When you think of autumn in Japan, the bountiful seasonal ingredients come to mind. Among them, the Sanma (Pacific Saury) stands out as a hallmark of the season. And what better place to celebrate this delicious fish than at the Meguro Sanma Festival?
Scheduled for September every year, this event draws thousands to Meguro, all vying for a taste of freshly grilled Sanma. Let’s explore the charm and the best way to experience this popular event.
What is the Meguro Sanma Festival?
Known as one of Tokyo’s iconic autumn events, the Meguro Sanma Festival has been a staple for many years. In fact, there are two main events: one hosted by the Meguro Station Front Shopping Street Promotion Association Youth Division. Yes, that’s a mouthful so it’s also affectionately known as “Me Group”. And the other as part of the Meguro Ward Festival.
The “Me Group” initiated the Meguro Sanma Festival in 1996, aiming to bring back the warm, nostalgic vibes to the increasingly modernized Meguro Station area. By 2019, the event had celebrated its 24th year (note: it was canceled in 2020 and 2021). On the festival day, nearly 30,000 visitors throng to the Meguro shopping street, with long queues forming from the early morning.
The Sanma Festival held as part of the Meguro Ward Festival is its main attraction. The fish, sent from the friendly city of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, are grilled over charcoal and served to visitors. The festival also features a “Hometown Product Exhibition,” offering a variety of local Japanese delicacies, from Sanma tsukudani (boiled in sweet soy) to rainbow trout tempura and grilled dumplings. This segment of the festival is slated for October 19th, 2022. However, the grilled Sanma is reserved only for those who win the “Grilled Sanma Ticket” – for 2022, applications are already closed.
What To Expect
Celebrated every September, the Meguro Sanma Festival is a testament to Tokyo’s rich gastronomic culture. But what’s unique about this festivity, you ask? Let’s dive in and explore.
Tantalizing Charcoal-Grilled Sanma
One of the main attractions of the Meguro Sanma Festival is the opportunity to savor freshly caught sanma (Pacific saury) from Miyako City, Iwate Prefecture. Picture this: about 7,000 of these fish, grilled to perfection on a charcoal fire, filling the venue with an irresistible aroma.
On top of that, the sanma served at the festival is not just any ordinary grilled fish. It boasts attention to detail in every aspect.
Flavored with Sudachi and Grated Radish
The charcoal used to grill the sanma comes from Minabe town in Wakayama Prefecture, known for its premium binchotan charcoal. Once grilled, the fish is seasoned with the fragrant sudachi citrus from Kamiyama town in Tokushima Prefecture, the top producer of this Japanese citrus. It’s also accompanied by spicy grated radish from Nasushiobara City, Tochigi Prefecture. This combination not only complements the grilled fish but elevates its umami flavor.
When to Arrive for the Free Grilled Sanma
Given the free offering of this delicious fish, it’s no surprise that the festival attracts a significant crowd. If you aim to enjoy the charcoal-grilled sanma, be prepared to wait for a few hours. The distribution begins at 10 am. However, even if you arrive at this time, there’s a chance you might miss out.
For a guaranteed taste, it’s advisable to start lining up between 8 am and 9 am. But remember, the distribution time varies each year, so the earlier, the better.
What Else is There at the Meguro Citizen Festival’s Sanma Fest?
Beyond the grilled sanma, the Meguro Citizen Festival offers an array of events. In 2022, the grilled sanma is available for free, but only for those who won a prior lottery. The sanma, sent from Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, is grilled over charcoal and drizzled with kabosu citrus from Usuki City, Oita Prefecture.
Apart from the sanma feast, there are various food stalls, exhibitions, and stage events at three different venues. So, even if you missed out on the sanma lottery or didn’t make it in time, there are plenty of other attractions to enjoy.
Best Time To Show Up?
Before the pandemic, the Meguro Citizen Festival used to attract nearly 30,000 visitors each year. In the past, those who arrived between 7 am and 8 am could receive a ticket for the grilled sanma. However, in 2022, there’s no distribution of tickets on the festival day as it shifted to a lottery system. So, without the need to arrive early, you can visit during the regular festival hours. The food stalls and the “Festival Plaza” (Meguro Citizen Center) are open from 9:30 am.
Why is the Sanma Festival Held in Meguro?
You might wonder why Meguro, a landlocked area, celebrates a fish festival. The reason can be traced back to a classical rakugo (traditional comedic story) associated with Meguro.
In this story, a lord visits Meguro and forgets his packed lunch. Feeling hungry, a peasant offers him some grilled Sanma. The lord finds the taste unforgettable. However, at that time, Sanma was considered commoner’s food and wasn’t served in the lord’s residence. When he later dines with relatives, he orders Sanma. The servants, in an attempt to refine the dish, steam the Sanma, causing it to lose its delectable fat. Disappointed with the taste, the lord inquires about the fish’s origin. On hearing that it came from the Nihonbashi fish market, he declares, “That’s not right. When it comes to Sanma, Meguro is the best.”
This rakugo tale thus positioned Meguro as the prime destination for the best Sanma, leading to the inception of the Meguro Sanma Festival.
The Sum Up
While the Meguro Sanma Festival offers a feast of charcoal-grilled sanma, it’s not just about the fish. With various events taking place, there’s something for all. So why not head down to Meguro this autumn to savor the flavors.