Any Japanese matsuri (祭り) or festival, big or small, would definitely have food stalls touting delicious street snacks. The roads become lively with bright lights, voices, and aromas that waft miles! Everyone is decked in their best yukata, engaged in conversation and fanning themselves while waiting in a line. Japanese festivals are really vibrant and full of vivacity! Popular venues are Kaminarimon in Asakusa and Meijijingu in Shibuya. Especially in summer when there are many hanabi taikai 花火大会 or firework festivals, activities start from the afternoon and keep the crowd satisfied until evening when the fireworks usually start. There are many firework festivals across Japan during the summer months, and thousands of people gather to take part in this joyous and exuberant affair. Here are some of the most popular, scrumptious matsuri foods!
Jagaimo じゃがいも means potato, and for ¥500 you get 1.5-2 big steamed potatoes with butter and salt. The potatoes are still steaming, moist, and are cut into quadrants. The melted butter melds the potatoes into a mashed potato-like consistency. Yummy!
Okonomiyaki is a portmanteau of okonomi お好み which means “as you like”, and yaki 焼きwhich means “grilled”. It is sometimes known as the Japanese pancake, and the basic ingredients are cabbage, batter and some form of meat depending on the desired flavor. The difference between regular Kansai 関西 okonomiyaki and Hiroshima okonomiyaki is that the latter has layered ingredients and uses much more cabbage. These cabbage pancakes are brushed with brown sauce, mayonnaise, bonito flakes and dried parsley before being served.
A relatively new kid on the block, the name literally means “mochi and meat roll skewer”. Chewy rice mochi pieces wrapped in streaky bacon or beef on a skewer are grilled over charcoal and have excellent flavor.
Ever-popular festive menu item, assorted wursts with a whiff of barbecue smokiness. Both white and brown sausages are available, and the queue can get pretty long. People sure love their bangers!
Batter with octopuses aka tako, prawns, or ham and cheese, are cooked in molded half-sphere iron grills. It is interesting to watch the street vendors roll and flip the balls with two long metal picks. Topped with mayonnaise, brown sauce and bonito flakes, it’s an awesome treat!
Yaki soba means grilled noodles, and usually comes with a little portion of red pickled ginger. It is similar to the palette cleanser that is had with sushi. The cooking process is always fun to watch; a huge pile of ramen yellow noodles is put on the grill, and then oil, cabbage, some meat strips and yakisoba brown sauce are added. It is then thoroughly mixed using two large spatulas using exaggerated shoveling motions.
Fried chicken is soul food. And that is enough of a reason.
There are many kinds of yakitori, some of which are really acquired tastes. Fortunately the ones found at matsuri are extremely palatable: grilled chicken breast or thigh meat skewers with scallion, with salt or tare flavors. Oishii (美味しい)!
Freshwater trout rubbed with salt, skewered, and then roasted over a fire. Can’t wait to get my bear paws on this one!
Especially in the summertime with the muggy heat and immense crowd, a cup of shaved ice is welcomed with open arms and mouth! The original flavors include ichigo いちご strawberry, pineapple パイン, melon メロン, and blue Hawaii ブルーハワイ.
A skewered peeled banana dipped in brown, pink or blue (yes, blue!) tempered chocolate, and then in rainbow sprinkles. It looks strange and artificial, but still has yummy banana inside of it!
Mizuame means “water candy” and is a sticky thickened Japanese gum syrup candy. The proper way of eating is to scoop a lump of mizuame on chopsticks before slowly separating them and bending the candy back and forth. It is ready when the candy turns translucent or opaque. At matsuri, there are stalls where patrons draw a ticket to decide which mizuame they get. The mizuame is usually colored, has fruit in it, and sits in a large slab of ice before being served in a wafer shell.
Last but definitely not least, beer! Draft beers in plastic cups from portable dispensers are on sale everywhere, as well as cans or bottles of cold beer. Almost everyone at a matsuri is drinking (and smoking); it is a lively scene involving the mass public that is legal and visible like this only in Japan!