Have you ever been to a summer festival in Japan? It is one of the most unique ways to experience Japanese food. Many summer festivals happen with fireworks or an ancient religious ceremony. For example, the Gion Matsuri in Kyoto has been happening for over 1000 years! Summer in Japan is very hot, and many festivals were performed to ward of plague and famine during the unbearable heat. In more recent times, festivals epitomize summer, with colorful summer kimonos and fireworks. Most importantly though, the foods at festivals are very special.
Vendors, called yatai 屋台, line the streets selling a vast variety of sweet and salty treats. They have colorful awnings, enticing the passerby to browse and indulge, the vendors shout greetings into the crowd, welcoming festival-goers to buy their foods.
Let’s take a look at some of the unique Japanese treats offered at these festivals.
- Takoyaki たこ焼き
These gooey dough balls are filled with bite-sized pieces of octopus, green onions, pickled ginger and tempura batter crumbs. Traditionally, they are from the Kansai region of Japan, but now you can find them at festivals all over the country. They are served with a sweet and savory Japanese sauce and mayonnaise. They are topped with dried bonito flakes which dance from the steam rising off of these delicious mouthfuls.
2. Yakisoba 焼きそば
Noodles are griddle fried with pork, seafood, cabbage, onion, and pickled ginger. They are then doused in the same sweet and savory Japanese sauce that is used to top takoyaki. It is often served with green seaweed and dried bonito flakes sprinkled on top. This Japanese street food can be found at festivals all over Japan.
3. Ramune ラムネ
This is the only beverage to make our list this time. Ramune was first introduced to Japan in the late 1800’s by a Scottish scientist. The name for the soda comes from the English word, “Lemonade.” Traditionally, this soda is lemon-lime flavored, but you can find limited edition flavors like peach, melon, or Blue Hawaii. The bottle has a unique shape, and the pressure from the carbonation holds a marble in the opening to seal the bottle. It’s perfect for a hot summer night.
4. Yakitori 焼き鳥
The name yakitori means grilled chicken, however, at yatai it refers more generally to a variety of meats cooked on skewers over a charcoal grill. You can often find grilled chicken breast and thigh, grilled pork belly, a variety of offal, or bite-sized pieces of steak. You can order the meats cooked in an option of two flavorings: salt or sauce.
5. Chocolate Banana チョコバナナ
This treat is exactly what it sounds like: a banana covered in chocolate. For however simple it is, it is particularly difficult to recreate this snack at home and it is impossible to find anywhere other than at street vendors at festivals. A set of disposable chopsticks are inserted into a peeled banana which is then dipped in chocolate which is then streaked with colored chocolate and decorated with sprinkles.
6. Candied Apples (and other fruits) りんご飴
Fresh fruits, especially apples, strawberries, grapes and occasionally tomatoes and skewered and then dipped in a bright red candy. This treat can be found at festivals all over Japan.
7. Buttered Potato じゃがバター
It might seem a little odd to order a potato with butter at a street festival, but this is a very popular snack. Potatoes are grown all over Japan, but they are most popular in Hokkaido, which is also famous for its dairy products, like butter. Hot steamed or roasted potatoes are served cut into chunks with a large pat of butter.
8. Cotton Candy 綿あめ
Everyone is familiar with the standard blue and pink fluff that is made when you heat sugar and add some centrifugal force. Cotton candy is a summer festival staple in Japan. It is often served in ballooned plastic bags decorated with popular cartoon characters.
9. Ikayaki イカ焼き
Squid is skewered and then grilled over hot charcoals. It has a unique chew, a distinct ocean flavor, and a classic Japanese quality. Again, this food is typically only found at street vendors, which makes this seasonal delicacy something to try whenever you can find it!
10. Taiyaki たい焼き
Last, but not least, taiyaki has gained world-wide notoriety in the social media swirl of all things popular in Japan. Although this snack is not unique to festivals, it is a traditional finger food, often best when right off the griddle. Pancake batter is poured into the two halves of a fish-shaped mold. A generous serving of sweet red bean paste is placed between the halves, and the mold is closed to make a bean-paste pocket. You can also find them filled with a variety of other spreads, such as custard cream, chocolate, matcha (green-tea) flavored custard, or sweet potato paste.