You don’t have to look far to find weird and wonderful snacks when travelling through Japan. Every street corner boasts a conbini, or convenience store; a jackpot of nibbles and ready-made meals that range from the mouth-watering to the mysterious.
Here are some tips on what to stock up on next time you’re feeling peckish.
1. Potato sticks
There’s thick-cut potato chips and then there’s potato sticks. Served in little cups of joy, these snacks resemble hot chips, but are actually just crisps in disguise. Highly recommended for a flavour and texture bliss out.
If there’s a weird shaped, squishy looking snack that you’re wondering about, the chances are high that it’s some form of mochi. This glutinous rice mixture is prepared in a variety of ways, from skewered balls glazed with caramel sauce to a coating on ice cream balls.
Be warned; this mini rice cracker and peanut mix is super more-ish and goes down a treat with beer or chu-hai. It’s available in a choice of spiciness levels; watch out for the wasabi!
4. Shiroi Koibito
These shortbread and white chocolate cookies are a speciality of Hokkaido, and all visitors to the north island should buy at least two boxes; one to eat, and one to gift (or eat later). The delicate layers of cookie and chocolate melt in your mouth, and one shiroi koibito is never enough.
How can a pretzel be so tasty? Forget your preconceived notions of tasteless wheat sticks, Pretz give Shapes a run for their money with delicious flavours such as pizza, bacon and curry.
6. Shoyu Tamago
Don’t pass up on the weird, brown eggs – they have been boiled in soy sauce and are a salty, satisfying delight.
Literally translated as ‘delicious stick’, these puffed corn snacks may throw you with their texture the first time you bite down, but munch through to enjoy the flavour, which could be anything from chocolate to teriyaki burger.
8. Potatochip Chocolate
This is the ultimate combo of sweet and salty, and available from Royce’ Chocolate in original, caramel and white chocolate varieties. It’s one of those snacks that you can’t decide whether you like, but can’t stop eating.
More Inspiration from Japan
This snack is exactly what it looks like – baby crabs, fried and glazed, ready for your crunching pleasure. Anyone who likes shellfish will most likely be a fan, but the taste comes at a price of getting little bits of crustacean stuck in your teeth.
10. Koala Cookies
These popular bites of chocolate-filled wafer are printed with a picture of a Koala, and are a scrumptious treat that you'll want to eat by the handful. Look out for the iconic hexagonal tube and try the strawberry and chocolate varieties together for a berry-choc extravaganza.
11. Green Tea Kit Kats
The matcha-flavoured Kit Kats are hard to find outside of Japan and make a fantastic souvenir. They’re chocolatey and delicious with just a hint of green tea otherness, which helps you pretend that it's a little bit healthy.
This is one that should only be bought freshly made, and is easy to find in pop up stalls and dedicated takoyaki shops in built up areas. Gooey, bite sized octopus dumplings are drenched with tasty sauce and sprinkled with bonito flakes. Once you get over the octopus thing, this will be your new favourite street food.
A staple of the Japanese diet, onigiri are rice balls wrapped in seaweed that conceal a filling of meat or vegetables. Unwrapping them is an art in itself, as is choosing the right flavour – tuna mayo is all well and good, but guess wrong and you could end up with salty plum or fermented bean.
14. Drinking Yoghurt
The Japanese have taken drinking yoghurt to a whole new level. Thick, creamy and with a wide option of flavours, these dairy delights make a very satisfying snack on the go.
If you see an assortment of pots simmering away ominously at the front of your chosen conbini, fear not; the mysterious looking floaties are actually nutritious, very reasonably priced food, usually eaten as a meal rather than a snack. Oden items range from tube-shaped fishcakes to tofu pouches, and can add up to be a substantial lunch on the cheap.
Every conbini boasts a large pre-packaged pastry section, and the Japanese are masters of both sweet and savoury cakes and breads. From stuffed pancakes to sweet cheese tarts, you’ll be surprised and delighted at how good your plastic-wrapped goodie can be. Take care when selecting chocolatey looking treats - there’s always a chance you’ll get a mouthful of bean paste.