When it comes to … well, everything, Japan has it figured out. They know that toilets should be comfortable, so they add seat warmers. They know hotels should be comforting, so they throw in free pyjamas with your stay. And because they know that meals need look good, taste good, and offer something decidedly different, Japan rules the snack-food market. Here are five of the best:
1. Ice cream
Cone vs. cup just doesn’t compare to what you’ll find in Japan. One of the most popular ice cream treats, Coolish soft-serve, comes in a pouch with a plastic tube. Though frozen solid in the freezer case, these treats warm in your hands to the perfect temperature. Ever had to race through an ice cream cone for fear the melting goodness would end up on your white shirt? No longer! The Coolish pouches mean no fuss, no mess, all good times.
2. Chinese chicken burgers at Lucky Pierrot
There are only 17 Lucky Pierrot outlets in the world, and they’re all in Hakodate, Hokkaido. If you find yourself craving some fast food, this is where the locals will send you. How popular is it? There are only three McDonald’s restaurants in the city. In other words, Lucky Pierrot is so popular, the golden arches can’t get a foothold. Each store feels like walking into an episode of the Simpsons: giant chairs, oversized teddy bears, random inflatables, and Lucky Pierrot’s clown mascot are everywhere. Once you’ve taken all the photos you can, sidle up to the counter and order the sandwich the locals do: the Chinese chicken burger, which is pieces of deep fried chicken with a spicy ginger sauce (think General Tao) served on a soft bun. Want to change it up? They also offer curries, pastas, squid burgers, and more.
3. Seafood on the shelf
Who hasn’t dreamed of curling up with a handful of sardines and almonds to watch a movie? The combo of seafood and nuts is very popular with parents who figure it’s healthier than most of the bites in the candy aisle, as well as bar hoppers who wash down the salty treat with pints of Sapporo. Also popular: dried squid — sold right there next to the Kit Kat bars.
North American candy may be good…but Japanese candy is better — and better looking! And it’s not just for kids. In the Harajuku neighbourhood of Tokyo, you’ll spot adults lining up at Totti Candy Factory for rainbow-coloured spools of cotton candy as big as a human head, and cake pops fashioned into animal faces. Also popular: opportunities to play with your food. Candy sushi kits mean you can build entire meals that look like the real thing with moulds and candy sheets, and then sit down to a nothing-but-candy meal. Brilliant.
If you can make it to Takumi no Sato in Minakami, locals will teach you how to make the popular udon noodles — with your feet. After you’ve prepared the dough under the watchful eye of a local cook, she’ll wrap it in plastic, throw it on the ground, and show you how to knead it to perfection with your tender tootsies. When you’re done, you’ll slice it and send it off to be cooked while you make your way to a low table to wait. No time for all that stomping? No problem: both udon and soba noodles are the snack of choice at train stations across the country. You’ll spot locals slurping them up in between high-speed trains on the platform.
Hungry for a taste of Japan? G Adventures can get you there. Check out our small group tours of Japan here.