The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.” – G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Yatai eats @ Ueno Park, Tokyo

My sister Honey has a penchant for junk food, and Japanese junk food is no exception. Ever since she arrived in Tokyo almost two months ago, she's been asking me where she could find a takoyaki stall to get hot and freshly made takoyaki (octopus). These octopus balls are available in supermarkets in the takeaway section, but anyone would agree that supermarket food can never be as good as freshly made ones (although high quality food standards in Japan means that supermarket foods are incomparably excellent compared to the ones in Australia, America and Asia). If we were in Osaka, where these octopus balls originated from, my sister would have no shortage of takoyaki stalls. Unfortunately (for her), I didn't know where in Tokyo could we find yatai (mobile food stalls selling street food), now that the summer matsuri (festivals) season is well and truly over (there are festivals outside of summer, but they are few and far in between). So I went on the internet for a little search, and the search results seem to suggest that we could find yatai stalls in Ueno.

A family photo:

Last weekend, we made an afternoon trip to Ueno, not just to look for Honey's junk food, but also to enjoy the coloured leaves in the beautiful autumn weather at the park. Whilst in search for the park's lake (not so easy with the seemingly ambiguous maps around the park), we came across a ishiyaki imo vendor selling hot satsumaimo (Japanese sweet potatoes), freshly baked over hot coals. These are so good to eat in the cool weather, and the three of us shared one.

Hot baked sweet potato!

We hit jackpot when we reached the lake - like killing two birds with one stone, because we not only found the lake, but we found a bunch of yatai selling unhealthy food. In good time too because the baked sweet potato made us realise that we were pretty hungry. Rob and Honey went into the crowd to check out the yatai offerings whilst I stayed behind with the baby and pram and watched the kyarakta kasutera ("character" castella vendor churn out Doraemon and Hello Kitty "baby" cakes. I love bebi kasutera and I couldn't resist getting a bag of 20 baby cakes (all 20 Doraemon and Hello Kitty were gone by the time we got home). Rob and Honey returned shortly after with takoyaki and a compact version of the okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake). Honey also enjoyed yakitori (skewered chicken).

Yatai stalls, with the bebi kasutera vendor at the entrance enticing children and adults alike; takoyaki and okonomiyaki:

The bebi kasutera vendor doing his thing really efficiently: filling the mold with batter, then closes the lid and waits for the timer to ding to let him know that these babies are ready, then unmolding little Doraemons and Kitty-chans out:

Tasty little Doraemons and Kitty-chans - sounds morbid, but they were delicious! Zak agreed (by the way, I don't usually give him sweet treats like cakes, but he snatched it out of my hand while I was taking a photo of it and started munching on it. He hadn't been eating well for the previous couple of days due to his teething problems, and him eating something was a nice change):

While it was good to satisfy our mid-afternoon hunger, the food was only so-so. We have definitely had better versions of these food, but hey, beggars can't be choosers!

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