12 Japanese Snack Food You Will Not Want To Leave Behind
If there is one thing about Japan that I know, it’s this: everyone I have ever known who has been here for a considerable period knows that the Japanese snack industry is one rabbit hole that once you’ve crawled in, you may never crawl back out. Because the Japanese snack industry rabbit hole is deeper than the Mariana Trench, believe me.
The Japanese people, by and large, have a highly refined palate. When I first started getting to know my wife, I used to just wrinkle my nose every time she would use the often commonly used term, "subtle taste". But don’t fret, your Uncle Eric’s here to point you in the right direction so you’ll know exactly which snacks to send home to family and friends.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with some savory Japanese cookies such as these. A cookie that I found one morning at the grocery store called "Waffeln" as you can see in these pictures, are without a doubt at the top of my personal list of favorite cookies that I have ever had in my whole life. Think of them as something that looks like a thick Ruffle potato chip, but it’s actually a subtly sweet and buttery cookie sandwich with soft sweet cream in the middle.
They’re not cheap by any means but are worth every yen, undoubtedly. You can find them at just about any department store’s confectionary floor in the cookie and cake aisle.
Morinaga Sandwich Cakes
Since we’re on the sweet side of things here, I would be remiss if I were to fail to mention the Morinaga company’s Great Sand Milk Caramel cake cookies, as shown here. If you’re a coffee person like myself, it’s always nice to enjoy a sweet treat with a cup of coffee.
But that’s not all, Morinaga Moonlight, is dynamite because again it is a subtly sweet cake-cookie sandwich with a soft cream filling that goes with coffee just splendidly. You must try them for yourself to decide which you actually like best. Their Gateau Chocolat and Gateau Chocolat Matcha are the bee’s knees when it comes to fine chocolate cake sandwich snacks.
Meito Alcoholic Chocolates
I could go on and on with how Japanese chocolate is a whole rabbit hole all of its own, but let me just give you some of the highlights. However, I’m sure you’ve had chocolate with booze in it before, but these are 7th-level sensational chocolates that made me actually reconsider my religious beliefs. Meito alcoholic chocolates are fantastic, beyond anything I’d had previously. I also enjoy the VSOP/Remy Martin chocolates, as well as the Highball Scotch Chocolates.
Kit Kat Bars
Though the Nestle Corporation is not a Japanese company, but only in Japan will you find the most diabolically delicious editions of KitKat, such as dark chocolate, matcha green tea, nuts and cranberry, strawberries and cream, or raspberry.
Pori Corn Giant Corn
Of course, cookies, cakes, and chocolates are always neat. But it would be incomplete without the sweet treat of a crunch and munch snack to eat that few in this world could ever compete.
Pori Corn ポリコーン, (giant corn) was one of the first Japanese snacks that I nearly lost my marbles on after the first try. Back in Los Angeles, once or twice a year, the local Japanese grocery store, Mitsuwa, would get them. They were like a super popcorn, reminiscent of the kettle corn you might get at any local farmer’s market or state fair, only better.
They are available in just about any grocery store and have a taste that will knock your socks off. With a slightly sweet, slightly salty flavor to them, a nice crunch and firm texture, consider this a robust recommendation that you stock up on Pori Corn to send or carry back home with you so that you’ll be able to survive until your next visit to Japan. Once you’ve had them, you’ll never be able to forget.
ピーナツかりんとう, Peanuts Karintou, which my wife and I affectionately call "Cat Poo", are a snack that I particularly enjoy munching on together with a hot and spicy snack. These aren’t the only cat poo looking snacks out there, but they’re my favorites. They do actually come in a darker, more ominous looking variety that are a dark burnt sugar flavor.
Yeah, I know how it sounds to enjoy a snack that kind of looks like cat poo. But what can I say? They’re just plain good.
ピーナツせんべい, Peanuts senbei, are a snack that I had personally named Scooby Snacks, because they are a deliciously sweet treat with a respectable crunch that’s hard to beat. Anyone who has watched Scooby Doo enough times as a kid remembers that Shaggy, Fred, Velma, and Daphne could get Scooby to do just about anything for a Scooby Snack. Well, I’ve done laundry, cooked dinner, done dishes, pulled weeds, killed bugs, and even spared a few spiders, all for a bag of peanuts senbei. Something that I really enjoy about Japanese sweet snacks is that they are sweet without being too sweet.
Tohato Caramel Corn
You’ll notice that here in Japan, folks appreciate caramel so much that you can find caramel corn in various stores around town. Normally, the Tohato Caramel Corn comes in a small red bag, but they are smaller in size per puff. They also come in a maroon colored back which has almonds, and I’m sure a nut person would love those even more.
Personally, I found them to be rather expensive and discovered that these puffed caramel corn snacks with peanuts are far better than actual caramel corn.
Sukon Yamitsuki Barbecue スコーンやみつき
Crunchy, well that’s a food texture that transcends borders, cultures, and belief systems. It’s something that just about everyone I’ve ever met in my entire lifetime has shown a sense of not just love but reverence. Starting from the bottom, have a gander at Sukon Yamitsuki Barbecue スコーンやみつき (sweet corn crazy barbecue - pictured).
Usually, you find them in Gorilla Barbecue, Sweet Corn, or traditional Cheese Corn (just like the old school Cheeto of American fame). But something that Japanese snack companies do that I absolutely adore is to come out with limited edition versions of their snacks. Give them a try, they’re worth taking or sending a bag home.
Something you’ll find at just about every Japanese market ever to open their doors are Kameda Crisps, (kakinotane) which are little rice crackers with peanuts. They’re great with beer and often come in limited edition versions that impress me every time.
Piri Curry ピリカーレ
Piri Curry ピリカーレ managed to find its way into my heart as I have become a fiend for Japanese curry–the spicier the better–over the years. Nowhere in the United States have I seen so much as a single snack company get it into their heads to make a curry snack. Curry’s great, but a munchable crunchy curry is diabolically delicious, and that’s real talk.
This next snack is pretty good, I like it very much. Karauma (spicy delicious) is a snack mix, which mixes well with other snacks. As I said, it would be nice if they had bigger bags with more generous portions. But I’ll take what I can get, because these are a righteous snack. Karauma has shaku shaku ni ageta tougarashi (deep fried hot pepper), tougarashi kakinotane (hot pepper persimmon seeds), ma-ra-pi (sansho with hot pepper peanuts), and tougarashi agesen (peanut rice cracker with hot pepper).
Which brings me to the pièce de résistance, the finest snack that I have enjoyed since I got here. Gekikara Kakinotane & peanuts, are legit. I sent them home and they got the official seal of approval from my self-anointed-experts-on-everything-that's-hot-and-spicy friends and family. They’re fantastic with beer and even better when you mix them with something sweet. By the way, while the name kakinotane means persimmon seeds, there are no actual persimmon seeds in the snack. They’re only called that because allegedly they’re shaped like persimmon seeds.
Where Can You Find Them?
If you plan to come to Japan to fill your suitcase with delicious snacks, you should know that most of the chain grocery stores have a ¥98 snack aisle. As much as most people prefer the famous brands, the ¥98 snack aisle is legit. You’ll save money and enjoy the snacks just as much as you would the more popular brand name snacks. Salty, sweet, mini donuts, you name it, they’ve got it in the ¥98 aisle.
I could go on and on with this, but I’ve already gone several pages deep. But be sure to keep up to date with Taiken for more Japanese snacks, cuisine, points of interest, trends, and cultural information, as more will be forthcoming.