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Tokyo - The joy of street festival food

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Tokyo - The joy of street festival food

Andy P. | Nov 2, 2002 12:44 AM

Hello Everybody,

One of the great things I've found here in Tokyo is the treat of shrine-sponsored festivals. Always a lot of fun, an interesting exposure to aspects of the Japanese culture, and best of all, festival food.

At these events, food stalls line the sidewalks, and the inside walkways of the shrine grounds.

My local shrine, Otorijinja, just had a festival this weekend. So, I made my own food pilgrimage down the hill, and started hitting the food stalls.

My usual modus operandi is to walk the entire length of the food stalls, checking out the different offerings. With the different food choices available, one must sadly make some hard decisions.

My initial recon mission showed that I'd have to make choices from the following: Grilled corn-on-the-cob, yakisoba (2 stalls), grilled hot dogs, cotton candy, okonomiyaki - savory "pancakes" (at least 3 stalls), grilled squid (two stalls), takoyaki (grilled dough-covered octopus pieces) (4 stalls), sluvaki, fish shaped waffle sandwiches - filled with anko (sweet red bean paste) or vanilla custard (2 stalls), yakitori (2 stalls. 1 stall had huge skewers of beef/onion or chicken breast/skin/onion. The other had 3 stools in front of the stall, with a large selection of innards/cartiledge/skin sticks, also serving cans of Asahi or Kirin Ichiban beer.), multi-colored mochi, fresh-roasted chestnuts (2 stalls), and steamed potatoes.

I always enjoy the autumn and winter festivals more than those held in the spring and summer. There is just something about the hot street food, eaten in the chill of the afternoon/evening, that makes the experience such a wonderful memory of Japan.

Came up with a quick eating plan, and went for it. Started with a stick of grilled squid. Comes with a choice of naked, salted, or dipped in sauce. I went with lightly salted. Nice and tender squid. Would have been better if it had been grilled over wood coals, but can't have everything, I guess.

Next, I had a fish-shaped waffle sandwich, filled with anko. Past experience has told me that these are best eaten hot out of the griddle molds. A nice, comforting flavor for a chilly autumn day. The bean paste wasn't overly sweet, as it sometimes can be. Just a very nice little snack.

Next, I went for a 4 ball set of takoyaki. Once again, these are best hot out of the griddle. Got mine with takoyaki sauce (a kind of slightly sweet thickened soy sauce), bonito flakes, and no mayo. Not the best takoyaki I've ever had, but far from the worst!

Cruised by the yakitori stand with the big skewers of chicken/skin/onion, and picked up one of these. They have a large pile of already-cooked skewers, which they usually just reheat. But, I got lucky, and got one that was just coming off of the grill. Lightly salted, the chicken meat was really tender, and juicy.

I couldn't believe it, I was starting to feel a bit full, and knew that I'd only be able to comfortably handle one more item. Absolutely no question what it was going to be...

Steamed potato! I affectionately call these "festival potatoes", because I only see them at festivals. Large, peeled potatoes, (slightly smaller than a softball) are steamed in large wooden boxes, stacked on top of each other. The vendor grabs a steaming spud, puts it into a deep styrofoam dish, and quarters it. Once paid for, you get to dress it yourself. This stall offered softened butter, salt, light miso, and bonito flakes. I asked for a second styrofoam container, and divided my order into the two containers. BTW, the only utensil offered to eat them with is chopsticks.

On one serving, I put some miso. The other got a big dollop of butter, and a sprinkling of salt. Walked around a bit, looking at the different craft stalls, and letting the miso and butter melt to my satisfaction.

Oh, my goodness. Nothing like walking around, eating a steaming, simple, potato dripping with warmed miso. I absolutely love this combination! These aren't two flavors that I'd ever associated together. Street festivals changed my mind in a hurry!

But, it takes a distant second to the butter/salt combination. Perhaps my love of this is directly related to the chopsticks. Eating a baked potato with chopsticks results in little pieces of potato falling into the melted butter. After enjoying the larger chunks of steamed potato, dripping with melted butter, what is left is a small pool of salty butter, filled with little pieces of potato. The only way to savor this is to tip the container to you mouth, and slurp the wonderful potato-butter-salt chowder out of the container. Just blissful!

Yoroshiku,
Andy

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