Asakusa is a packed sightseeing area and while you’re exploring, there’s nothing better than some street food to keep you going. From thunder crackers to temple-cakes, there are plenty of unusual and traditional foods to try here, as well as an entire street dedicated to snacks and another to a popular local drink!
Street Food in Japan
It often comes as a surprise to many who visit Japan that street food is not as popular as many other countries they may have visited. In Japan eating in public places such as while walking in the street is considered rude, even more so if you are on public transport. There are some exceptions to this, however, such as during festivals or in specific tourist-led areas. In Asakusa, the habit of tabe-aruki (eating while strolling) is sometimes more acceptable as snacks are sold in the shopping district and temple grounds, but it is still not widely accepted. Be aware that many shops will have signs to warn that you should eat their food indoors - if this is the case be sure to do so.
Nakamise: A Shopping and Snacking Street
A 250m stretch between the Kaminarimon gate of Sensoji and the inner gate, Nakamise is packed with long-running stalls selling souvenirs and snacks. Whether you’re visiting to pick up a few gifts for friends or to admire the temple, trying some of the treats on offer is a must.
Kaminari Okoshi: Thunder Crackers
Known as thunder crackers, these are crunchy squares of crisp rice mixed with sugar syrup. While some have peanuts, you can also find varieties with seasonal flavours and festival themed mixes. The treats have been sold for over 200 years and are named after the gate, with kaminarimon meaning ‘thunder gate’ and packaging is often decorated with the god of thunder, Raijin. Tokiwado at the foot of Nakamise is a popular store to visit and sell the treats freshly made so you can enjoy them while still warm.
Kibi Dango Azuma: Kinako Treats
Serving the familiar treat of soft millet mochi dipped in roasted soybean powder (called kinako), this is a store that is always graced with a queue. They make their popular snack fresh and fast, however, so you won’t be waiting too long. The store is easily spotted thanks to their white rabbit logo as well as the large bowls of kinako powder. It closes to the foot of the shopping street on the west side.
Dorayaki and more at Umezono
A simple but delicious red-bean pancake, dorayaki isn’t unique to Asakusa, but have been perfecting their sweets since 1854. They were originally a teahouse in the grounds of Sensoji’s annex, surrounded by plum trees (plum being ume in Japanese). They sell sweets as well as having a cafe with traditional desserts to try, including annmitsu (a dessert of agar jelly and red bean paste). Takeaway souvenir options include a variety of mochi including kashiwa mochi (wrapped in an oak leaf) and kintsuba (a thick sweet bean paste). The shop is located about half-way up Nakamisedori on the west side.
Melon Pan at Asakusa Kagetsudo
Kagetsudo is considered one of the best places in Tokyo to try the delicious sweet treat of melon pan. It may surprise you that there’s no melon involved, the name actually comes from the cracked appearance of the baked bread’s shell. Serving up freshly baked breads with a 1950’s atmosphere, the stall keeps the menu simple - you can try it alone or add ice cream to make a sandwich. The original store opened in 1945 but now there are a handful in the area, with one just off Nakamisedori, close to the Kaminarimon gate and another a short walk to the west of the temple complex.
Kimura’s Ningyoyaki: Locally themed cakes
Ningyoyaki is another simple but fun treat that comes in a variety of locally-inspired shapes. Featuring pigeons, the landmark lanterns and the pagoda, these small griddle-cakes are best eaten fresh but can also be taken home in carefully wrapped boxes. Nigyoyaki have been a popular snack here since the Meiji-era (1868 - 1912) and you can watch them being cooked in front of you using traditional methods. The store is located towards the top of Nakamisedori, on the east side.
Rice Crackers from Ichibanya Senbei
Stacked up and stored in jars, senbei are rice crackers with a wide variety of flavours. At Ichiban-ya Senbei, they are cooked over charcoal and you have 100 kinds to choose from. Whether you try a simple shio (salt) or shoyu (soy sauce) or opt for a more unusual seven spice, plum or the green onion and miso senbei, you’re sure to enjoy the crunchy texture and delicious flavours. While most are savoury, there are some options for those with a sweet-tooth, including the popular white senbei. The store is located in the center of Nakamisedori to the east side.
Hoppy Dori: Bar paradise
For those seeking a seat and plenty of drinks, then the nearby Hoppy Dori is the place to be. This is the downtown and nightlight highlight of Asakusa and is lined with bars, restaurants and izakaya (Japanese taverns), often with outdoor seating spilling onto the street. The street is named after a popular and weak alcoholic drink called Hoppy which was often drunk when people struggled to afford beer. While it can be drunk alone, it is often used as a mixer and is especially popular when combined with shochu - a Japanese distilled alcohol that can be made from rice, sweet potatoes, barley or a multitude of other bases. Along with the local drinks you can try nikomi, a special local stew that varies from restaurant to restaurant. The best part of exploring Hoppy-dori is finding an izakaya with space and meeting your neighbours - there are plenty of restaurants to choose from, and if they’re busy, you can always add your name to the waitlist while you explore.