Hungry History

Buy Me Some Gyoza and Bento Boxes: Japanese Ballpark Food

By Stephanie Butler
Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki, a speciality available to fans of the Hanshin Tigers. (Credit: iStockphotos.com)

Summer is in full swing, and with it comes that most American of traditions: chowing down on peanuts, pretzels and Crackerjacks at a baseball game. But America’s pastime also has a longstanding history around the world: In Japan, a rich baseball tradition dates all the way back to 1878 when a Japanese student brought the game back from his studies in America. Since then, the game has grown wildly popular, with fans flocking to see teams like the Chunichi Dragons and the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. And though the game is almost the same, the stadium food is very, very different. Forget about hot dogs and hamburgers–here, the focus is on traditional Japanese street foods.

Like most cultures, Japanese street food tends to feature a few satisfying taste sensations: crispy, salty and savory. Tempura dishes are popular, with deep fried panko-crusted tonkatsu chicken and pork cutlets also making appearances. Noodle dishes are beloved throughout the country, and bowls of udon and ramen are likely to be seen in the stands.

Of course, Japanese fans also devour dishes that are less familiar to American palates. Okonomiyaki is a specialty of Osaka, home of the Hanshin Tigers. It’s a savory pancake often topped with octopus, cabbage and bacon, and then finished off with dried bonito flakes and mayonnaise. A far cry from a Dodger Dog, sure, but delicious and beloved by fans. Takoyaki are pan-fried octopus balls–crispy, salty, and bite-sized, it’s easy to understand their popularity. And when you catch the Orix Buffaloes in Kobe, you can enjoy Kobe beef croquettes from the comfort of your seat.

But what do the Japanese use to wash down all these salty, crispy, deep-fried goodies? Local beers, of course, and that’s where the beer girls come into the picture. These women, biru no uriko in Japanese, roam the stadium with kegs strapped to their backs, ready to pour fresh drinks for thirsty fans. And what better team to watch with a cold beer than the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, sponsored by Japan’s foremost meat processing company?

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Categories: Baseball, Food, Japan