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Japanese Festival Food – Top 52 Must Try Kickshaws

Anton

Writer

Festivals in Japan are the events where you can feel yourself among locals and eat like a local. Without a doubt, if you would like to experience Japanese culture, you must visit at least one Japanese festival. And one of the best ways to explore this culture is to taste the Festival Food. You probably must have heard about such famous Japanese dishes as sushi, rolls, Japanese beef and other foods which you can have at decent restaurants. However, Festival and Street food is something that you can explore only during Matsuri or at a local person’s home. In this article, I will introduce you top 52 most popular Festival Foods that you can try almost at any Japanese Matsuri whether it is a shrine or some music festival. Yatai is everywhere.


Contents

What is Yatai?

Japanese Festival Snacks

Japanese Festival Sweets

Japanese Festival Drinks

Closing Remarks


What is Yatai?

It is obvious that at Festivals a lot of people gather and they are all hungry. As most of these events take place quite far from any food source and on the open air, Yatai comes to help the starving. Yatai is a portable food stall that moves from one festival to another. If the festival is big, you can see 300-400 Yatai at one event, and most of it sells different kinds of food. Yatai serves food very quickly so even if there is a line, waiting won’t take much time.
The variety of Japanese Festival Food is uncountable. In this article, I will not talk about international food Yatai or Festival Games Yatai. Here I will focus on traditional Festival Food in Japan and are my top 52 must try Festival Food Picks.

Fantastic Japanese Festival Foods

Japanese Festival Snacks

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is a traditional Japanese pancake made of batter, special sauce, and cabbage. Rest of the ingredients are usually “what was left in the fridge.” Typically you can try it with pork, seafood, eggs, or whatever you can see in the food stall. Sometimes they add some marinated ginger, seaweed and Japanese mayonnaise on the top.

Takoyaki

Takoyaki is a must be food option at any festival in Japan. There will be probably a few Yatai with Takoyaki. It is a set of batter balls with octopus inside seasoned with the same sauce that they use for Yakisoba and Okonomiyaki, seaweed and katsuobushi (very thin, dried and smoked flakes of skipjack tuna). These flakes are very light and start moving when on a hot dish, so the set of Takoyaki may look alive. One more note, Takoyaki is a dish from the Kansai region. Often when you go to the festivals in Kansai, you can see Takoyaki as big as a fist. They call it Bakudanyaki there.

Yakisoba

 

Yakisoba – another festival food classics. A Japanese Buckwheat Noodles, fried on a big stove with vegetables and sauce. The rest of ingredients may include shin sliced pork or seafood. The vendors always serve these noodles with marinated ginger and seaweed flakes. Just grab it and go.

Hashi Maki

 

Hashi Maki is an improvisation. This dish is on 100% Okonomiyaki crepe. Just this crepe is rolled on the chopsticks. Hashi means Chopsticks and Maki means something rolled. I prefer it this way as it is more convenient to eat.

Ramen

There will definitely be Ramen food stalls at big festivals, especially in the Kansai area and Kyusyu. Yatai that serve Ramen often come with their chairs and tables, because it is slightly inconvenient to walk around with a bowl of hot soup and noodles. If I haven’t met Yatai with Ramen so often at the festivals, I’d assume it to be casual street food. As for taste variations…. There are no similar Ramen Yatai. You will always try something new and on 99,9% super tasty. 😊

Tonjiru

Tonjiru is a typical winter festival dish. At some events, they even serve it for free to keep you warm. Usually, it is a very light pork soup with a lot of vegetables and konjac and a bit of miso. Nothing can warm you up better than a neutral Japanese pork soup.

Yakitori

Yakitori! Who doesn’t love grilled meat on skewers? Originally Yakitori can be any part of chicken grilled on a skewer. Not only thighs like wings, chicken skin, or meatballs, but also hearts, gizzard, liver, bone cartilage, chicken tail, etc. Generally Japanese call any kind of meat skewers – Yakitori. So you will find a great variety of meat at the festival. Besides, it is very convenient to walk and eat it.

Frankfurter and American Dogs

I guess everybody knows what it is. It’s hard to find a country without sausages. But in Japan, they call corn dogs – American dogs. However, in Hokkaido, they call it French Dog. Anyway, if you are lost in all these Japanese Festival Food, you can always rely on a good old Frankfurter. It is as common as Takoyaki, and you can see it at any festival.

Ikayaki

Ikayaki – a very simple dish. Just a grilled whole squid (without the entrails) on a stick seasoned with soy sauce. Well, sometimes it can be in a ring shape if the squid is too big. Pretty light, easy to eat and goes very good with chilled sake or beer!

