8 Must-Try Kawagoe Street Snacks: Take A Culinary Journey Back in Time to Old Edo
Imagine yourself taking a bite of a freshly grilled bonito onigiri (rice ball) as you stroll through the quaint alleys and feel the passing of time as beautiful women in kimono walk by. If you are looking for a place with not just delicious on-to-go treats but also nice historical vibes, a little town named Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture near Tokyo is the perfect destination for you!
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What is Kawagoe?
Located in Saitama Prefecture to the north of Tokyo, Kawagoe was once a commercial town with close economic and cultural links to the old capital of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) since ancient times. After the end of World War II, however, commercial development was refocused on the city of Saitama, and Kawagoe gradually lost its former prosperity.
However, since Kawagoe was not subjected to overurbanization, it was able to retain many of its traditional warehouse-style (kurazukuri) structures that have been passed down from the Edo period (1603 - 1868), earning the area the title of "Koedo" or "Little Edo."
Nowadays, Kawagoe is a famous tourist attraction, even among the Japanese, that is not too far from the Tokyo suburbs. From the Kurazukuri Street lined with Edo period structures to the iconic 400-year-old bell tower and Taisho Roman Dori Street lined with charming buildings showing off both Japanese and Western influences, everything in this place speaks of its wonderful uniqueness.
While you are taking a leisurely stroll through the alleyways, why not fill up on some popular, yummy local delicacies? Now, let’s check out the top eight street foods to eat when you visit Kawagoe!
1. Koedo-Yaki Honpo
With more than 400 years of history, the Toki no Kane (Bell Tower) on Kurazukuri Street is the most iconic landmark in Kawagoe, so it is only natural that Koedo-Yaki Honpo’s Kawagoe-exclusive, tower-shaped Koedo-yaki (pancake with fillings) is also wildly popular. Fillings range from basics like red bean and custard to specials like stewed beef and apple pie, as well as limited flavors such as black sesame and chestnut.
2. Daigakuimo Kawagoe Iwata – Glazed Sweet Potatoes
One of the most famous Kawagoe specialties is sweet potato, which is why while walking along the street you can easily find all kinds of delicious treats made from the produce.
Iwata is a glazed sweet potato specialty shop that first opened in Taito, Tokyo in 1930. In 2020, the third-generation owner decided to move the shop to Kawagoe, his wife’s hometown. The Toki no Kane branch was opened four years after that.
Having inherited the shop that was established by his grandfather, the current owner still follows his roots and serves tasty glazed sweet potato that is deep-fried with canola oil, glazed with sugar, and then sprinkled with black sesame. Take a bite and you will fall in love with its crispy surface and soft, sweet inside!
3. Nakaichi Honten – Freshly Grilled Bonito Flake Onigiri
Nakaichi Honten started as a fresh fish store at the end of the Edo period, but after the war, dried goods such as bonito have become its main merchandise. Apart from dried seafood like dried bonito bars, kelp, and small dried fish, they also chargrill onigiri with bonito or sardine flakes at the storefront, always attracting tons of tourists to queue up for a taste.
The owner grills the triangular onigiri over charcoal until its exterior is crispy and lightly browned, then skillfully applies a thin layer of soy sauce on top and sprinkles it with a handful of bonito or sardine flakes. The simple yet rich aroma alone is enough to attract many Japanese couples to stop by for a bite on the side of the road.
4. Mameya Kawagoeten
At the entrance of Kurazukuri Street, there is a retro-style shop selling bean snacks like runner beans, soybeans, peas, broad beans, and red beans. They come in various flavors including matcha, white pepper, black pepper, and so on. You may taste-test them before buying.
5. Koedo Osatsuan – Fried Potato Chips
Koedo Osatsuan’s long potato slices seasoned with a pinch of salt don’t just have an enticing golden look, their natural potato sweetness will also leave you craving more! For an additional 40 yen, the shop will provide you with their hand-made soy sauce for an even more unique flavor.
6. Kurazukuri Honpo Kurazukuri Monaka Fukugura
Opened in 1945, Fukugura is a pastry shop with a history that goes back 73 years. Their specialty is Kurazukuri monaka, a Japanese confectionery with a glutinous rice crust and delicious fillings (usually red bean paste). As many as 3.5 million pieces of the wildly popular dessert are sold every year!
Take a bite and the crust will instantly melt in your mouth. The azuki paste made with azuki red beans from Tokachi in Hokkaido is sweet and smooth, while the hidden mochi, made of glutinous rice from Saga, adds another texture to the treat, leaving you wanting more!
7. Kawagoe Purin – Strawberry Jam Pudding
Aside from traditional Japanese confectionery, western desserts in Kawagoe are just as appealing. Kawagoe Purin serves smooth and rich puddings made from local milk, eggs, and natural vanilla seeds. They come in different flavors - seasonal strawberry jam, matcha with sweet black beans at the bottom, Kawagoe sweet potatoes, yuzu, and more.
There are even pieces of diced strawberries in the strawberry jam. Its refreshingly sweet-and-sour flavor matches perfectly with the pudding itself and the vanilla layer below, and will leave you craving for more after the first bite!
What’s more, they offer ice cream in their original pudding flavor, sweet potato Mont Blanc flavor, and chocolate Mont Blanc flavor.
8. Kushiyaki Rinrinya – Eel Skewer
Kawagoe is not only famous for sweet potato snacks but also eel rice, and many tourists have come all the way to the town to give it a try, despite the long queues in front of the restaurants. If you want to taste delicious eel but don't want to wait in line, get yourself an eel skewer on the go! The famous restaurant Hayashiya opened a sister shop called Kushiyaki Rinrinya in April 2018, offering chargrilled eel skewers and eel liver skewers at affordable prices. They even have salt-grilled sweetfish and grilled dumplings!
Travel Back in Time at Kawagoe
Kawagoe, only less than an hour of train ride away from both Ikebukuro and Shinjuku, is the ideal way to get to experience a traditional Japanese townscape without venturing too far from Tokyo proper. If you want to try out addictive street foods while soaking in fascinating Japanese culture, this is definitely the place for you!
For more information about visiting Saitama, check out the official Saitama Facebook page! https://www.facebook.com/saitamajapan.en
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.