Though most Japanese, in every season they walk through, go about their different routines in subdued business-as-usual mood day to day, you’ll notice subtle changes that come in little waves when spring ends. There is a simmering madness that arises when the month of July begins.
Summer casts a special kind of crazy in the air that makes them want to throw caution in the wind in wild abandon. If it’s your first time to travel to Japan, you can be sure everyone will be up on their feet and out on the streets at this time of year. Festivals will be bursting at the seams everywhere, with fiery colors as backdrops and spectacular performances in every corner.
But before you go all-out vacation-warrior mode and, possibly, lose your head in all the fascinating experiences waiting for you at the heart of one Japanese summer, there are a couple of things you need to get your hands on first, not least of them a plethora of flavors unique to Japan. Here are some of the must-taste Japanese food you should try out in the summer festivals to make your Japan trip a summer to remember.
Perhaps one of the most popular and highly recommended snacks in Japan, takoyaki, or octopus balls, was said to originate from Osaka in the 1930s. It is made from wheat-based batter containing different fillings but is mainly filled with diced octopus. Other filling ranges from tempura leftovers to green onions. It is known as a quintessential food for summer festivals in Japan. It can be found in food stalls, convenience stores, food trucks, and even restaurants.
The Japanese have a natural knack for turning simple experiences into extraordinary pleasures. They are masters in putting a creative spin to the minutest detail. The delightfully decadent Yakitori, Japan’s grilled chicken skewers, is packed with melt-in-your-mouth textures and vast depths of flavors. It is a traditional Japanese food smothered in a sweet-and-savory sauce that brings out the delicious flavor of chicken. It goes well with beer. They say the best yakitori can be found at specialty restaurants.
Another popular Japanese food during summer festivals is okonomiyaki. This fried food is made of batter and cabbage and capped with selected toppings and ingredients ranging from meat, seafood, wasabi, and cheese. Sometimes, this dish is translated as “as-you-like-it pancake,” which can be misleading as okonomiyaki does not have the sweetness or fluffiness of a pancake. Instead, this snack is usually filled with octopus, pork, shrimp, or yam. It is most popular in many restaurants at Hiroshima and Osaka.
Want to beat the heat? A cold Japanese dessert is your best bet. Kakiko-ri is a must-have during summer festivals. Basically a shaved ice blended with fruity-flavored syrup and condensed milk, this delightful treat is commonly found in kiosks and food vans. Many cafés and restaurants offer it during summer as well. You can enjoy a variety of flavors, too, from strawberry, lemon, melon, cola, mango, orange, and even coffee.
Popular among kids, wataame is cotton candy that comes in different colors and flavors. They are often present in festivals and carnivals. This sweet snack is made of flossy sugar spun in sticks. Its flavorful and melt-in-the-mouth goodness makes it a staple summer treat for kids and adults alike.
A perfect snack during summer, kuzumochi is made from starch flour and root of kudzu plant. It has a mildly sweet flavor that is light on the stomach. Traditionally served chilled, this sticky mochi cake is often buried in syrup, powder, or ice cream.
Another staple summer food during festivals is karaage, a crispy, juicy, bite-sized deep-fried chicken snack. Adapted from Chinese cuisine, karaage is often served with beer and is also great as a late-night snack.
It’s easy to go belly-up on sumptuous food and drink stalls during the festivities. Smart travelers, though, should take care of what’s important first—their own. The loved ones back home, those who can’t wait for you to come back home and hear about all the fun experiences you’ve just had. Considering the difficulty of sending delightful Japanese eats outside the country, finding and choosing the perfect gifts for your friends or families can be a daunting task.
Since most summer festivals are popular, there are bound to be souvenir shops and bargain stores around the area where you can buy the perfect memento for your loved ones. Vintage items and handmade trinkets are popular. If you want a hassle-free souvenir, try traditional Japanese snack crates. These are filled with carefully curated selections of household goods like plushies, accessories, apparel, and more. They can be ordered online and shipped worldwide.
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