Sunday, September 5, 2010


Add caption
Summertime means matsuri (festivals) in Japan. The biggest one in Tokyo is the Azabu-Juban Matsuri, which is in a very upscale and international neighborhood. My mom was in town, so she and I took Mini Z and Son of Z out for a walk with the mob. Japanese festival food is its own thing--Japanese, but nothing like the refined flavors and presentations you would find on a Japanese menu in the US. Things are sweeter, saltier, greasier, and smokier. The SAT analogy might go, "matsuri food is to Nobu as a Brooklyn street fair sausage and pepper grinder is to Babbo."
Okonomiyaki--saucy little savory pancakes from Western Japan
Hot potatoes! They steam in that stack of boxes. Help yourself to toppings.
Swirly sausage lollipops! All my dreams are coming true!
The ladies and some gents roll out in their best yukata (cotton summer kimono), which is admirable given the heat and potential for irreversible food staining.
Commemorative fan--why did I not get one?
Fly yukata and shaved ice on the corner.
I am a huge sucker for a street fair and all the attending goodies, especially takoyaki, which is a sort of grilled ball of batter with octopus inside. Slather it with Kewpie mayo and dark, glossy, worcestershire-y sauce, sprinkle on some bonita flakes, and it's the most wonderfully satisfying thing you ever struggled to eat with two over-sized toothpicks. Beware: they retain heat in a crazy way and you end up kind of nodding with joy while you suck in air trying to eat this little ball of magma.

At long last--baby octopus takoyaki.
Watching them being made is nuts--the cast iron pan has these golf-ball sized indentations that they fill with batter. Then the octopus goes in, and once the ball starts to firm up, they rotate it with a toothpick so it forms a sphere. Years ago I had some with entire baby octopi in them, and I finally found them again. Victory!

Turning these out in perfect little spheres takes practice, speed, and confidence. The pros make it look like plucking a harp.
The kids went old school: chocolate dipped bananas, candied apples, tiny doughnuts, and the inevitable blood sugar crash and burn on the couch at home. Those little sugar gliders came down hard. And they weren't alone--there was a kaki-gori (shaved ice) stand doing a brisk business letting the kiddies apply their own syrup.  Wise? Perhaps not, but very popular.
Choco-banana is a compound word Mini Z is mastering.
Two grapes candy-welded to a tiny apple. Just the color makes my teeth hurt.
Hot soy doughnuts
Old-fashioned ice shaver
Self-serve syrup--dig her psychedelic snow cone.
My only regret is that I didn't have the guts/gut to try all of it. My mother is cursed with the Salieri-like desire to eat, but a tiny coin purse of a stomach. She managed a nice little okonomiyaki, but little else. We left with her looking wistfully over her shoulder at some potsticker-like stuffed pancakes hissing on a grill. There were lots of things on sticks calling to us (is it me, or do things just seem tastier on a stick?), as well as the festival standards, like yakisoba (fried noodles) and some heavenly-smelling seafood. Really, we didn't even make it down the whole street. It's the stands that we didn't see that will haunt my dreams.

The dumpling pancakes that got away...
Grilled fish and shellfish on sticks
Grilled mochi brushed with miso and soy sauce--on a stick!
Whole river fish cooked with salt over coals--eat them tip to tail!
Plump scallops (skirts and all) and clams

1 comment:

  1. I want it in this order:
    1) Okinomiyaki
    2) Octopus-potato-balls with mayo
    3) Grilled mochi

    Make it happen Z.