Southeast Asia was a snacker's paradise. Most of the things on sticks that I picked up on a whim for less than 50 cents were tastier than any meal served to me on anything resembling a tablecloth - in the States or elsewhere.
Japan's snacks were harder to come by, usually ensconced in mall hell, and much more expensive, but its gems were among the most delicious.
1. Tokyo: Hotok
We stayed in the Little Korea of Tokyo: Shin-Okubo. This meant that there were barbecue joints everywhere, which didn't faze me one way or another, but it also meant a preponderance of the Japanese take on Korean ho-tteok: rice 'pancakes' full of, well, in Korea it was almost always brown sugar and walnuts or pepitas, but in Japan it was whatever anyone felt like throwing in there.
Manning my favorite hotok stand was a trilingual, teenaged Korean national with his long hair always wrapped in a bandanna, trapped in Tokyo for some reason that remained undisclosed due either to language barriers or sensitivity. He was jolly, correcting my noob mistake of trying to hand him money rather than feed it to the coin-taking machine on the right. He had the ability to cook at least 5 pancakes at once, flipping them casually as he catered to the throngs of teenage girls flirting with him across the counter.
Over my three days there, I got a classic seeds'n'sugar version, a sweet potato version, and a ham and cheese. Korean sovereignty won out here: the classic was still the best, filled to bursting with oozing brown crystals.
2. Osaka: Dried kumquats
With two new hostel friends, we were on our way to sample the takoyaki on an all-new side of town (this is how it went in Osaka: move hostels, immediately try local takoyaki). A man stood proudly under a big awning with a staggering array of dried fruit spread out around him. He held samples out to us in that confident, cool, kind of ambivalent way where you could tell it wasn't any skin off his back whether we tried some or not because he was just going to go on selling the best dried fruit in the city.
That kind of attitude persisted as I tried some blueberries, gasped in delight, filled my bags lightly with these, persimmons, cranberries, strawberries, and kumquats, let him weigh them, was told my exuberance would cost me $55, sadly dumped out all but but the kumquats and blueberries, was told this was still going to be $25, dumped out the blueberries, and left his stand somewhat in price shock, $8 poorer, but in possession of about 15 dried kumquats.
I was grumbly about the whole thing (and we had to hide from the dried fruit man on the way home) but I was soon to discover that I should have bought kilos of these kumquats at any price. Though dried, they were still juicy, and their crispy sugared outsides collapsed inward when bitten like bittersweet creme brulée.
3. Osaka: Black sesame ice cream with green tea ice and mochi
This cute green tea bar was located on the seventh floor of a big, showy mall in Namba, and just heaving myself onto the escalator for each of these flights made my poor stomach turn. I had just eaten an unbelievably rich bowl of pork rib ramen (the last dish described in this entry) and badly needed something refreshing.
$6 got us this goblet of black sesame ice cream, black, thick and gooey like a sphere of delicious tar, surrounded with icy sweet green tea foam. The ice cream wasn't even a little sweet. It was concentrated, smoothed out seed. The mochi balls were superfluous; I ignored them. Japanese music box version of songs from the Little Mermaid tinkled overhead. We sang along, utterly inappropriately for Japan.