of the bag! For anyone who's ever wished Cheetos tasted like pure sugar, Caramel Corn is a light, crunchy, and fluffy delight.
If you were to ask me about the best snacks in Japan, Shittori Choco would be high on my list of favorites. Literally "moist chocolate," Shittori Choco is a crispy aerated corn puff coated in chocolate that melts in your mouth. Don't forget to look out for the occasional heart-shaped one!
Two of the most well-known snacks to buy in Japan, the mushroom-shaped Kinoko no Yama and bamboo shoot-shaped Takenoko no Sato are tiny biscuit cookies topped with chocolate. Try asking someone which one they prefer in the neverending feud between the two! Look out for the elaborate seasonal flavors, like chestnut Mont Blanc and purple sweet potato.
Baum rolls may not get a lot of foreign press, but they are one of the most popular Japanese sweet snacks to hand out at group gatherings. These soft, moist rolls of thin cake are coated in a tasty, light lemon frosting. The Bourbon brand makes tons of mini sweet treats, but baum rolls are perhaps the best!
Bisco crackers are the perfect blend of sweet and salty, with the cream on the inside pairing wonderfully with the buttery richness of the sandwich crackers. Like many Japanese snacks, they're tiny and individually wrapped. So while you may not be saving the environment, at least you can enjoy the gaze of the overjoyed Bisco child on the package as you crunch!
If you're looking for a hearty, satisfying chocolate snack, Galbo is the way to go. These thick pellets of aerated chocolate are actually quite dense, perfect for a quick decadent treat. All the flavors I've tried, like caramel and royal milk tea, have been spot on!
Calbee Japan products make up about half the chip aisle in Japanese supermarkets, so you might as well get acquainted! The standard flavors of Calbee potato chips are lightly salted, shiawase "fortune" butter, consomme punch, soy sauce mayo, seaweed salt, and several other regional soy sauce varieties. Calbee chips are a solid, safe choice even if you're unfamiliar with the Japanese flavors; personally, I find their soy sauce mayo chips hard to resist!
One of the most popular snacks in Japan, Jagariko are brittle potato sticks in a cup with a peel-off lid. Among the wide array of flavors, you're sure to find a favorite! From cheese and salad to more daring flavors like tarako (pollock roe) butter and Japanese plum, you could munch your way through the whole line and never get bored.
Looking for Japan's version of crunchy Cheetos? Sucorn is here to satisfy that craving of yours, with flavors like seafood, barbeque, and quattro cheese. And if you check the other side of the snack aisle, you might find sweet Sucorn flavors too; salted caramel, in particular, is to die for!
Glico's savory counterpart to Pocky, Pretz is a Japanese snack so ubiquitous you must try it at least once. Pretz is a thin, seasoned biscuit stick with an addictive quality and satisfying crunch. Try eating a stick of their "mystery flavor" along with the standard salad, roast, or tomato Pretz to see what combination it makes!
Senbei is the most famous traditional Japanese cracker, made of rice and often enjoyed with tea. Some are sweet, like the delicious brown sugar milk flavor pictured above, but most are savory, like the equally spectacular salad senbei also pictured above! Any rice cracker is sure to give you a crispy taste of traditional Japan, pairing extra well with a hot beverage.
Agemochi, or deep-fried mochi snacks, are my most recent discovery in Japanese snack world. These delightful pieces of seasoned mochi crunch at first, then melt in your mouth. If you're interested in experiencing mochi in a different way, you can usually find agemochi in the traditional snack aisle!
Unsurprisingly, Japan has managed to take an already great snack and make it even better. The most well-known brand of popcorn in Japan, Mike's Popcorn, constantly offers limited-time flavors like salted shrimp and milk tea. The popcorn is airy and light, and their standard soy sauce butter flavor is always a crowd pleaser!
If you're one of those people who enjoys eating a block of uncooked ramen as a snack, Baby Star is for you. These broken pieces of dried ramen noodles are flavored with savory seasonings for your crunching pleasure! Pair them with beer or other alcohol for an even better time.
Arare is a genre of many similar kinds of rice snacks and crackers known to go well with drinks. Two of my most recommended varieties are hineri-age, an impossibly crispy twirled fry dusted with savory powder, and ponsuke, dense cubes of sweet-and-salty herbal flavor. But to be honest, you can't go wrong with any arare!
And finally, no discussion of Japanese junk food would be complete without Piza Poteto, the infamous pizza-flavored chip of Japan. Unlike any American cheese-flavored chip I've had, Japanese chips often have drips of real (or semi-real) cheese baked onto them, packing an extra wallop of moisture and flavor. Another great snack to pair with your alcoholic beverage of choice for a sordid night of snacking!
You can never run out of new Japanese snacks to sample, but these were some of the most popular, unmissable players in the industry. So next time you're pawing through the Pocky boxes, look out for any of these delectable treats you haven't yet tried!