Kyoto Street Food: Sweets, Treats, and Things on Sticks

One thing Japan and the United States have in common is a love of street food. From holiday celebrations and festivals, to popular sightseeing destinations, the vendors of Kyoto pack the streets shoulder to shoulder. After more than a month of visiting these hot and ready hot spots, I have compiled a rundown of five of the most common, and the most delectable, must-have snacks.

My favorite treat so far, I have spotted this fish-shaped waffle at every event and vendor location – sometimes sold by several vendors at the same spot. Two halves of the fish are cooked in cast-iron molds before being infused with warm custard, red bean paste, chocolate, or if you’re lucky, a red bean and macha-flavored filling. The two halves are brought together in flavorful union, wrapped in paper, and handed to the lucky customer for only ¥150.

The overwhelming popularity of this snack precedes it for most people – now for some of you as well. In large cast-iron treys, batter balls are fried and filled with white and purple chunks of octopus, green onions, golden ginger, and tempura flakes. Topped with creamy white mayonnaise, glistening bronze takoyaki sauce, a sprinkling of green aonori, and finalized with tan rippling bonito flakes. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, exploding with flavor, ¥500 is a good deal.

Choco Bananas
The name says it all. But it must be mentioned due to their fanatical presence among the food stands. At one festival I counted… well I lost count to be honest, but it was more stands then seemed necessary. From what I can tell, a banana is chosen from the bunch, deskinned, impaled on a stick, plunged headfirst into hot chocolate, then displayed in front of its family. Also Despicable Me minions are a common theme and loved by the children. ¥300 and you are all set.

Mochi Balls
Mochi is rice beaten into a tacky, chewy, sweet goodness. Severed roasted over coals on a stick or in a sugar powder with fillings like red bean paste and strawberries, this is an iconic Japanese classic. If you go the roasted on a stick route, the green tea infused balls are my favorite, and though they give you the option of adding mitarashi sauce, it’s not really an option – get the savory wonderfullness. ¥200 and all your troubles will melt away.

Choose Your Own Plate
If you show up with a real appetite, the easiest option for your stomach and for your wallet is the vendor who does it all. A good cook will have more than a handful of options, so here are some menu items to look for: octopus on a stick, meat-filled cabbage balls, mushrooms on a stick, noodle-knots, konnyaku – a brown gelatinous treat with a mild flavor, but addictive texture, multiple kinds of tofu, and boiled eggs. Also, a habit of adding fresh hot broth to the whole mix is a good sign. Show up with ¥500 to ¥750 and eat heartily my friend.

By Anthony Vitale