It’s hard to not have a growling stomach and growing appetite as the aroma of freshly made BBQ and desserts waft out from the food tents at Obon festivals. Lines of people can always be seen forming near the food vendors as the workers busily prepare and package the foods.
When Obon dances started in Hawai’i, the host temple would sell its own food and baked goods to raise money. Today, the popularity of the festival has increased and now attracts local food vendors, entertainment, and other activities to join in on the celebration, offering a wider range of options. People may come for the dancing, but they definitely stick around for the food. Here is a list of our favorite foods you can find at Obon festivals—traditional and new:
Eaten as a small meal or light snack at Obon festivals, inarizushi is one style of sushi that originated from Japan. It’s made with a seasoned, deep-fried aburaage (tofu) pocket that wraps around oval-shaped sushi rice. It is said that Inarizushi was named after the Japanese Shinto god, Inari, who liked tofu. Because of the cone shape, locals often refer to it as “cone sushi.”
2) WAFFLE DOG
Many different food vendors can now be found at the larger Obon Festivals. One of them is The Hawaiian Waffledog Company. Their Signature Hawaiian Waffledog puts a twist on the traditional corn—a hot dog breaded in waffle batter. If you want something sweet, opt for the maple syrup topping; if you want to enjoy your waffledog savory, top it with with the company’s signature spicy garlic mustard.
A fairly new lemonade stand called Wow Wow Lemonade has been found at different community events like Honolulu Night Market has made its way to the Moiliili Summer Fest, and it won’t be a surprise if they’ll be a vendor at other Obon Festivals throughout the summer.
They’re known for their drinks that typically come in mason jars, and can be spotted by their signature “aloha” sticker and the long line of people at their tent.
The Andagi came to Hawaii during plantation days and were made at home. It gained a spurt of popularity in Hawaii during the 1970s at the Hawaii State Farm Fair, which used to be held at McKinley High School, and has since become a local favorite. Adapting to local flavor, andagis made in Hawaii typically include added ingredients of evaporated milk and vanilla, which is sweeter than the traditional Okinawan donuts, but is what has people coming back for more.
5) STRAWBERRY DAIFUKU MOCHI
There are many different styles of mochi, and one of them is the strawberry daifuku mochi, a soft mochi with strawberry and red bean paste inside. Biting into the sweetness of the red bean contrasts with the tanginess of the strawberry, making for a refreshing dessert.
6) SHAVE ICE
During the hot summer nights of an Obon festival, cool off with shave ice. This Hawai’i treat was brought to the islands by Japanese workers during the plantation days and remains a favorite today.