Hotateyaki

Hotateyaki – grilled Japanese scallops. Also a very common festival dish. Classically the vendors grill their scallops in the shells adding a bit of butter and soy sauce. Simple and delicious.

Sanmayaki

Image courtesy of 江戸村のとくぞう

There is even a special festival in Japan to celebrate the harvest of Sanma fish. Sanma is a Pacific Saury. It is a seasonal product, and the season is usually in autumn. The festival name is Meguro Sanma Matsuri, and it takes place near Tanjo Hachiman Shrine, in Meguro (Tokyo) in September. As you must have guessed, the main festival dish there is…. Grilled Sanma! Every stall during this festival serves it! It`s just a Sanma eater paradise! The fish itself is pretty light, but a bit bony. However, if it is properly grilled most of the bones are not noticeable.

Shioyaki

Shioyaki – is a method of grilling salted fish on a stick that they put vertically around the fire. There is so much fish in Japan But in 80% of Shioyaki Yatai at Japanese Festivals you will taste a fish called Ayu, or sweetfish. This is a freshwater fish living in clear waters of Japanese mountain rivers. The meat is a bit sweet, soft and there are not so many bones. So you will definitely enjoy it especially with a can of cold beer. You can also notice mackerel, sea bream or even salmon Shioyaki sometimes.

Karaage

Oh, Karaage… This dish is extremely popular, so there is no surprise that you can taste it at any festival. It’s a Japanese style deep fried chicken. You will find it at any Izakaya, Convenience store or in a random food stall on the street. Everybody in Japan loves Karaage. Depending on the vendor, they might add various spices to the dish, but I recommend you to try classical Karaage – with nothing.

Gyoza

Who doesn’t love dumplings!? Fried Gyoza dumplings is a super common food at any festival as well. In Japanese dumplings, there are more vegetables than meat. They usually put pork and garlic chives inside and cover it with a very thin layer of dough. So, when you feel this beckoning smell of fried Gyoza, just get to that Yatai, take a set of dumplings and taste it with a mix of vinegar, soy sauce, and spicy sesame oil. This will become an unforgettable festival taste!

Nikumaki Onigiri

Nikumaki Onigiri is a new type of Japanese food that came from Miyazaki city in the mid 90’s. It means a rice ball wrapped in meat. These delicious hot snacks are gaining more popularity at the festivals recently so don’t miss a chance to try it!

Nikuman

Nikuman – Steamed Pork Buns. However, the filling can be very different. If you have an opportunity, please try Butama with pork, Pizzaman, Curryman or sweet Amman with red bean paste. Originally it is a Chinese dish, but these centuries it became local and extremely popular at festivals.

Mitarashi Dango

Mitarashi Dango is a type of Japanese dumpling without any filling. It can be either sweet or not. You can usually see 5 Dango on a skewer made of mochiko (rice flour). This delight has a burnt smell and typically glazed with sweet and salty soy sauce. Yum.

Agemochi

Another mochi food is Agemochi. Usually, Agemochi means deep fried rice cake. You can buy it anywhere in Japan, especially at Yatai. Originally it is lightly salted, but you can find various flavors. A great snack to wander around!

Grilled Corn

Grilled Corn (Yakitomorokoshi) – what can be more simple and tasty? The Yatai which serves grilled corn covered with soy sauce is usually very popular during festivals because no one can resist this attractive smell of hot corn covering the festival venue.

Fresh Cucumbers on Sticks

Another simple Japanese know-how. At summer festivals, when it is especially hot, you can often see Yatai with just cucumbers on sticks on the ice. There is not a big choice of cucumber types in Japan, but those that they sell here are great. They are long, crunchy and with very thin skin. Try it on a hot summer day with a bit of miso on top – simply delicious!

Jaga Bata

I guess everybody knows this food. Jaga (Potato) Bata (Butter) is a grilled in the foil potato topped with butter and salt. Another simple and fulfilling Festival food. Never a wrong choice!

Yakiimo

Yakiimo is also a must try traditional Japanese food. It is baked sweet Japanese potato which is purple outside and Yellow inside. Recently many vendors bake it in on the stones at their Yatai. However, you will be lucky to see an old-school portable potato bakery that uses charcoals. The smell from this cart is just unforgettable and potato, of course, is much more flavorful.

