Known for flashing neon lights, entrancing billboards, and the enormous, waving sea of people, Shibuya is the kind of magnetic place you’ll find yourself drawn to as if pulled in by the tide. This youth-oriented area is surrounded by cutting-edge fashion districts, new and old record shops, trendy bars, and of course, endless dining options to choose from. While you can always stroll around and visit high-end restaurants serving up some of the most popular and best Japanese dishes in Tokyo, if you’re looking for a hole-in-the-wall shop that will leave you with a happy tummy, the trusty street food stalls always a fantastic option, proving that eating in Shibuya doesn’t have to be expensive.
The –yakis are the epitome of Japanese street food culture, including takoyaki, okonomiyaki, yakisoba, and taiyaki. “Yaki” meaning "to grill," just about sums up the city’s street food scene. It’s just how it sounds: fast, fresh, and fiery-hot. Commonly spotted at festivals, near temples and shrines, and along shopping streets, food stalls are an iconic part of the Tokyo foodie landscape, and Shibuya is definitely one of the best areas to get your fix of street food in Tokyo. Here are some of the best street food you can enjoy in bustling Shibuya.
If you’re in the mood for street food, you definitely can’t miss takoyaki, just follow the warm, savory aroma! Hailing from Osaka, takoyaki (octopus-filled balls of batter) is also a staple of street food in Shibuya. As you wait in line, you can watch this scrumptious golf-ball-sized snack being fried up with practiced skill and rhythm. The batter is poured onto the special takoyaki griddle, which has circular divets to create the round shape, and sprinkled with pieces of octopus, then deftly flipped, and served up in rectangular paper trays. Finally, they're slathered generously with a savory-sweet sauce, drizzled with Japanese mayonnaise, and sprinkled with katsuobushi fish flakes that dance from the heat of the freshly-grilled snack. They are cooked to perfection with a slightly crispy exterior and a soft and gooey interior. Takoyaki can be found everywhere in the streets of Shibuya. An order of six usually costs 260 to 600 yen, so it won’t break the bank. But be careful, takoyaki is served piping hot, and their lava-like molten centers have spelled the end of many taste buds. It's worth it though; considered the pinnacle of all street food in Japan, takoyaki definitely lives up to the hype.
One street food gem you might stumble across in Shibuya is okonomiyaki. Not only is okonomiyaki one of the easiest and accessible dishes in the city, but it’s also one of the cheapest ones. “Okonomi” meaning “as you like it” is another batter-based street food, into which you can toss just about anything, before pan-frying it to crispy and golden brown perfection. Typically, okonomiyaki is made with shredded cabbage, a protein of your choice (slices of pork, beef, seafood), and other ingredients such as cheese or shredded vegetables. It’s really up to you! Most food stalls offer two styles of okonomiyaki: Kansai-style and Hiroshima-style. You’ll also find another type of this dish called negiyaki, which is made with green onions instead of shredded cabbage. An order of okonomiyaki usually costs 300 to 700 yen.
Yakitori, or grilled chicken, is hands-down the best companion for your ice cold beer, so it’s no wonder it’s a staple of izakaya bar food in Tokyo. You can get grilled chicken skewers made from all different parts of the chicken, like chicken thigh, breast, skin, and liver. There's also a variety of yakiniku (grilled meat) made with juicy, bite-size pieces pork or beef (even top-quality Kobe beef), and you can have grilled skewered vegetables as well. Freshly made right in front of your eyes, the yakiniku skewers are popped onto the grill over an open flame, while the watchful shopkeeper deftly flips them for even cooking. You'll have your succulent skewer in no time. You can find yakitori being sold in the streets, but if you fancy a sit-down establishment, head over to an izakaya for your fix of this smoky, grilled treat. An order of yakitori usually costs 150 to 200 per stick, and it also pairs perfectly with sake.
If all the walking and shopping has exhausted you and you want to cool down with something sweet, the Shibuya streets have got you covered. To start off, a sweet serving of melonpan ice cream should do the trick. "Melonpan," meaning "melon bread," is a staple of bakeries all over Japan, but don't be fooled by the name, it isn't actually melon-flavored. The name actually refers to the crispy and sugary cookie-like topping over this fluffy bun, which has a cross-hatch pattern meant to resemble a melon. Combined with ice cream, melonpan is elevated to extreme heights of deliciousness. Visit a shop literally called "World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon-Pan Ice Cream" to try this yummy sweet treat. A complex experience of textures, melonpan ice cream is crunchy, fluffy, and melty all at the same time. This must-eat food will cost about 350 yen.
For a sticky, sweet, and chewy treat, try dango. With a sweet and savory sauce, these bite-size delights can satisfy both cravings for dessert or a salty snack in one go. Dango is a classic Shibuya street food, made out of mochiko rice flour, and are reminiscent of Japanese festival seasons. One type of dango, mitarashi dango, is skewered and grilled before being slathered in a sweet soy sauce glaze. Because of the way it is cooked, it has a subtly smoky flavor. Another type of dango is the iconic tri-colored hanami dango with pink, white, and green balls, which is usually eaten during the sakura (cherry blossom) festival season in spring. A super portable and cheap snack, one skewer of dango usually goes for 110 to 150 yen.
If you have a sweet tooth, you’ve got to try taiyaki, a fish-shaped cake with a waffle-like texture, usually filled with anko (sweet red bean paste). Originating in Tokyo, taiyaki is a Western-influenced Japanese snack. Traditional Japanese sweets, called wagashi, are made of bean paste rather than flour, and historically, Japan's food culture didn't include baked goods. Even today, it is rare to see a Japanese home with an oven. Taiyaki combines the tradition of Japanese sweets with a Western-style batter, to make this uniquely Japanese, fish-shaped treat. Taiyaki is very popular because of its fun shape, especially with kids, and it is cooked in a special fish-shaped iron griddle. While red bean is the classic flavor, you can find many other flavor variations at different stalls, including custard, chocolate, hazelnut, sweet potato, and even ice cream. Served warm, these cute sweets will cost around 100 to 300 yen.
With narrow side streets, little alleyways ending in hidden shrines, and gleaming skyscrapers, Shibuya can be a confusing maze, but if you get lost you’ll likely wind up discovering an off-the-radar hidden gem tucked away in a backstreet. So, next time you’re in lively Shibuya, just follow your nose and you'll find the most delicious street foods, ranging from savory takoyaki to sweet taiyaki to chewy dango. These delicious no-utensils-required treats are the perfect snack to provide a little break in your day, so you can go forth with the energy to tackle the rest of your Tokyo itinerary.
For a tour of the absolute best street food joints in Shibuya, along with insider tips about Japanese food culture from a local food expert, join our Shibuya Street Food Hunt Tour!
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