Yatai stands for the Japanese culture of street food. The kind that is sold at food stands and eaten standing – and believe it or not, it’s a slowly dying tradition, especially in cities like Tokyo. You can still come across yatai food stalls, especially at traditional matsuri festivals, but not as much on the bustling streets of the big city. However, there are still spots where you can enjoy yatai outside of a festival setting, and that what we’re tackling in this article. We’re going to tell you where to find the last remaining yatai food courts in Tokyo, and what foods you can try out at each location.
Two rules of thumb when it comes to street food stalls are: 1) markets=yatai, and 2) Shitamachi=yatai. For those of you who don’t know, Shitamachi refers to areas like Ueno, Taito, Asakusa, and Nihonbashi – places that started off as markets for the common folk. This brings us back to the first rule – an area that is, or used to be a market is guaranteed to have some sort of yatai spot.
1. Nakamise Dori (Asakusa)
Although it has lost a lot of its authentic charm due to the influx of tourists, Nakamise Dori and the side streets of Asakusa are great spots for trying out yatai. As it’s an open-air market, the best time to visit it is during the warm season. Asakusa is famous for its traditional Japanese food stalls, that serve traditional sweets like dango and taiyaki, but also fresh senbei (rice crackers), takoyaki, yakitori, and yakisoba.
Name: Nakamise Shopping Street
Address: 1-36-3, Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 111-0032, Japan
Business hour: Every day, 10am-5pm
Phone number:+81 3-3844-3350
Official website: http://www.asakusa-nakamise.jp/
2. Ameyoko (Ueno)
Yet another Shitamachi area, Ueno is famous for its main shopping street, known as Ameyokocho, or simply Ameyoko. Calling it a shopping street is a bit of a far stretch though – it’s more of a traditional market setting. Besides the stalls selling souvenir jackets and military goods, Ameyoko is known for the street food, which is usually dirt cheap and very delicious. The special thing about enjoying yatai in Ameyoko is that you get to try foods from all over the world – from Chinese dumplings to Turkish kebabs. Of course, you can also find tons of stalls selling Japanese yatai staples, such as yakitori, hot dogs(which are more similar to corn dogs by Western standards), Korokke, and crab meat skewers.
Name: Ameyoko Shopping Street
Address: 4 Chome, Ueno, Taito-ku, Tokyo, 110-0005, Japan
Business hour: Every day, 10am-8pm
Phone number: +81 3-3832-5053
Official website: http://www.ameyoko.net/
3. Piss Alley(Shinjuku)
The Piss Alley, or ‘Memory Lane’ is a short street in Shinjuku known for being lined with traditional izakaya and food stalls. It’s the perfect place for bar-hopping, that’s why many people end up dead drunk before they reach the other end of the alley (hence the name). However, you can also enjoy the street food culture on Piss Alley, even if you’re not that much of a drinker. Piss Alley is best known for the grilled skewers – be that yakitori, tofu, fish, meatballs, veggies, or other ingredients.
Name: Piss Alley
Address: 1-2-8 Nishishinjuku Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0023 Japan
Business hour: Every day, 5pm-depends on the shop
Official website: http://www.shinjuku-omoide.com/english/index.html
4. Ebisu Yokochou (Shibuya)
Ebisu Yokochou is another great place to enjoy street food. As opposed to all the places mentioned above, this is actually a small covered street, where you can enjoy the food from different stalls in a seated setting, and without worrying about the weather. Must-try foods include yakiniku – grilled beef, but also yakitori and various skewered ingredients. You can also get sushi, ramen, and okonomiyaki in Ebisu Yokocho, but those aren’t really representative yatai choices.
Name: Ebisu Yokochou
Address: 1-7-4, ,Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-0013, Japan
Business hour: Every day, 5pm-4am
Official website: http://www.ebisu-yokocho.com/top.html
5. Harmonica Yokocho (Kichijoji)
Harmonica Alley is another street food paradise located in Kichijoji. It’s not as famous as the Piss Alley, but it’s definitely just as interesting, especially in terms of food choices. You can find traditional yatai choices such as yakisoba and grilled skewers, but also international influences, such as Chinese dumplings and pizza, as well as Japanese staples, such as ramen and sushi.
Name: Harmonica Yokocho
Address: Musashino 1st Bldg., 1-31-6, Kichijoji-motocho, Musashino-shi, Tokyo, 180-0004, Japan
Business hour: Every day, 3pm-4am
These are the top 5 streets and spots where you can still experience the Japanese street food culture in the bustling city of Tokyo. Although there aren’t many of these places left, the few that are still in business are great examples of what Japanese street food tastes and feels like – and that’s exactly what you’re looking for!
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