Tornado Potato

Indeed, Tornado potato became very popular at Japanese festivals recently. However, first, it became popular in South Korea. It doesn’t change spiral cut, deep fried potato`s taste in a bad way, because Japan introduces new flavors to this dish. You can often see Yatai selling this potato covered with various Japanese seasonings or even with a frankfurter in the middle.

Oden

Oden is another warm one potted winter festival food! Our body temperature savior during winter events. This dish consists of several ingredients of different shapes. They are always kept in a warm soup. In Oden pot, you can often see boiled eggs, daikon, fish cakes, and konjac. Taste it with yellow mustard and soy sauce and don`t forget about a cup of warm sake to reinforce the result.

Tama Konyaku

Unusually healthy and popular festival food! Looks like gnocchi, but contains no flour. Egg-shaped balls which they usually grill on skewers or stew with sweet and salty sauce at Yatai are almost zero calorie konjac. It is made of a Japanese plant called Konnyaku. A super fibrous product that needs a sauce at it almost has no taste.

Senbei

Senbei is a type of Japanese rice crackers. These crackers are popular not only during festivals, but you can also find it at any supermarket. Very crunchy and a specific rice taste. Usually, they are cooked by being grilled or baked. Have numerous amount of flavors and often are savory. However, you can see the sweet ones as well.

Kare Pan

This is also well known Japanese Festival food. Somehow it resembles Russian pirozhki. A certain amount of Japanese curry is wrapped in a dough and usually deep fried, though, you can meet a baked version as well. Japanese curry is not like any other Asian curry, so if you`d like to try something new, Kare pan is waiting for you almost at any festival.

Korokke

A Japanese version of French croquette is Korokke. You could have guessed that this is a deep fried dish. In Japan and at festivals they mix chopped meat, seafood, some veggies with mashed potato, form flat patties and deep fry it. A couple of those is a good option for those who are starving.

Kushikatsu

You will not see Kushikatsu Yatai very often compared with other festival foods probably because it is a little harder to prepare these deep-fried skewers in a portable food stall. Generally, it’s a deep-fried skewer with anything from veggies to seafood and meat covered with batter before frying. So the dish looks like a small Tonkatsu. This is a must try treat. Sometimes the vendors don’t let you know what hides under batter.

Ginnan

During autumn festivals you will probably see small portable carts with fried Ginnan – Ginko Nuts. They look like they sell chestnuts but Ginko nuts are smaller and almost beige color. These nuts are chewy with a yellowish green color inside. The taste is unique, so it is better to try in order not to forget.

 

The Actual Bento

When you are super hungry at the festival, any snack can’t help you find a bento stand. Japanese Bentos are full sized lunchboxes that can contain anything you can think about. You can easily find them not only at the festivals but also at any supermarket or convenience store.

Japanese Festival Sweets

Fruits on Sticks

Those candied fruits Yatai you can see at any Matsuri. It is just impossible to imagine a festival in Japan without things on sticks. The children will be very happy to see such food stalls. And its colors make the event look even more flashy.

The most popular fruits in caramel that you can see are Ringo Ame (Apple), Anzu Ame (Apricot), Budo Ame (Grape), Mikan Ame (Japanese Orange), Ichigo Ame (Strawberry), Ume Ame (an incredibly sour Japanese Plum in caramel).

Mizuame

Mizuame is one of the most traditional candies at Matsuri. Literally, Mizuame means water candy. Originally it is a transparent, thick and sticky sweet liquid. It is made of corn, or potato starch converted into sugar. During festivals, you can see huge ice cubes that host Mizuame of different colors in the holes on the top of the cube. You can cover any fruit with it or put it on Senbei. Delicious….

Choco Banana

I’d say that Choco Banana is a face of festival foods. This is the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Japanese Matsuri. These frozen fruits on sticks glazed with chocolate of different colors with a splash of sprinkles create the most proper feeling that you are at the festival.

Kakigoori

Kakigoori is the most traditional Japanese festival treat. You can often see it in the movies about Japan. Kakigoori is a cup of fluffy shaved ice. In most cases, the cups and Yatai serving Kakigoori has a kanji of ice on it (氷). You can put tea, any syrup or sweetener on the top of ice and enjoy it with a small spoon. Recently you can try many tastes and see so many colors of this refreshing dessert that you will find one fitting your taste! And the ice crushing machines also look quite impressive, especially old ones.

