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Dessert, Junk Food, Seasonal

Enjoying Festival Food (A Warning Against Drinking Beer Before Lunch)

This weekend was Hyakumangoku Matsuri, one of the largest and best known of Ishikawa’s yearly festivals. It celebrates this region’s heritage as the richest of the feudal domains during the Tokugawa period with floating lanterns, dancing in the streets and a parade of marching children, acrobatic firemen and historical figures on horseback.


The parade is the main event, and draws a huge number of spectators. Yes, even General Maeda himself made an appearance, looking splendid and dapper in a full suit of golden armor. As he trotted by, the mild-mannered older ladies sitting around me suddenly abandoned their folding chairs and transformed into starry-eyed fangirls, waving their hands over their heads and crying, “You’re so cool!”

But let’s rewind a few hours.

With crowds of spectators in mind, our merry band of festivalgoers departed early, in hopes of grabbing something to eat beforehand. It wasn’t unbearably hot that day, but enough to awaken memories of last summer. I began to recall how I had sweated from parts of my body that I didn’t know were capable of producing sweat. And the more I thought of this, the more I wanted something cold to drink. When lo, what’s this? A dripping blue cooler I spy, and in among the glittering ice cubes shines the silvery cylinder of Asahi Dry! On a day like today, what beverage could be better than a cold beer?

That’s not a rhetorical question, actually – the answer is “almost anything.”  Not only does alcohol not help with dehydration, but when imbibed on an empty stomach it also dumbs down one’s sensibilities, particularly with regards to food. “But hey, self-restraint isn’t festive,” I told myself as I deposited my empty can in a recycling bin a few minutes later. With coins in hand and all normal dietary inhibitions lost, I proceeded to eat an ungodly percentage of my own weight in festival edibles.

Self restraint is for the weak.

To prove what a disgusting human being I was, here is a list of all the things I ate on Saturday afternoon (not including countless bites of other people’s food):

  • One kabocha manju (eaten on the way)
  • Two beers
  • One foot long hotdog on a stick
  • Two candied strawberries
  • [something else – my memory is a little fuzzy]
  • One chocolate covered banana – with sprinkles
  • One egg hashimaki(everything but the kitchen sink, wrapped around a pair of chopsticks – see below)
  • A cream horn, but filled with soft-serve ice cream
  • One tomato salad at an Indonesian restaurant (because it made me feel healthier)
  • One strawberry shaved ice

    My unphotogenic hand has a run-in with a dripping candied strawberry. Festival food is sticky business.

Don’t try this at home, kids – but even though I was sticky and full, I really had a lot of fun. If you have the opportunity to attend a festival here, you don’t have to eat as much as I did to enjoy the food. Just make your way over to the clusters of brightly colored canopies. If you can’t read the signs, fight your way through the throngs to take a look at what each booth is selling – or just look for the ones with the longest lines. Big festivals attract a range of vendors, so festivals can be a fun way to try something you’ve never had. Even if you’re picky, you’re sure to find something that fits your tastes.

What foods are sold varies by season, region and the size of the festival. A complete field guide to the wide world of festival foods would take a lot more time and a better metabolism than I possess. But here’s a rundown of a couple new things that I tried:

Furuutsu Ame (Candied Fruit) - These stands are always at festivals, and almost always have a line outside. I don't know how it's taken me so long to try one of these lovely sugar coated fruit lollipops. I guess I was afraid of looking childish - but I would recommend these to anyone who enjoys fruit desserts. Apples are classic, but strawberries, grapes and other round fruits are also common. Like a caramel apple, the sweetness of the candy is balanced out by the tartness of the fruit. And biting through that thin layer of sugar is extremely satisfying. Two Strawberries = 200 yen.

Hashimaki (hashi = chopsticks, maki = wrap): A member of the venerable food-on-a-stick family. There are a lot of festival foods that basically consist of batter, vegetables, mayo and savory sauce. Okonomiyaki and marumaruyaki are both in this vein, but hashimaki also fits. This particular hashimaki was a thin, crepe-like pancake, topped with puffed rice, little bits of fried batter and pickled ginger. This entire thing is wrapped around a pair of chopsticks, slathered in okonomiyaki sauce (a combination of worchestershire, katchup, soy sauce and dashi), sprinkled with fish flakes and finally topped with a whole fried egg. It's finger food, but the messy kind that you might want to sit down to eat. One stick = 300 yen.



One thought on “Enjoying Festival Food (A Warning Against Drinking Beer Before Lunch)

  1. へええーーハシマキを食べたことがないと言って、見たこともない。。。すげい!

    Posted by odorunara | June 8, 2011, 11:20 pm

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