From fried noodles to “octopus balls”, what you’ll find at a festival food stall is probably nothing like you imagined Japanese food to be.
Humidity is in the air, the cicadas are buzzing, and summer is in full swing here in Japan, which, to many people, means only one thing: summer festivals! July and August are the most jam-packed in terms of festivals, with each region celebrating in their own unique way.
Festivals are often centered around a certain event such as a fireworks show, a parade, or a procession of historic floats, but a large part of the fun is getting to enjoy some delicious, unhealthy street food from the rows of yatai – or food stalls – lined up along the streets.
Japanese food is often said to be healthier than most western cuisine, and while that may be true for a more traditional meal of fish, rice, miso soup, and vegetables or pickles, when people celebrate special occasions, concerns about their wasteline or cholesterol levels tend to take a backseat to tasty eats.
As street food should be, Japanese festival food is meant to be easy to prepare, quick to cook, and eaten easily on the go, which means lots of skewered foods, or foods in easy-to-hold containers that can be eaten with a simple pair of chopsticks.
▼ Grilled, skewered meats
▼ Yakisoba, stir-fried noodles with cabbage and a salty sauce
One tradition of the Kansai region often found at festivals is takoyaki, sometimes translated as “octopus balls”. The English name is simply from the round shape of the dumplings, as you will actually find chunks of octopus tentacles inside, not testicles. Sliced green onions and pickled ginger are cooked into the battered balls too before they’re served up with a generous helping of savory sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes, and green seaweed flakes.
Chilled cucumbers, one for 200 yen (US$2.00). Just in case you need to feel kinda healthy. Here you can also choose one of four flavorings: salt, gochujang (Korean red chili paste), mayonnaise, or bonito flakes.
▼ Tamago senbei, a fried egg on a shrimp-flavored cracker with sauce, mayo, and fried batter bits
▼ Grilled ears of corn, dipped in soy sauce and melted butter
▼ And for dessert, chilled fruit on a stick
Sometimes, if you go shortly before closing time, you can get discounts from vendors trying to get rid of the last of their stock, like this huge slice of watermelon for 100 yen ($1.00)!
At larger festivals, local stores will often set up a booth outside to appeal to passersby, like the convenience store below, FamilyMart, selling jumbo franks, skewered chicken, and draft beer.
Ethnic fare, like doner kebabs and Indian curry, are also popular staples.
▼ An Indian restaurant selling samosas, naan, lassis, and more
With the crowds of people and all of that festival food in disposable containers with disposable utensils, you can imagine the amount of waste that builds up…
But luckily there is a lot of effort in place to ensure garbage gets properly sorted and that what can be recycled is recycled.
These photos are from Kyoto’s famous Gion Matsuri, but are typical of festival foods across the country. You will still find plenty of regional specialties too, so be sure to check out any festivals going on if you happen to be travelling through different areas. But summer will be over before you know it, so you better seek out a nearby festival soon!
Photos © RocketNews24