Meet the founders of Japanese street food festival Yatai MTL

Robyn Fadden

Robyn Fadden is a Montréal-based writer and editor who searches out city secrets, new bands, life-changing art and things to do with her perpetually active kid. Robyn has covered major events for HOUR, MUTEK, ARTINFO, CKUT 90.3FM and more.

“People say Yatai MTL is a bit like going to Japan without travelling there,” says Yasuko Tadakoro, co-founder of the summer festival celebrating Japanese street food and the culture that goes hand in hand with it. This year Yatai MTL moves from its usual outdoor location to several Japanese restaurants and virtual events taking place from August 21 to 23.

Tradition meets everyday life

“We first imagined this festival in 2016 when we were walking through Fukuoka City in Japan, where there are permanent and popular yatai,” says Yatai MTL co-founder Thien Vu Dang of the small, mobile food stalls that inspired the festival – the tradition dates back to the early 1600s in Japan but has always been influenced by contemporary life.  

“At that moment, street food was still new in Montréal and so were food trucks,” says Thien. “We asked [POP Montréal’s summer park program] Marché des Possibles if we could do an event called Ramen Rumble: we had a ramen chef, made a fb event, did zero promotion, yet a thousand people came.” 

Yasuko comments that though Montréal had Japanese and fusion sushi restaurants at the time, few of them felt like contemporary Japan when stepping through the door, and even fewer made yatai dishes. 

“I wanted to share the Japan I know, the everyday life, show that it's not all robots and animation and pop culture.” 

The unique food culture of yatai

As Yatai MTL grew, it brought together Montréal's growing new Japanese restaurants to share their love of authentic street food and the culture that surrounds it. “Food is the major element that attracts people to the festival, of course,” says Thien, “but there's also the unique ambience and culture of it. Japanese people living in Montréal and even Japanese tourists come to the festival for that too – it reminds them of being in Japan, even though they're on the Plateau.”  

Though this year's festival is a hybrid event, Thien says the neighbourhood ethos of Yatai MTL is still strong: “It's about discovering restaurants and eating in the street with others. You can walk from one location to the next to try different dishes.”  

Must-eats at Yatai MTL 2020

  • Karaage sando (Japanese fried chicken sandwich) at Nakamichi 

  • Takoyaki (fried octopus in fried dough balls) at Montako 

  • Yakisoba (stir-fried buckwheat noodles) at Ichifuku  

  • Yakotori bao (skewered chicken in a bun) at Otto Yakitori Izakaya  

  • Ramen (noodles in rich broth) at Tsukuyomi  

  • Sushi bento (sushi and sides) at Marusan Comptoir Japonais 

  • Matcha tea and desserts at Matcha Zanmai, Tsujiri, Salon de Thé Oasis and Ö Japanese Tea - Entreprise Sakao 

  • Japanese-style cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu Montréal  

Virtual workshops and more

  • An online yakisoba workshop with chef Murakami-san, with the Consulate General of Japan in Montréal, and a tonkatsu workshop with Marusan. 

  • A virtual karaoke competition of Japanese pop hits.  

  • The music of Studio Ghibli played in a secret outdoor location and streamed online, plus more live Japanese music online.  

  • Shopping in person or online at boutiques Tokusen.store, O-Taku Manga Lounge and Kimono Vintage Montreal. 

  • A meet-up for Shiba Inu dog owners and fans of the breed. 

  • Find all the events in Yatai MTL’s cultural program.  

Yatai MTL's Montréal

“Since I came Montreal almost 20 years ago, it's always been all about the people for me,” says Yasuko. “It's the music, festivals and restaurants, and at heart it's Montrealers who are curious about new things, open to different cultures and feel free to talk with anyone. They’ll say, 'I like your dress, I like your bag' – that never happens in Japan. I love it.”  

“People here often act like they're in a village even though they're in a big city,” says Thien. “There are so many things happening in Montréal, so many surprises that bring the city alive.”  

Yatai MTL’s balance between traditional and modern Japanese culture reflects Japan itself, yet also suits Montréal's own cultural diversity and sense of community, says Thien, adding, 

“It's not only about the diversity of people and culture and food here, but all that diversity harmonizing together in one city.” 

Robyn Fadden

Robyn Fadden is a Montréal-based writer and editor who searches out city secrets, new bands, life-changing art and things to do with her perpetually active kid. Robyn has covered major events for HOUR, MUTEK, ARTINFO, CKUT 90.3FM and more.

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