I honestly love cultural days like these because it's so much fun to get immersed into something different. And when I say immersed, I really mean 'stuff my face'.
Japan Day, held this year at The Cloud Queens Wharf and Shed 10, featured everything Japanese you could think of - from samurais to sake, okonomiyaki to origami. After making our way through traffic and finding a working ATM in the CBD, Boyfriend and I made our way to Japan Day at peak lunch time, and I was starving.
The worst thing about cultural festivals is queues. Especially when you're hungry. Because no matter what food queue you jump into, it will always be a long wait. Boyfriend and I tend to strategically tag team for food, always sharing and jumping in separate queues so we get more food at once. Between us we got takoyaki, karaage chicken, pork buns, omoniyaki, and udon noodles. I've never had half of those foods before but I enjoyed every one of them.
For example, (from left to right) takoyaki is like fried wheat snack balls with octopus meat. A bit like a rice meatball, the sauce they have on it really makes it delicious.
Omoniyaki is basically a type of pancake or omelette that has a similar sort of sauce to takoyaki, but is more filling with vegetables and bits of fried seafood.
Karaage chicken is the equivalent of KFC but a thousand times nicer,
and of course you can't beat a classic pork bun to fill you up.
After we had our full from these savory foods, Boyfriend and I went searching for some good Japanese desserts when we laid our eyes on mochi and the rice pounding demonstration. If you don't know what mochi is, it's a soft rice cake, made out of white rice.
Boyfriend and I are usually used to dessert mochi and were hoping it could be filled with maybe red bean or sesame. So we waited in queue as we watched the live demonstration of rice pounding where other members of the public tried their hand with the mallet. Pounding rice is not as easy a job as you may think. Freshly cooked and very hot rice is kneaded by one person while someone bashes a heavy mallet into it for many turns at a time, and each batch seems to take about half an hour before its perfect mochi. Once cooled it then gets rolled into balls and covered in rice flour ready to eat.
Unfortunately Boyfriend and I hadn't expected the mochi to be one decent sized ball of plain rice without any filling (see the first photo above). And while I decided to go for the soya sauce and nori sheets to make it more exciting, after all the savory food we had, we were suffering.
We decided to take a break from our search for dessert and check out the stalls inside. In Shed 10 and the Cloud were all sorts of exhibition stalls and shops showing all sorts of interesting Japanese activities. Bonzai trees, ice sculptures, Japanese calligraphy, cooking lectures, and even a place to buy a full traditional Japanese outfit. Not to mention the people dressed in cosplay. You forget how much the Japanese culture embodies outside of amazing food.
Boyfriend and I had a good look around at all the stalls and decided to watch the stage while we waited for the day's big raffle draw to be held. We watched these fantastic Taiko Drummers (Japanese style drumming with the massive drums) who were both so immersed into the deep rhythmic beats, it was amazing to watch. And the way the drummers battled with each other with their waterfall drumming reaction - it really was exciting.
After finding out we didn't win the free trip to Japan in the big raffle, Boyfriend and I did our final wander around before we decided we could fit in dessert before leaving. Out of a choice of smoothies, vegan cake, a "Japanese-style crepe" (whatever that was meant to be) or this little food stall selling fresh pancake sandwiches; we chose the latter because it felt the closest to an authentic Japanese dessert.
Called 'imagawayaki' (I did some research after for the proper name), these little desserts were made on a pan similar to a muffin tin, but shallower, and made with two halves sandwiched with filling in the centre. They had offered fillings like red bean, black sesame, custard, "cookie" which was literally a whole oreo, and an alternative savory 'tuna and mayo' version which we decided we would pass on.
This one guy operated this spinning cooking platform and it was unfortunate the cooking platform itself was so small and slow at cooking, because this queue was the longest food queue I had ever been it. From getting into the queue, till finally getting our order - 1 1/2 hours. 4.30pm - 6pm. And it was flipping cold wind for my inadequately thin cardigan.
Why did Boyfriend and I choose to wait so long? Two reasons - 1) we really wanted dessert. 2) We wanted something that actually was a Japanese dessert and not a "Japanese-styled crepe."
and 3) because by the time we were getting a bit anxious about it being 5.30pm and barely moving in line, you feel it's a cop out to get out of the queue after waiting so long.
So we waited. And waited. And tried to keep ourselves warm in the cold southerly air, until we finally got the four flavours we picked (and in that time I was so thirsty I got myself the second to last mango smoothie). I would have taken a photo of the little imagawayakis which were just slightly bigger than biscuit sized, but Boyfriend and I got a bit too excited to start eating it while it was hot and fresh. They were sweet, cute, and I loved the red bean filling the best. Was it worth 1 1/2 hours waiting? Maybe not, but at least it was only $2 each.
But honestly, despite long queues, giant mochi rice balls, and not winning the raffle for the free trip to Japan, I seriously do enjoy events like this. To see a snippet of another side of the world all compacted together in a space in Auckland is exciting, and worth immersing yourself into. The Japanese culture is fun, full of life and includes so many elements you forget even exist - if only Japan could last for more than a day in Auckland.