It’s almost that time of year! Festivals are starting in Japan and street food flavors are out in full force! Spring festivals kick off the season with the biggest festivals happening in the thick of summer. Japanese festivals are unique in that fireworks, music, dance and games are all enjoyed by festivalgoers who really come for the delicious varieties of street food!
One of the most loved street food dishes is anything on skewers, especially grilled ayu, or sweetfish, and ika, or squid.
Ayu are small fish in the salmon family, and when heavily salted, skewered and grilled over an open charcoal fire, they are considered a delicacy reminiscent of summertime, camping and festivals. The fish are generally available from June through September in Japan, and at street food stalls, you’ll see the small, whole fish skewered through the center and arranged in a circle around a hot fire, where they are shaped into an undulating wave and barbequed at low heat until crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Ayu can be eaten whole–head, fins, tail, bones and innards–and the white-fleshed river fish tastes great served with a special sour and peppery dip called tadesu which helps bring out the delicate aroma and the flavor of the fish.
Ika, or squid, are also wonderful barbequed over an open fire. The squid are skewered through the body in a way similar to grilled ayu—sometimes whole and sometimes in choice pieces—salted and lightly brushed with soy sauce, and then grilled until juicy and flavorful. The dish, called Ikayaki, is often served simply and eaten directly off the stick.
If you can’t find grilled ayu or ikayaki at a festival, be sure to ask for it at an izakaya pub, where often these skewered delicacies are available to accompany a crisp beer!
Have you ever had grilled ayu or grilled squid? Share your stories with us below! And don’t forget to stay tuned for next month’s street food showcase!