The Best Japanese Snacks That I Grew Up Eating
Trust me, they’re just better than American ones.
Trust me, they’re just better than American ones.
I’m just going to come out and say it: Japanese snacks are better than American snacks. It’s not just because they have more interesting flavors, or that they look cuter, or that they hit that sweet-meets-savory spot. No, I truly think they just taste better.
As a kid, raised in both the United States and Japan, I grew up eating pretty healthy by Western standards. My mother is an amazing cook and made every single meal for me (yes, I had three-course bentos that I’d bring for lunch when I was attending school in California). When we were in Japan, as a treat I would take the loose change I found around the house and go to the Dagashi-ya, which are small candy shops you’d find in your neighbors’ homes and garages. There, you could get tiny Felix gums for five cents, a bag of cola-flavored gummies for 30 cents, and those candies that whistle, basically for free.
Even though I’m technically no longer a kid, I do an adult version of this and make monthly pilgrimages to the local Japanese supermarket, Nijiya, to stock up on my chocolates, gummies, and senbei (rice crackers) in addition to rice and fresh fish.
Here are a few of my favorite Japanese snacks, although you truly can’t go wrong with anything in the store -- I suggest trying new things since there are so many to choose from!
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Seaweed only makes food better, and these potato chips are no exception. Because of the savory flavor, I find that they don’t taste as oily as American potato chips do.
Get Calbee Salt & Seaweed Potato Chips ($2) →
French patisseries and cakes are huge in Japan, and Baumkuchen is a good example of one. You’d find these at Conbinis (convenience stores) and they’re normally eaten on the go. We pronounce this bamu-koohen but it’s a sweet German roll cake. These always remind me of my mother because she would get them frequently.
Get Mini Baumkuchen, Original Flavor ($2) →
Dorayaki is a staple and it’s a fluffy cake sandwich with a red bean paste center. It was made popular by a cartoon called Doraemon, who is a human-like cat that can summon magic items from his pocket. I’m not sure which came first, the show or the snack, but Doraemon’s favorite food is the Dorayaki, which I’m going to say is where the name came from (please don’t ruin my childhood by telling me otherwise).
Get Hapi Doraemon Dorayaki ($2) →
These are probably the most mainstream Japanese snack, although I do have to burst your bubble: it’s pronounced poh-kee not paw-kee. The chocolate or strawberry covered ones are the most popular, but Japan has a whole slew of other ones. There’s also “fancy” Pocky that’s literally called Luxury Pocky, giant Pocky, mini Pocky, and seasonal flavors like chocolate mint or blueberry yogurt. If you see those, get them.
Get Glico Pocky Strawberry ($2) →
These are basically savory Pocky, with flavors like salad, pizza, tomato, and more. When you’re in the mood for a light pretzel type snack, with savory flavors, this is for you.
These are my #1 go-to. They’re little chocolate mushrooms that taste similar to Pocky but have a better filling-to-cookie ratio (more chocolate, obviously). This brand has a few variations of this snack (a popular favorite are Takenoko No Sato) but trust me, these are better.
Get Kinoko No Yama, 3-pack ($13)→
Simple as these may look (they're chocolate covered almonds), I find that Japanese chocolate beats American chocolate. It’s lighter and smoother. Try them and you’ll understand.
Get Meiji Chocolate Almonds, 5-pack ($21) →
These tiny mountain-shaped chocolates are half strawberry and half milk chocolate. I didn’t realize they are supposed to be Mt Fuji but you learn something new everyday! I love all strawberry chocolates from Japan, so I make sure to grab a small box of these any time I go to the market.
Get Meiji Apollo Strawberry Chocolate, 10-pack ($30)→
Kappa Ebisen, shrimp-flavored snacks, are fairly recognizable amongst different Asian communities. They are salty-sweet, and are definitely one of the more popular snacks in Japan, along with the popular cheese puffs Karl.
Get Kappa Ebisen, 30-pack ($40)→
I’m going to be honest, I didn’t know what these were called until I started writing this story. They’re a very classic snack that you find at the Dagashi-ya for 10 cents as a kid. “Umai-bo” literally means “yummy stick” and each is filled with corn-based puff snacks that come in a variety of savory flavors like Takoyaki, Mentai (cod roe), Shrimp Mayo, and Natto (fermented soybeans) in addition to Teriyaki Burger, Pizza, and Curry.
Get Umaibo Japanese Corn Puffed Snacks, 20-pack ($14)→
For fans of the film Hotaru No Haka (Grave of the Fireflies), these have a nostalgic appeal. They’re small fruit flavored hard candies and as a child, you’d treat them like little treasure boxes, rationing each piece just like they do in the movie.
Konpeito are literally just sugar cubes in hard candy form and you’ll see them at birthdays or weddings. They’re sweet but don’t have much flavor beyond that since it’s made from just sugar but they always bring me joy since I associate them with gifts and celebrations.
Get Japanese Candy Konpeito, 2-pack ($9) →
You’ve probably seen these chocolate filled snacks, or tried the knock-off brand “Hello Panda.” These are the OG, and a little known secret is that if you find a koala that has eyebrows, it means good luck.
Get Japanese Lovely Biscuit, Koala march, 3-pack ($24) →
I had to throw in an honorable mention for these grape gummies because grape flavored candy in Japan is great all around. American grape flavors are artificial and overly sweet while these tend to be lighter and more true to the fruit with an almost perfume-like (in a good way) scent.