Temple Fair Fare: Ennichi and Food Stalls
Savory roasted soy sauce and the scent of grilled yakisoba mingle with a whiff of sugar in a mouth-watering mix of aromas; vendors call out from small colorful food stalls touting grilled corn, fried noodles and candied fruits. Both children and adults delight in this lively traditional festival that celebrates the deities of the temple.
Temple festivals (ennichi) are often held on days that are memorable or have special meanings to the temple. This is the reason why the word ennichi literally means “related days,” and therefore holds special meaning and great fortune. On these days, crowds of people gather to enjoy simple entertainment and sample tidbits from various tempting food stalls. In the past, children especially looked forward to these fairs, one of the few places they were permitted to spend money by themselves.
During the days of the festival, a scattering of small food stalls are erected on the temple grounds, and each one serves up its own specialty: okonomiyaki (savory griddle cakes), tako-yaki (octopus dumplings cooked in iron molds), yakisoba (fried noodles) and yaki-tomorokoshi (roasted corn) are regular mainstays. The corn is typically rolled over a grill while being basted with a soy sauce-based sauce; it is this delectable aroma that lays the groundwork for the festive atmosphere.
Other popular stall foods include ika-yaki (grilled squid); ringo ame (candied apples); baby kasutera (small baked sponge cakes); crepes; jaga bataa (steamed potatoes with butter); and chocolate-covered bananas. Longtime favorites also include watagashi (cotton candy) and anzu ame (candied apricots).
Bananas used to be a special treat, and a unique banana-selling performance known as banana no tataki uri was once a popular diversion at these festivals in the past. Other traditional ennichi fair entertainment involves toys and games such as omen (character masks), shateki (shooting at targets), kingyo sukui (scooping up goldfish) and the ever-popular yo-yo sukui, where colorful water-filled balloons are fished from a pool. These games invariably attract clutches of enthusiastic children who happily spend their money to fish for small prizes.
These days, the number of ennichi festivals has dwindled, but they are still held throughout Japan, complete with requisite food stalls that attract hungry crowds with their smoky grills. Whether at a humble local festival or during important temple holidays, the food stall selection rarely changes: those hungering for tako-yaki, cotton candy or anzu ame can always find a way to satisfy their cravings. For others in search of more ethnic flavors, stalls selling Southeast Asian cuisine and even Turkish food are becoming a common sight at festivals.
A long-established network of vendors travel constantly from festival to festival throughout the year, setting up their food stalls and serving up delicious tastes that are the stuff of nostalgia. Thanks to the long-lived success of their simple recipes, their fare is in as much demand today as it was nearly one hundred years ago.