Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 - Buddhist Obon: Eating my way through festival food

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Higashi Buddhist Temple Obon Poster
Welcome to the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple's 50th Annual Obon Festival!

I'm thrilled that Foodbuzz selected my proposal for this month's Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24, a unique monthly food blogging event covering 24 meals on 24 blogs in 24 hours. My proposal: Eating my way through festival food! Come along!

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
Obon Festivals are an annual Japanese Buddhist tradition, honoring the departed spirits of one's ancestors. My friend describes it as the Buddhist Dia de los Muertos/Day of the Dead.

Buddhist temples and churches have Obon Festivals in the summer to celebrate their heritage, religion and family connections. Obons are known for unique and yummy foods prepared by church members. Like most children, I remember eating my way through festivals. While my friends have memories of hot dogs and corn dogs at the county fair, I remember rice, noodles, and the wonder of dango.

Even though I wasn't raised Buddhist, my family would attend the local Buddhist Obon festival. The chance to win a goldfish or glass cup in the dime toss (I'll tell you that story later), and eat some comfort food draws families from all faiths.

Used with permission, Estelle Ishigo, Obon, 1942 - 1945, Japanese American National Museum (94.195.10F)

This pencil drawing by Estelle Ishigo was made during WWII in the Heart Mountain, Wyoming internment camp. That is how far back and important these festivals are to the Japanese American community.

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
Six friends, all who have never been to an Obon Festival, joined me at the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in downtown Los Angeles (Little Tokyo). Founded in 1904, the Los Angeles Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple is a member of the Shinshu Otani-ha denomination with its headquarters in Kyoto, Japan. This year, they celebrated their 50th Obon Festival!

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
Recently, I made somen noodles. These cold noodles are perfect on a hot summer day!

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009) Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
Always on the menu...beef and chicken teriyaki plates.

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009) Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
Tamales with chili and tacos. The obon food reflects the character and culture of the Japanese American and Los Angeles communities. Remember, my family used to make mochi AND tamales during the holidays! Chili Rice is also a favorite Obon dish (a staple in Hawaii). Why have cornbread when you can put chili over a hot bowl of rice? :)

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
Chirashi sushi is sushi rice (rice mixed with a sugar & rice vinegar syrup) with egg, kamaboko (fish cake), shitake mushrooms, and age (fried tofu). It is a must at Obon festivals!

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009) Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
Spam musubi. Spam, rice, seaweed and sauce.

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009) Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
Japanese confectioneries. These manju cakes are filled with sweetened beans, and handmade by temple members.

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
Shave ice is a delicious summer treat. They were sold out of my favorite: kintoki...Shave ice with "an" or sweet red beans. If you see that, try it!

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
Oh yes. The Dango. The draw of the food booths! The Okinawan Dango is a fried cake-like donut. I've been spending this summer doing the Obon circuit seeking dangos! :) See below for my mom's dango recipe.

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009) Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
This was a new one for me! The Dango Dog. Hot dog dipped in dango batter. A sweeter corn dog! They were also making Oreo dangos but they were sold out.

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009) Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
We found some great, inexpensive produce at the farmer's market at the festival. Nothing like Japanese pumpkin (kabocha) and tomatillos! The festival also had a bake sale, flower and plant sale and white elephant/bazaar area.

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
The night always ends with the Bon Odori dance, a circular folk dance performed by temple members, friends and visitors. Some members dress in yukatas (cotton kimono).

Here is a slide show of Bon Odori photos:


Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)
Three Taiko drum groups performed during the festival. And we played a couple games of Bingo!

Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple 50th Annual Obon Festival (July 25, 2009)

Whew! That was a lot of food and fun. Thanks for coming along on our eating tour!

Whatever your faith, I hope you take time this summer to spend time with family and honor your family members who came before you. Give them a some thanks...and perhaps a little dango.

Okinawan Dango
There are a million different Okinawa Dango recipes out there...believe me, I'm made it my mission to try all of them. Variations include: thick crust, density, size, sprinkling of powdered sugar, and the addition of cinnamon flavor. I want to share my mom's with you. My mom came to Los Angeles on a student visa in the late 1960's. She arrived with very few possessions, very little English and big dreams.

Okinawan Dangos (originally published in this December 2007 post)
Mix together in large bowl: 3 c flour, 1 T baking powder, 1 c sugar, 1/2 t salt

Beat together in small bowl or measuring glass: 5 eggs, 1/4 c milk, 1 t vanilla

Mix the dry and wet batches together by hand (with a wooden spoon or spatula) until dough forms. Do not overmix. Heat a wok or deep-fryer with vegetable or canola oil. Form dough into small balls with your hands or with an ice cream scoop/cookie dough disher before dropping into the oil. Fry until golden brown. Makes 36 dangos.