Taiyaki

You will easily recognize Taiyaki treat by its fish shape. Taiyaki pie is fried in a special form which gives such a shape to the dessert. Inside of this yummy fish, you will either find sweet red bean paste or custard cream, outside – special batter. Many Japanese people like this dessert because it has a taste of childhood for them. You should try and feel a touch of Japanese nostalgia when you are at a festival next time. Recently Yatai vendors upgraded Taiyaki into Taiyaki Parfait. They put whip cream with fresh strawberries in the mouth of the fish, and the result turns out to be quite tasty.

Imagawayaki

This dessert is very similar to Taiyaki. The difference is in its shape that is round disc shape and batter in Imagawayaki is a bit softer when you bite it, or maybe it just depends on the grill. It is better when you taste it right from the grill when it`s still hot. Japanese people started eating Imagawayaki since the Edo period when Taiyaki appeared only 100 years ago, during the Meiji period.

Karumeyaki

At any Japanese festival, you can taste Karumeyaki. It is a Japanese meringue or burned sugar with egg white, baking soda, and water. The name Karumeyaki literally means burnt caramel. Absolutely yummy treat and kids will like it for sure.

Baby Castella

Image courtesy of ao0311

Castella is a very popular Japanese sponge cake. After Portuguese merchants brought it to Nagasaki in 16th century Castella cake became a national product and gained its popularity even at the festivals. At Matsuri you will see baby Castella cakes of various shapes like Doraemon, Hello Kitty, Pikachu, etc. Just baked they taste like waffles, but much softer.

Crepes

Japanese people love crepes. I think there are people who are visiting Harajuku just only for crepes tasting, as there are so many creperies there. But there is no need to go to Harajuku to taste crepes if you at the festival. There is always at least one Yatai with crepes there. The variety of fillings is uncountable from various types of cream and syrup to fresh berries and cookies. Sometimes its custom, so you can assemble your crepe.

Daigaku Imo

Daigaku Imo is another way to prepare Japanese sweet potato. This option is sweet. Daigaku Imo is a very popular street food in Japan, so there is no surprise that you can taste it almost at any festival. Daigaku Imo is a deep fried Japanese sweet potato coated with sugar or honey and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. A nutritious and fluffy inside delight at any time of the day. Children will love for sure!

Waffles on Sticks

Image courtesy of Christina Kipshoven

Waffles are popular in Japan almost as crepes. These waffles are quite long that it might be too much for one person. Top of the waffle is usually covered with chocolate and sprinkles. Without any doubt, this dessert is extremely tasty, but it also can become a treasure for your Instagram feed.

Konpeitō

This Yatai is harder to see during the festivals recently, so consider yourself to be lucky when you see this Showa era food stall. Konpeito is a traditional Japanese candy that is very small and has a star shape. Though the origin of this candy, again, is in Portugal. It came to Japan with Castella cake in the 16th century. Currently, Konpeito has over 80 flavors and these candies for Japanese people also remind their childhood.

Ichigo Daifuku

This dessert also turns out to become popular quite recently – in mid-80’s. Of course, Japanese people knew mochi and sweet bean paste for centuries but decided to cover a whole strawberry in just at the end of 20th century. It became very popular for its smooth and mildly sweet taste giving you refreshment from the berry inside at the same time. No wonder that you can always see the line to Yatai with Ichigo Daifuku.

Ageaisu

Image courtesy of Yvette Tan

Ageaisu means fried ice cream. Basically, it is a deep-fried breaded cover with ice cream inside. This gives a nice contrast between hot and cold. You can see this Yatai mostly during Bunkasai (Cultural Festivals) in autumn or other school festivals in Kansai and Kanto areas.

Soft Cream

What a festival without an ice cream food stall? Of course, ice cream gives us great mood and all children love it! What is so special about ice cream at Japanese Matsuri is the variety of tastes, which you can probably taste only in Japan. Have you ever tried ice cream with wasabi, black sesame, Indian curry, Sakura, cactus tastes? I can continue listing the flavors, but isn’t it better to come, witness and taste it by yourself?

Wata Ame

 

Wata Ame is the most popular treat among children during the festival. A lot of vendors come to the festivals to make Wata Ame and a great mood. Sometimes you can see cotton candy just in a plastic bag. Don’t miss a chance to treat yourself!

Japanese Festival Drinks

Tapioca Juice

There was a boom of tapioca balls from Taiwan a few years ago in Japan. Since then you can see a Yatai with “Tapioca Juice” at any festival. Japanese call it a juice because usually, the drinks containing tapioca balls are quite sweet. And for Japanese, any drink containing sugar is a juice. This is a really tasty and refreshing treat and its perfect for children, cause they will love those chewy balls!

