Culinary Ambassadors: Festival Food in Japan

The Bread-Snatching Race(パン食い競走) at Sports Festival/Sports Day


[Photograph: nakazonomasashi on Flickr]

Culinary Ambassadors

Serious Eats' Culinary Ambassadors check in from time to time with reports on food fare in their homeland or countries of residence. To find out more about the Culinary Ambassadors initiative or sign up, see this SE Talk thread »

What is a bread-snatching race? Not exactly a festival food, but I'm curious if other cultures have similar games, so I've submitted it to the Culinary Ambassadors reports.

While I am not a fast runner, I was somehow very good at this race as a kid. Give me food, I run faster.

How it works: You run up to a bar that's dangling breads, bite the bread off the string, and finish running while still holding bread in your mouth. You are not supposed to use your hands but some kids cheat anyway (for the record, I never used my hands!).

The bread used for the race is usually anpan, a fluffy bread filled with sweet azuki bean paste. I remember them tasting particularly good after the race. Some kids don't like tsubuan (bean paste with bean skins), so schools usually use anpan made with koshian (silky bean paste), or even other kinds of popular bread (jam-pan, cream-pan, or melon-pan).

A race that rivals bread-snatching is a candy-searching race. It is somewhat disgusting; you run up to a large box filled with corn starch and you have to find hard candy buried in the sea of corn starch, only using your mouth (you can blow the starch). Naturally, your face will look ridiculous. Since the box is common for all the participants, it's not for germophobes.

Here are some home videos of the actual races:

The most important food on a Sports Day is bento, eaten with your family. It's a special treat to eat bento with your parents/siblings at school! Especially if your school provides school lunches, it's a nice change.

Since sports days are normally held in fall, Sports Day Bentos often feature tastes of fall: sweet potatoes, chestnuts, mushrooms, salmon, and fall fruits (apples, pears, and grapes).