From Salty to Sweet: An Intro to Japanese Treats

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A Bite of Japan

Food in Japan is a representation of its many different regions, with their unique seasonal ingredients and culinary practices that have endured for centuries. It also embodies the different trends that get incorporated into it in innovative ways over time. With regional specialties and Japanese takes on delicacies from all around the world, Japanese food offers a wide range of treats and dishes to enjoy throughout the year and throughout the day. Take a look below to find something that’s sure to satisfy whatever your heart desires!

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by Yami Partner Satoko Kakihara

A Salty Bite

In Japan, 3 o’clock is known as oyatsu no jikan—snack time! While you can choose anything as your oyatsu, there are some go-to favorites, ranging from the traditional to the innovative.

A senbei is translated as “rice cracker” in English, and it’s a common mid-day snack, often had with a cup of green tea. It’s usually made by baking thin pieces of rice flour dough, and its flavors and add-ins include soy sauce, salt, seaweed… You name it, it probably exists. In Japan A bag of Kuriyama Ajimurasaki Bakauke Rice Cracker is perfect to take to hangouts with friends. You can also try bags of arare to dabble in this Japanese traditional snack.

Another option is the good ol’ potechi—potato chips, of course. While there are many fun varieties and flavors (including pizza, sukiyaki, and chocolate-covered), you can opt for the not-so-classics with options like the Chip Star Aroma Sesame Oil. The Calbee company (which has been around since the 1940s) is a fan favorite when it comes to potato chips in Japan, and maybe you’ll think similarly when you try their MY POTE White Truffle Potato Chips too…

We also can’t forget the ubiquitous box of Pretz. While Pocky might be the sweet face of Glico, the company also makes a salty counterpart. Actually pronounced “Pritz” (who knew?), in Japan you can get flavors like “Chicken & Herb” and “Scallop & Soy sauce,” while stateside you can try PRETZ Baked Snack Sticks Pizza Flavored and Pretz Tomato Flavor Stick.

A Sweet Bite

The fact of life is that, if you have something salty, you have to have something sweet to balance it out. One common sweet snack is a kashi pan, where kashi refers to anything from “confectionery” to “pastry”. You can get kashi pan from places like bakeries and convenience stores, and you can sometimes catch manga characters eating kashi pan packed in plastic bags as their “lunch.” Try ones like the Natural Yeast Bread Okinawa Brown Sugar Flavor and others from D-PLUS, and you’ll want it as an accompaniment to your mid-day meal too.

If you want a less starchy snack that’s nonetheless sweet, you can always opt for chocolate! While Meiji has regular ita choco (literally “board chocolate”) like their Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate, their Meltyblend and Meltykiss items are also popular. Try these individually-wrapped sweets in flavors like Green Tea, Hazelnut, and even Rum & Raisin.

And of course, it’s not a Japanese sweets write-up without some Nestlé Kit Kats. While the “regular” flavors like Cocoa and Matcha are available in Japanese grocery stores, the special flavors—like Japanese Sake and Shizuoka Wasabi—are hard to come by even in Japan. You can stock up on Kit Kats when flying out of Japanese airports, because they have all the fun flavors (even though they’re a bit pricey). It’s nice to know that even in the States you can get your hands on flavors like Orange and Caramel Banana!

A Slurp

While rice is a staple in Japan, different types of noodles are popular there as well. In addition to European pasta, Japanese cuisine includes noodles made from wheat flour or buckwheat flour, enjoyed with or without broth, served hot or cold… For every occasion, there are noodles that are just right for it.

Ramen is arguably the most popular “Japanese” noodles outside of Japan, even though the dish is tied to the history of labor immigration from China. Over a century later, ramen is the gold standard for instant food that is, let’s face it, never not good. Bagged options like the SAPPORO ICHIBAN Instant Japanese Ramen Miso Flavor is popular, along with the cup version of the Instant Tonkotsu Noodle, with the pork-based “tonkotsu” broth (not to be confused to “tonkatsu”, which is a deep-fried pork cutlet). Have it for lunch, have it for dinner, or have it for your midnight snack.

But then, if it’s really midnight, who can bother to use a pot? It’s best to have on hand a stock of Nissin Cup Noodles. Whether it’s the Tom Yum Goong Flavor, the BIG Cup Noodles Spicy Seafood Flavor, or the ever-popular Beef Flavor, there’s no pleasure like the guilty pleasure of eating cup noodles late at night...

And if you prefer soup-less noodles that remind you of summer festivals in Japan (that you, er, maybe haven’t gone to yet but definitely will some day), check out the yakisoba. While soba is the name for buckwheat noodles popular in Japan, yakisoba is made not from soba noodles but from the same wheat flour-based noodles used in ramen. Yakisoba is popular at beaches and baseball games and is most commonly flavored with Worcestershire sauce. You can try the spicy Yakisoba Japanese Style Noodles with Mustard Mayonnaise or the garlicky Yomise-no Yakisoba Oriental Flavor with Mayonnaise to explore.

A Sip

Talking about Japanese food isn’t complete without talking about drinks. While Japan tends to be associated with green tea, coffee was already in circulation there in the 1800s, and Japan’s coffee culture has been vibrant since the 1910s. UCC (Ueshima Coffee Company)’s Blend Coffee with Milk Original Flavor is a classic, while their Blend 118 Coffee Powder is more than respectable, even for coffee snobs.

But let’s be real, Japan is tea country—and from green to brown to red, there’s a tea for all palates. The Traditional Oi Ocha Green Tea bags are a convenient way to get in on the healthy tea habit. If you want a little sweetness, you can enjoy the Doutor Season Cafe Hojicha Latte, either hot or cold. And life is not complete unless you have some Afternoon Tea—it’s every kid’s gateway into the rich world of this beverage.

If you’re laying off the caffeine, you can try something like the Okinawa Salted Lychee Drink. Its complex flavors can transport you to a breezy seashore on a hot, summer’s day in Japan. If you want childhood nostalgia, check out the Natchan Orange Soft Drink (along with its Apple or Grape varieties). You can also try any of the cute fruit sodas, from Fujiya’s Nectar Shine Muscat Soda to Tomomasu’s Muskmelon Soda. Any one of these can hit the spot.

A Special Something

Enjoying Japanese food involves experiences beyond just eating. Enter… themed food items! Companies and eateries often collaborate with franchises and intellectual properties to add an extra something to your meals and snacks. (A recent Yoshinoya x Jujutsu Kaisen collab was a hit, for example.)

If you’re a fan of Hello Kitty, you can pick up bags of Sanrio Kokuto Biscuit or Sanrio Ribon Biscuit. You can also enjoy some Pokemon Chocolate Cookies, if you’re a fan of Pikachu. These treats are great to enjoy, no matter what age you are!