Ramune

 

Ramune is a classical drink of Japanese Matsuri. It actually became a symbol of Japanese Festivals and summer recently. This is an exclusive Japanese soda. Originally it has a lemon-lime taste, but recently new flavors are presented. The major distinctive feature of this product is a special design of a bottle with a marble or metal ball inside and a special device to open. A bottle of Ramune may become a great souvenir from Japan!

Kachiwari

Image courtesy of rixtukai

Kachiwari Yatai at the festival will usually sell big plastic bags with straws containing melted ice and syrup from Kakigoori. This tradition to put melting ice with syrup into the plastic bag and attach a straw to it started during one of the baseball matches in Osaka in the middle of 20th century. You can also see beer or even wine in such bags. It’s a great way to safe water and products; it’s cheap, and it is good for ecology!

Local Beers and Chu-Hi

Image courtesy of  BrianAdler

One of the most enjoyable parts of the festival is an opportunity to try local beers, especially in summer when it is very hot in Japan. There are plenty of Yatai selling a great variety of beer and Chu-Hi at the festivals. Chu-Hi is a special sparkling alcohol beverage you can see anywhere in Japan. It usually has some fruit taste and also has seasonal flavors and contains Japanese shōchū – a distilled beverage made of potato or wheat. Thy those to make your Matsuri experience even more enjoyable!

Sake

Japanese Rice Wine – Sake is an important attribute of any Matsuri. If it is summer you can see a lot of Yatai selling chilled sake and in winter they keep in tanks with warm water not to let you catch a cold. Sake goes well almost with any festival food. Feel yourself totally local when watching the festival performance, grabbing something to eat in Yatai and saying “Kanpai” to your neighbor with a small bottle of Sake!

Image courtesy of Tomomarusan

Closing Remarks

Japan is an unforgettable country with its own unique traditions and culture, especially food culture. I believe that attending cultural events like festivals and mixing with the local crowd help you to explore and discover more about the country you are visiting. Some of the festival food in this article may seem quite common, however, many things you can try only during festivals in Japan. Hope you found something you would like to try! Let’s explore Japan and have our own festival food adventure! Local guides will be happy to suggest you the best festival to visit and recommend you something exclusive to try according to your taste. Don’t hesitate to click on the banner below and find out more!

An Ultimate Idea Source for Your Tokyo Stay!

Most of the travelers who come to Japan enter the country through Tokyo. Even if it is not the main place of your destination, it would be a great idea to stay in the capital city for a few days. The biggest conglomerate in the world has much to offer to any kind of traveler. Whether you want to go sightseeing, shopping, eating out, or trying something special that you can experience only in Japan, Tokyo has it all. In the following article, you will find 100 things and many ideas on how to spend your time in Tokyo! Please, have a look, URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/7726/ 

Would You Like to Know How to Enjoy a Japanese Festival Even More?

 

A lot of people when they get to a Matsuri for the first time feel a bit lost. They confuse about what is happening around. If you are new to Japanese Festivals or just want to know an alternative way of how you can enjoy these events, the following article will provide you with a set of helpful tips on how to choose a proper festival and activities you should definitely try there. Please don`t hesitate to take a look at it!

URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5363/

Want to See a Festival, but Don`t Know When You are in Tokyo?

 

It’s not a problem. There are festivals every month if not every day in Tokyo and its surroundings. For Japanese people it is very important to keep the sense of their community, thus, you can see plenty of festivals almost every week in different parts of Tokyo. The following article picked 12 festivals for each month of the year that represents various aspects of Japanese culture and local communities. It doesn’t matter when you are planning to visit Tokyo. There is always a nice matsuri to go to!

URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5852/

What is Mikoshi?

 

If you were ever wondering about Japanese festivals, you probably came across Mikoshi. Mikoshi is an important part of any Japanese religious matsuri, and it is hard to even imagine a traditional festival scene without it. If you would like to know more about Japanese traditional festival culture and find out what Mikoshi really is, the next article is for you. Please click on the link to check it out!

URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5678/

Famous Festivals That Represent the Edo Period

Japan has a very long and unique history. Matsuri is an excellent indicator showing a particular period of history when the event took place for the first time. I think you can even study Japanese history by attending various festivals. Explore lavishly decorated Mikoshi, admire unique festival fashion and join traditional festival dances at the Matsuri representing Edo period. For more information on their exceptional events, please click on the link below!

URL: https://festivalgo.huber-japan.com/events/5614/

Anton

I`ve been living in Japan for over 10 years and still fascinated with this unique country. I always discover something new about the land of the rising sun when there is a chance!

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