There’s nothing in the world that brings us together quite like food. Food is full of flavor and stories. Food forces us to sit across the table together and chat between smacks.
My childhood of Spanish tortilla from Madrid told of Mom’s learning to cook after leaving Alabama for Spain. While food is amazing in general, regional specialties are the crème de la crème. Enter Japan, the land so proud of its regional offerings that most towns have cartoon characters for the items.
Anthony Bourdain said in the Business Insider, “If I had to eat only in one city for the rest of my life, Tokyo would be it.” I couldn’t agree with Bourdain more. If stories came from food in my life, oh the stories that a serving of “Takoyaki” octopus balls could tell.
When the bestie proposed attending the Tokyo Dome Food festival, I lit up like a southern grill on 4th of July.
The stadium was sectioned off for each region of the delicious country. We started near pickled plum “umeboshi” stand that I’d anxiously awaited. Last year, I’d spent a month at my besties apartment in central Tokyo sneaking the occasional pickled plum from her very expensive limited edition container in the fridge. A thousand yen, about ten dollars later, I was the proud owner of my own two containers of pickled plums.
Around the corner was the ramen booths, with our top pick being the noodles from Kyushu from where our friend harkened. We first took his noodle praise as bias of his region, but realized after sampling the wares that he was right.
Then came the rice bowls. Barbeque eel, sea urchin, salmon roe, fried egg, all piled high atop perfect rice. My favorite bowl was from my old neighborhood of Enoshima. The “shirasu-don” bowl of baby white fish tasted like perfection, with all the tiny fish smiling back at me with beady eyes.
The region names were coming at us in kanji as quickly as the dishes.
Every region served us up their own specialty beers, but our top pick was the light, citrusy Yuzu beer from some Southern part of the island. With a beer in each hand, we went from table-to-table with our friends and our wares. We were reliving memories and making new ones. The octopus balls brought up that one college party where Hisashi from Osaka made them for us as we crammed as many students as possible into my Florida apartment.
The strawberry daifuku made from the freshest, giant strawberries reminded me of the Japanese dessert party we had with the international students in college. Our friend Suzanne’s house fit fifty students at a time, most of which were covered in rice flour that day. Between molding boiling balls of mochi flour around the fresh strawberries, we were pelting each other with fistfuls of the white stuff. We solved the food fight problem by a group lunge into the pool.
These were the same friends that taught me how to craft my first “Gyoza” dumplings by hand. They offered me regional sakes that they’d brought to their new friends in Florida when they came to study abroad. We bonded for life over these dishes.
At the food festival, Hokkaido’s lavender soft serve was nowhere to be found, but their legendary seafood was in great supply. We sampled strawberry parfaits from the North instead, with the dairy of Hokkaido legend. The back wall was a giant heart formed of Aomori’s apples.
Drummers pounded over the loud speaker, announcing the traditional drama unfolding at the front and center stage. There was a portable Mikoshi shrine the size of a small convenience store that some poor souls carted in on their shoulders, only to cart out later.
Sushi “donuts,” fried squid, okonomiyaki vegetable pancakes, the wonders exceeded the size of our stomachs.
Armed with apple cider vinegar from Aomori apples and a sweet potato “Shochu” that’s stronger than sake but weaker than whiskey, we headed home to mix our own cocktail sours with an umeboshi plum instead of olive to garnish.
There’s nothing in the world that brings us together quite like food. Especially when it’s from around the world.
Visit my Vimeo channel for a quick jaunt around the festival with us: