Tanabata Festival: Stars, Wishes and Street Food

With Tanabata just around the corner on 7th July, Japanese towns everywhere are about to burst into life to celebrate. Here at Japan Centre we wish we could be in Japan, strolling around the local Tanabata Festival in our light and airy yutaka, writing wishes on tanzaku and sampling some sumptuous festival food that the Japanese do oh so well. But, alas, we are stuck here! So we’re going to do the next best thing and cook up some of our own wonderful Japanese yatai stall-inspired festival street food.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away….

There are several incarnations of the story behind Tanabata but by far the most popular is the tale of Orihime, the weaving princess and Hikoboshi, the shepherd in the sky. The story goes that once there lived a princess who had a talent for weaving beautiful cloth on the banks of the Milky Way. Her father, the Sky King Tentei, loved her cloth but felt sorry for his daughter who kept weaving and weaving but had no time to meet a future husband; so he arranged for her to meet the shepherd, Hikoboshi. The pair instantly fell in love and quickly married.

Orihime and Hikoboshi were so in love that they forgot about their jobs, Orihime stoppped weaving and Hikoboshi let his cows stray all over the heavens, angering Tentei. The Sky King seperated the two lovers on either side of the Milky Way and would not allow them to see each other again, forcing Orihime into a deep depression. Pleading with her father to let her see her husband, Tentei was moved by his daughters tears and relented on the condition that Orihime finished her weaving, pledging to let the two meet once a year on the 7th day of the 7th month, when the stars of Altair and Vega paths’ crossed.

Getting stuck in 

To celebrate Tanabata, cities in Japan are decked out in colourful and intricate decorations and people write wishes for the upcoming year on strips of paper called tanzaku. These tanzaku are sometimes subsequently hung on bamboo sticks and sent floating down a river or burned so that they may come true. Now, Japan Centre doesn’t recommend you set fire to anything and sail it down a river like a flaming pooh stick, but don’t get too disappointed about missing the festivities! We’re here to show you how to get into the festival spirit and cook up some fine festival grub in damp and cloudy England, with our handy Matsuri Food Guide!

Takoyaki / たこ焼 

The King of festival food. Takoyaki is comprised of chunks of octopus meat served in steaming balls of dough, smothered in layers of tangy takoyaki sauce, creamy Japanese mayonnaise and aonori seaweed. It’s Kansai cuisine at its delectable best and Japan Centre has everything you could possibly dream of for cooking takoyaki at home.
Takoyaki Plate – essential for those evenly browned and perfectly spherical takoyaki!
Takoyaki Recipe – become a takoyaki master!

No festival is complete without the mouth-watering smell and sound of sizzling yakisoba noodles. These noodles aren’t actually soba, they’re chow mein noodles that have been stir-fried in a flavourful sauce with meat, cabbage and other vegetables. Topped off with pickled ginger this colourful dish is pleasing on the eye as well as the tastebuds. Japan Centre stocks everything you’ll ever need for yakisoba; make it from scratch or simply pour hot water into a pot noodle, there are all sorts of options to try.
•  Instant Yakisoba Pots – Get a yakisoba fix in just 3 minutes!
•  Fresh Yakisoba Noodles – fresher noodles have better flavour but will require a bit more culinary expertise 😉
Yakisoba Fried Noodles Recipe – a bit of help for if you want to make these beauties from scratch!

Yakisoba / 焼そば

Okonomiyaki / お好み焼き 

An icon of Osaka, okonomiyaki is a large pancake usually stuffed with cabbage, meat, seafood and beansprouts… anything you like really! It’s one of those rare instances where you can enjoy all of your favourite food in one epic meal, no wonder its name translates as ‘grilled as you like’! Japan Centre has everything you need from specialist spatulas to authentic ingredients.
Mixes, sauces and seasonings – if you’re looking to give your okonomiyaki that authentic flavour then we have your back!
Okonomiyaki recipe – a few handy tips to cook up the king of pancakes!

Traditionally made from juicy, tender pieces of chicken grilled on wooden skewers, yakitori are barbecued over an open flame basted with a slightly sweet, soy based sauce or sprinkled with simple salt. Once you try these awesome kebabs, you’ll turn your nose up at every other type of chicken skewer out there!
Ready-made Yakitori – for those who want yakitori without the faffing around.
Marinading Sauce – a handy ingredient if you would like to try your hand at your own!
Yakitori Recipe – follow our recipe to grill yourself up some cracking Japanese-style chicken

Yakitori / 焼きとり

Going further

Try the recipes recommended above at home and throw your own Tanabata Festival! It’s not just food that you can get at Japan Centre, we also have traditional dress items, decorations, authentic cutlery, calligraphy setsanything you need to make your own matsuri even more authentically Japanese! Let us know in the comments what you miss most about Japanese festivals and how these recipes turned out for you!