The amazing thing about Obon festivals is that they only occur once a year, and most of the city doesn't even know about it. If you are in Southern California and Nevada, there are still some Obon Festivals to attend this summer! You can find a calendar here.

Thanks to the good people at FoodBuzz and VISA Signature for this great opportunity!
Be sure to check out all the other 23 bloggers in this event!



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25 comments:

Cucinista said... [Reply to comment]

The festival looks amazing, both the culture and the food! I have been having a serious yen for all things Japanese lately (sorry).

2.46% said... [Reply to comment]

I love this post. The festival looks fantastic and makes me miss living in downtown LA and within walking distance to Little Tokyo. Somen and tamales? I miss that kind of diversity!

Blue is Bleu said... [Reply to comment]

I believe I just tried to lick the screen. The festival looks so awesome!!!

Snooky doodle said... [Reply to comment]

what a nice festival! I would like to attend. Pity it s so far :) Nice and delicious food!

the ungourmet said... [Reply to comment]

What a terrific experience! Your photos are wonderful and the food looks delicious. I love all of the vibrant colors!

Esi said... [Reply to comment]

WOW!! What a full day of eating. Everything looks amazing, but I think the best are the somen and dango dogs!

The Scootabaker said... [Reply to comment]

thank you so much for sharing this! I'll be in chinatown this afternoon for some dim sum with friends. we'll definitely have to stop over to little tokyo (j town?) and check out the scene! Ah, memories from my childhood!

luv,
Heather

Tracey said... [Reply to comment]

Wow, that festival looks fantastic!! When I see things like that I always wish I lived somewhere cooler :) We don't have anything like that near me. Congrats on being selected for the 24, 24, 24, this month!

Corriendo said... [Reply to comment]

I looove obon. I'm going to the last Central Cal one tonight (in Parlier). Haha! It is like a Japanese Dia de los Muertos.

How To Eat A Cupcake said... [Reply to comment]

Wow that looks like so much fun! :D

April Marie Claire-Girl Japan said... [Reply to comment]

For a second I thought you were in Japan = ) The cold somen, and kakidori.... YUM

vibi said... [Reply to comment]

WOW! So many things I'm missed here... let me go back and enjoy! Too cool!

Teanna said... [Reply to comment]

WOW! What an amazing post and what an amazing proposal for the 24, 24, 24! That dango dog looks AMAZING but my favorite was the shaved ice! I LOVE shaved ice, and the tropical flavors sounded delicious!!! Great, great post!

Cori said... [Reply to comment]

This is so awesome! Congrats on having your proposal accepted! I have never been to the festival, but love most/all of the things you mentioned. It's on my must dos!

pinkstripes said... [Reply to comment]

Oh,man. it sounds like a very delicious day. How come I always miss things like this?

Michelle {Brown Eyed Baker} said... [Reply to comment]

Truly awesome post! I loved learning about the different foods and traditions. I want to try the dango!

Rowena... said... [Reply to comment]

Festivals like these also very popular in Hawaii, and I so enjoyed every food image that you had here. What a feast that brings back such great memories!

Congratulations on being a part of Foodbuzz 24!

Fuji Mama said... [Reply to comment]

So fun! Now that we live in the states we need to try and make it to one of these to see how it's the same/different from the ones we went to in Japan!

lyndsay said... [Reply to comment]

Mary! You lucky lucky gal! We have a festival similar in Vancouver called the Powell Street Festival, with shave ice, takoyaki, etc... next weekend...

the mango/passionfruit/condensed milk shave ice looks so good!

justJENN said... [Reply to comment]

Chili Tamales with extra onions. That's how I roll.

Jaime said... [Reply to comment]

wow what a great event!

lisaiscooking said... [Reply to comment]

This is a great mix of food and culture! The dangos look incredible.

Miss Emish said... [Reply to comment]

yay Dango! I was in Okinawa years ago studying abroad and I just loved those. I'm excited to try to make them!

Lunchie said... [Reply to comment]

SO SAD that I couldn't make it :( I am finally back to eating whatever I want to eat today, but now there is no festival food around. I might have to print out your nice pictures and eat them.

Linda said... [Reply to comment]

I've lived in LA and worked in DTLA for countless years, and I can't believe that I was missing out on this festival in J-town.

Thanks for introducing me to dango (now i'm completely fixated on trying it).

What a great post Mary...thank you for sharing!

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