Japanese Street Food:? Grilled Ayu and Squid

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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.

ikayaki

Ikayaki

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!

How to… Use a Deba Bocho

As we’ve been showcasing, Japanese kitchens are equipped with simple, elegant tools that serve multiple purposes and are made to withstand constant use. Japanese knives are key to the culinary tradition, with the deba bocho being an important piece of the cook’s knife collection.

The deba bocho is one of the five basic knives that are part of most traditional Japanese kitchens. Along with funayuki bocho, nakiri bocho, wabocho or santoku, and the sashimi bocho, the deba bocho, which means “pointed carving knife” has a unique shape and heft that has evolved over time to become task–specific and task-expert.

santoku

The deba bocho, also called a sakana bocho, is a thick-bladed, heavy knife with a sharp tip. The length of it can vary, but in general, the deba bocho is a medium to large (23-31 cm, or about 9-12 inches) knife that is used to hand-fillet fish, carve whole poultry and cut through larger chunks of meat, especially when the cook needs to cut through small bones.

The various parts of the blade are extremely useful for specific cuts. When filleting a fish, the broad, long edge of the blade is used to cut through the flesh along the edges of bones. The tip is used to sever fillets from the carcass and the corner edge is used to cut through larger pieces. The knife can also be used similar to a Western carving knife, useful for carving a chicken along the joint lines and along the breasts. The knife, especially if maintained correctly and sharpened regularly, makes precise cuts and will last the cook for many, many years.

Have you used this type of knife before? Share your stories!