Saturday, 25 January 2014

Matsuri food

Japanese traditional events usually organized by a shrine or a temple, like the Daruma market I was telling you about last time, are typically referred to as "matsuri". This word translates into English as "festival", but, as you can easily imagine, this is not the type of festival we are used to in the West. In other words, it ain't no Glastonbury. And the only music you'll hear here will be of the traditional kind - usually taiko drumming, or an ohayashi orchestra.

But apart from all the drumming and worshipping of local gods, buying good luck charms and supporting your local community, you can't have a proper matsuri without matsuri food. And festival food is an institution in its own right.

Regardless of when a matsuri is being held, in winter or summer, some foods simply must be present. And no serious matsuri would be complete without a choco banana on a stick.

This is an ubiquitous matsuri sight - at least several different stands will have chocolate covered bananas, with or without sprinkles. Odd, considering that bananas are not native to Japan. And they are quite expensive to buy at a supermarket.

This shows you the first rule of matsuri food - it should be on a stick. And what can you stick on a stick? Apparently anything! From waffles to fish.

These waffles were delicious… yummy…. Candy on a stick? Yep, we got it.

Such candy can get quite interesting, depending on what type of festival it is being sold at. There is a fertility festival in Kawasaki city, held the first weekend of April, where the candy is in the shape, well, you know… reproductive organs, both male and female. Luckily, with the recent popularity of Nameko, they are frequently confused with mushroom-shaped lollipops.

You can also have a lot less risque stick-snacks, like for example this miso flavored manju.

Hmmm… which one should I choose? How about this one?

And what if you are really hungry and in the mood for a more substantial snack? No worries, any self-respecting matsuri will have you covered. How about takoyaki? "Tako" means octopus, "yaki" is fried. And this is exactly what it sounds like - bits of chopped octopus formed into a ball and fried. Delicious!!!

Ever since I tried okonomiyaki (I will tell you about that amazing adventure another time), I've been a huge fan of this "fry what you want" dish. At any matsuri you can find a simple version like this.

What amazed me the most was that even when cooking outside in sub-zero temperatures, the staff still managed to make every single okonomiyaki perfectly uniform and literally exactly the same. Only in Japan!

All this eating can make you really thirsty. At summer matsuris people usually drink copious amounts of beer. But in winter? In winter they have another, very traditional, drink.

It's called amazake, and even though there is "sake" in the name, this drink has little, or no alcohol at all. Like all sakes, it is also made from fermented rice. Personally, I am not a fan. The texture, smell and sweetness did not appeal to me at all. But it is believed to be a cure-all in Japan, good for everything from hangovers to stomach aches.

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I really enjoyed my stay stay in Japan. Actually, the plan was to see (and to taste) even more but the month I have planned to spend here passed so quickly! It is time to go home now. But I have already agreed with my hosts that the next time that I come to Asia I will visit them again. So watch out for some new stories from Japan. And some more food for sure!

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