For those of you who have traveled to Japan before, you might have noticed that each region has local food products that they are famous for. Domestic and international tourists alike will sometimes travel to a specific region just to sample a scrumptious specialty. When traveling around the island of Kyushu there are many wonderful sites including onsen, volcanoes and country scenery, in-between enjoying site-seeing I would highly recommend sampling some of the delicious and varied cuisines in this region. I would like to share with you my recommendations for what to eat in each of Kyushu’s seven prefectures.
Fukuoka is home to Hakata ramen. This tonkotsu style ramen is a favorite among many people and many visitors travel to Fukuoka purely to sample this. Some of you will be aware that I am not a fan of ramen. To read more about my opinion on Japan’s most famous noodle dish please check out my previous blog post here. However I would be remiss not to mention this dish when talking about food in Fukuoka, you can find it in many restaurants across the city and at yatai (outdoor food stalls) near the river. Ok, I have mentioned it, try it if you like but now I want to talk about a slightly more interesting local food. Mentaiko (pollock roe) are crunchy, salty, tiny, spicy delicious fish eggs. The variety found in Fukuoka is of particularly high quality and freshness. You can buy a variety of snacks flavoured with mentaiko and it is a popular filling for Japanese rice balls. However, my favourite way to eat it is with pasta. Mentaiko pasta is so delicious, you can find it at Italian style restaurants at Hakata Station and throughout Fukuoka. Give it a try!
This prefecture is often overlooked as a place to visit, although it shouldn’t be. There are some interesting pottery towns where you can see and buy Arita porcelain, as well as relaxing hot springs at Ureshino Onsen. A favourite memory of my last trip to Kyushu was visiting Mifuneyama Rakuen Hotel where they have a digital teamLab installation at the café there. Sitting amongst ever-changing colored lanterns while sipping a delicious cup of hojicha tea was a peaceful experience that I would urge everyone to try. Getting around Saga is easiest by car so this is a great area to experience self-drive in Japan. But getting back to food, Saga beef is what you want to try. There is a lot of good wagyu beef in Japan and Saga’s is definitely right up there in quality with some of the more well-known, such as Kobe beef and Hida beef and as a bonus, it is cheaper as well. The best way to eat the beef is yakiniku style where you grill it yourself at the table in front of you. It can be hard to patiently wait for the meat to cook as the delicious smell wafts up, but each piece cooks quickly and before long you will be enjoying a very delicious meal.
There are so many wonderful dishes in Nagasaki to talk about, many of them are influenced by traders who came to Nagasaki when it was a port including the Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese. I would recommend checking out my previous post here for a recommendation for a delicious noodle dish to try. This time I want to tell you about castella. This Portuguese influenced sweet yellow cake originates from Nagasaki although you can now find it in other parts of Japan. It is similar to a Madeira cake and is traditionally sold in long rectangular boxes. The plain original variety is nice to eat alongside a cup of green tea, the sweet cake and slightly bitter tea go very well together. You can also find other flavours including brown sugar and matcha if you want to stray from the traditional, as well as a unique peach-shaped (although not peach flavoured) version found only in Nagasaki. It is worth visiting a castella shop when exploring the interesting historical sites of Nagasaki as you are eating the result of the foreign trade history of this area. Also who can pass up on cake?
The dish I want to recommend for Kumamoto definitely won’t be to everyone’s taste, although I find it very delicious. It is called basashi, in English raw horse meat. It is accompanied by sliced onions, grated ginger and garlic and you dip it into a sweet soy sauce, yum! During the Meiji era Japanese people began to eat meat and this eventually included horse meat with basashi becoming a popular dish which has endured to this day, because as I said before it is great! You can try it at many izakayas (Japanese style pubs) around Kumamoto. While on the topic of izakaya, drinking sometimes feels like only the lesser purpose of visiting these establishments with food often taking centre stage. There is normally a huge variety of small dishes you can order, often written on the wall. Of course there is normally a nomihodai (all you can drink) package available and a large variety of beverages to accompany your choice of dishes. Shochu (a type of Japanese spirit), is said to pair particularly well with basashi although I am quite content to eat it on its own, no need for liquid courage.
From the “hells” of Beppu to the farmland and mountains of Yufuin, along with the scenery comes a wide variety of local foods and methods of cooking. Special mention to dangojiru a delicious miso based soup with flat thick noodles. Great, especially on a cold day. The most unique dish in Beppu though is jigoku mushi, this refers to a method of cooking rather than one dish, the food is steamed in the steam from the hot springs. Extremely healthy and delicious, you can steam everything from seafood, meat and vegetables to a pizza. There are two main places to do this in Beppu, at either one they allow you to put the food into the steam yourself or someone will assist if you would prefer. The first is called the Jigokumushi Kobo Steam Cooking Center near some of the main hells (hot springs for viewing) and the second is Geothermal Tourism Lab Enma. This is my favourite! You can enjoy some delicious food while soaking your feet in a foot bath. Which definitely is a blessing if you have been walking around looking at hells all day. After eating why not try another way to relax, a sand bath, where you are covered in hot sand warmed by the hot springs or if you are lucky enough to be staying one of the seaside resorts you can have a hot spring while looking out at the ocean.
Miyazaki is another prefecture where hiring a car for self-drive is convenient and by far the best way to explore this prefecture. You can make your way down the coast visiting shrines and admiring the scenery or drive inland to Takachiho to explore one of the spiritual hearts of Japan. But what to eat along the way? Due to Miyazaki’s mild climate mangos are able to be grown, so a must while out exploring is a mango soft serve ice cream. Come to think of it, whenever you are traveling in Japan you should try the local soft-serve ice cream flavour. There are some unique and delicious ones available, wasabi ice cream anyone? Back to the food of Miyazaki, a local dish on the must-eat list is chicken Nanban. When first trying this dish I thought it was going to be like a chicken schnitzel covered in tartare sauce (well that is what it looks like) and it turned out to be pretty close to that. The chicken is closer to tempura batter than schnitzel and placed on top of shredded cabbage with the vinegary sauce on top, it is quite tasty and worth stopping for.
The last but certainly not least prefecture to mention is Kagoshima. The active volcanic island of Sakurajima is a stunning backdrop for Kagoshima city. You can visit Senganen Garden and take amazing photos of a very nice Japanese garden with a volcano in the background. While in Kagoshima I recommend you try the satsuma-imo (sweet potato). This versatile vegetable with many varieties can be baked, fried and of course made into soft-serve ice cream. But the most unique product produced from Kagoshima sweet potatoes is a type of shochu (Japanese spirit), IMO shochu. Normally this spirit is distilled from potatoes and wheat but in Kagoshima they make it with sweet potato instead. What to eat with the shochu? Well Kagoshima is also known for kurobuta, black pig. This refers to the colour of the skin not the meat which is tender and delicious. I tried this shabu shabu style. You hold a thin piece of pork in your chopsticks and submerge it in boiling broth for a short time until cooked. Dunk it in sauce or egg and eat. So good! You can add vegetables and tofu to the pot as well. The name comes from the sound omitted by the boiling ingredients in the pot. This is a dish to share, so bring your traveling companions and enjoy local pork in Kagoshima.
If asked to choose my favourite food from Kyushu I don’t think I could. There are just so many delicious things to try. Whether you are on a self-drive holiday, on a tour or exploring Kyushu by train don’t forget to make time to stop and sample some of the local foods. You won’t be disappointed!
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