Whenever I went to a festival this summer, I made a point of trying a different food that, to me, have that distinctive “Japanese festival” feel. Perhaps it’s too late for a summer food post when we’re a couple of weeks into fall, but on the other hand we had a fireworks show only today in my town. I think we have the best planned festivals – outside the peak season, fireworks are cheaper. Also, the celebrities are set up across a series of vast parking lots so that no matter how many people attend it doesn’t feel cramped. Of course it’s too late in the year for shaved ice, but there were the usual suspects. Don’t worry, these were eaten over the course of a few months – I’m not so destructive of my health that I would try them on the same day.
Though these octopus dumplings are the food Osaka is famous for, I preferred my experience with them at my town’s festival. I didn’t have to wait in a huge line, the servers weren’t rushed, and I even got an extra couple balls just because. Since I don’t particularly care for octopus, I thought this would be one of those dishes I tried for the experience but didn’t return to. To my surprise, it’s such a tiny piece of the creature inside each dumpling that I found I quite enjoyed it. They are cooked so fast that really only a thin layer on the outside is solid – the inside is almost liquid batter like a small delicious water balloon. It literally melts into your mouth. The topping of the ubiquitous brown sauce, mayo, and katsuobushi (dried fish shavings) is also very intriguingly unique, airy and inhalable.
“Fried as you like” is a savory pancake, perhaps something like an omelet. It contains shredded cabbage, and meat, and anything else the customer feels like adding – green onion, shrimp, etc. Restaurants will often have a do-it-yourself hotplate, though of course a festival will have them pre-prepared for convenience. I have a strange relationship with okonomiyaki – I am certain I will one day find a serving of it that is as delicious as it seems like it should be. So far, however, I’ve been disappointed. I like the part with the toppings but by the time I get to the bottom it’s too overwhelmingly eggy, cabbagey, doughy. This particular picture is of the Hiroshima variety, which is layered ingredients rather than mixed, and thickly slathered with the dark sauce.
These “fried noodles” of course I knew before I came to Japan. How could I not, living in Seattle’s University district? I described it as my favorite meal when I first got here. And then I actually tried it the authentic style, and found it very… different. It was a disappointment at first, but I’ve gotten used to the Japanese way – though I will admit to sometimes getting nostalgic for the American bastardization sometimes.
I bought this serving when it was just starting to rain, and I was doubtless their last customer before they closed up. “Give her extra noodles,” I heard one server whisper to another, “and pick out an especially cute heart.”
Do not be deceived by the shape or the name – there were no actual fish harmed in the making of this “baked sea-bream.” A pancake in a special mold is filled with various ingredients – red beans, chocolate, etc. The best I’ve had have been mango or banana. Today I tried with trepidation one labeled “uguisu” which as you may remember is the word for the Japanese Bush Warbler. I wasn’t sure what would have been worse, if it contained the bird itself or the droppings thereof which have so many uses, but it seemed to only contain a chestnut paste of the same greenish-color. Lately white taiyaki is popular, but I find them - without the crispiness - to be limp and unappealing.