The harbour city of Fukuoka has a food culture that’s different from other Japanese destinations. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Dominican-American writer Junot Díaz once wrote: “If it’s true that the culinary gods shine their glory on Japan, then that glory shines a little brighter in Fukuoka.” Indeed, Fukuoka has much in store for those who live to eat. Here are seven Fukuokan delights not to be missed.
1. Tonkotsu ramen
One of the most popular and heartiest ramens in the world, tonkotsu ramen originated in Fukuoka and can be found in many restaurants as well as food stalls around the city. A milky broth of pork bones boiled for hours is combined with al dente ramen noodles and topped with sliced pork belly to create a simply satisfying dish to be enjoyed any time. One of the most popular tonkotsu ramen eateries is Hakata Issou, whose unctuous, silky white broth is called “pork bone cappuccino” by locals. There are often long queues each day and the wait is well worth it. If you’d rather not queue, head to Ramen Stadium, a ramen-only food hall in Canal City mall where you can sample tonkotsu ramen from different stalls.
2. Karashi mentaiko
You’ll see this salty Fukuokan treat in many shops and most supermarket food halls. Karashi mentaiko is spicy, savoury pollack roe marinated with red peppers. Usually served as a condiment for rice or noodles, or wrapped in an omelette or seaweed, many travellers buy karashi mentaiko to take home to family and friends. Try karashi mentaiko at Ganso Hakata Mentaiko, where you can tuck into spicy pollack roe set meals or ramen made with a roe-enhanced broth.
A famous local dish, motsunabe is a belly-warming hotpot of cow and pig offal with leek, bean sprouts and cabbage flavoured with miso and soy sauce. Rich in collagen, motsunabe is a favourite among many Fukuokan women who believe it helps maintain youthful skin. As the offal broth boils on a low fire, it becomes sweeter and more intense through the course of the meal. You can try this dish at the well-loved Motsunabe Yamanaka Honten and Yamanaka Akasaka.
Another famous local hotpot dish is mitzutaki which consists of chicken chunks cooked in an aromatic chicken stock with vegetables and spring onions, and served with ponzu dipping sauce. This umami-packed dish is particularly comforting on winter evenings. A great place to try is Hakata Mizutaki Toriden, which offers mitzutaki set meals with an appetiser, salad, and rice or noodles.
5. Hitokuchi gyoza
While gyozas originated as jiaozi – pan-fried dumplings – in China, and can be found in many parts of Japan as well as Korea, Fukuoka’s gyozas are unique for their compact size. Known as hitokuchi these bite-sized dumplings are crispy on the outside and moist and steamy inside. They’re a perfect side dish for a bowl of piping hot tonkatsu ramen. Most eateries have gyoza, but one of the best spots to try this dish at is Tetsunabe Gyoza.
Saba or mackerel is seldom eaten raw in Japan because it is an oily fish and doesn’t stay fresh for as long as white fish does. But because Fukuoka is near the fishing grounds of the Genkai Sea, where mackerel is caught, the fish can be sent directly to the markets and are fresh enough to be eaten raw. The signature Fukuoka raw mackerel dish is Gomasaba: saba sashimi with white sesame, soya sauce and mirin. Gomasaba is eaten year-round and you can find it at Hajimenoippo and many of the city’s izakayas, or informal Japanese bars.
Yakitori – charcoal grilled meats and vegetables on bamboo skewers – is commonly found in most Japanese cities, but in Fukuoka, one of the best places to eat yakitori is at a yatai. Small, mobile street food stalls that operate along the canal and pedestrian streets of Fukuoka, yatais only open in the evenings, and dining at one is a uniquely Fukuokan cultural experience. Most of the yatais are concentrated around the areas of Tenjin, Nakasu, and Nagahama, and at each stall, people crowd around to snack on yakitori, knock back sake or beer, and enjoy camaraderie with their fellow diners.
Singapore Airlines flies to Fukuoka daily. To book a flight, visit singaporeair.com
SEE MORE: 5 hidden local gems to visit in Fukuoka