Snacks in Japan are better. It’s just the truth. While Tim Tams and Shapes are pretty damn good, they just simply do not stack up to the umami-packed sweet and savoury flavour sensations that can be found in convenience stores and vending machines all over Japan (of which there are 5 million in the country).
While previously, we had to rely on visiting friends and family to bring us home matcha-flavoured Kit Kats and Pocky, nowadays, these treats can be easily found at local Japanese supermarkets.
We recommend Googling to find out your closest grocer, then stocking up on the best Japanese snack foods and drinks below to be enjoyed while watching the Tokyo Olympics from home.
Matcha Kit Kats
There have been over 300 limited-edition seasonal and regional KitKat flavours produced in Japan in the last 20 years, from whisky to sakura (cherry blossom). Our fave, and perhaps the tastiest of all, is the matcha KitKat. They’re really easy to find in Asian supermarkets and possess a nice subtle flavour that borders on savoury, and are delightful alongside a herbal tea.
Meiji’s Apollo chocolates are supreme in the strawberry flavour, so definitely stock up on these. The little cone-shaped treats are modelled after Mount Fuji with a sweet chocolate and strawberry flavour that’s subtle enough not to give you a toothache.
You’ve no doubt seen Pocky around; you can even get it at Coles. These little stick-shapes biscuits are dipped in chocolate with flavours of chocolate and strawberry the most widely available. If you seek out a Japanese supermarket, you’ll find plenty more flavours. Our faves are coconut, choc mint, cookies and cream and almond.
Hi-Chew is a taffy-like candy of chewing gum consistency that dissolves in your mouth. The flavours, of which there have been around 170 in total, are punchy and fruity. There’s green apple, grape, strawberry, banana, kiwi, and sour lemon, and they’re all super delicious.
Yukimi Mochi Ice Cream
A little trickier to spot, but an absolute must-buy if you find them, Yukimi Mochi Ice Creams are this editor’s favourite treat from the freezer. They come in packs of two or nine containing bite-sized creamy ice cream balls wrapped in chewy mochi (glutinous rice). If you ask us, the best flavour is vanilla with chocolate at a close second.
They’re pretty similar to Pringles, but somehow better. Chip Star also comes in a tube-shaped can and in a variety of flavours like seaweed salt, BBQ, butter, sour cream and onion, asparagus bacon, and original salt. We think it’s the texture that makes them superior; they’re somehow crunchier with a bit more substance.
Ichiran Instant Ramen
Ichiran is one of Japan’s biggest and most popular ramen chains. Known for its customisable ramens that are mean to be enjoyed in solo. While there’s nothing quite like dining in, the sensational broth and noodles can be enjoyed from afar as Ichiran has take-home instant ramen kits that are pretty close to the real deal. They’re not super cheap, costing around $10 each which is heaps compared to other instant ramen packs, but they’re definitely superior. You can find them at good Japanese grocers or online here.
It’s a puffed corn cylinder covered in delicious flavouring. A Yaokin Umaibō won’t fill you up, but it’s a fun little snack to nibble on when you’re after something salty. Flavours include cheese, chicken curry, teriyaki burger, and nori (seaweed), and the best bit? They’re super cheap.
You can find Japan’s favourite coffee in a can pretty easily now that the brand has launched officially in Australia. In Japan, you can get it either hot or cold from vending machines, but here, you’ll spot it in the fridge section.
Shochu is a hard white liquor traditionally distilled using grains and vegetables. Depending on the brand, the alcohol may be distilled from rice, barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, brown sugar, chestnut, sesame seeds, potatoes or carrots. It has a light and refreshing taste and is consumed mostly in Japan as a highball cocktail, mixed with soda ice and a citrus garnish. Our fave is KOYOMI, and you can find it in pre-mized drinks or as a bottle.
It was recently announced that Strong Zero would be coming to Australia officially, to be available in bottle shops everywhere. It’s great news because Strong Zeros are one of Japan’s best and most refreshing pre-mixed alcoholic drinks. You can find them now at a bunch of stores, but you should know you’d be getting the lower-ABV version at 6%. In Japan, you can actually get them at 9% in a jumbo can size. If you know where to look, you can actually find these in Australia too…
Calpis or Calpis Soda (the carbonated version) is a staple drink with a light, somewhat acidic and milky flavour that some compare to vanilla yogurt or Yakult. It’s delicious and pairs perfectly with spicy foods. In Japan’s convenience stores, you can even get it in a frappe version, but here you’ll find it mostly in the fridge section of Asian supermarkets.