As regular readers know, The Gannet spends much of his time lounging on restaurant upholstery as generously proportioned as himself, but there are times when food eaten at a street stall on a makeshift bench, or even standing up, really hits the spot. Take a kebab: whether satay, souvlaki or shashlik, nothing beats standing by the flames to eat it. The waft of smoke and sizzle of the grill become part of the seasoning.
I was reminded of this in Osaka’s splendidly garish Dotonbori district – famous for the huge, illuminated, articulated crab above the Kani Doraku seafood restaurant – where the popular snack is takoyaki, or octopus balls (a reference to their shape, not to cephalopodic anatomy).
Thin slices of octopus are mixed with tempura, ginger and spring onion and bound in batter in a special pan. The air fills with a perfume sweet and savoury, inducing a Pavlovian reaction in anyone nearby. Turned expertly with chopsticks, they emerge as squishy golden fritters, to be doused with mayonnaise, bonito flakes, seaweed powder and usuta sosu, Japan’s thick, sweet version of Worcestershire sauce.
Venture off the street to sample okonomiyaki – a sort of riotous pizza made with batter instead of dough – at the ever-popular Mizuno, where it is griddled under your nose. The mazeyaki version includes thinly shaved cabbage, pork belly, octopus, squid and prawn toppings; sauced similarly to takoyaki, it is fast food at its exuberant and messy best.
Closer to home, three London food festivals this month offer a chance to eat at stalls representing some of the city’s finest restaurants. Taste of London (June 15-19) is a gastro-Glastonbury at which chefs emerge blinking into the Regent’s Park sunshine (or so we hope) across 40 or so stands: look out for the “Daily Special” stall, featuring cutting-edge Turk(ish) eatery Black Axe Mangal and Bethnal Green’s Typing Room (shorthand for cool).
And there are two smaller events that share charitable aims. The first is Soho Food Feast (pictured, July 2-3), in the churchyard of St Anne’s, with Soho Parish School the beneficiary: last year’s stalls included Soho hotspots Ducksoup, Barrafina and Quo Vadis.
There is also the lunch-only Fork to Fork (June 11), at Ark Franklin Primary Academy in Kensal Rise, raising funds for an open-air classroom. Co-organiser and W10 resident Thomasina Miers, the founder of Wahaca, has charmed Ottolenghi, Polpo and Granger & Co, among many other stellar names, into providing their wares for free.
For a few days, then, I will eschew restaurant luxury and perch for lunch: discomfort food, one might call it, but – if the weather is kind – it can leave restaurants standing.