Al Fresco Fukuoka

Posted by on Nov 21, 2011 in Fukuoka, Travel Volunteer Journey | 4 Comments
Al Fresco Fukuoka

For over a thousand years, Fukuoka has had dealing with its Asian cousins. Though it used to be a perilous trip across the Japan Sea – just ask the would-be invaders from Mongolia – today it’s a mere three hours by hydrofoil to the Korean peninsula. China? For Fukuoka, Shanghai and Tokyo are equidistant. With all the inevitable trade between the main continent and the Japanese islands, more than just goods and services were exchanged. You only need to look at the menus to see evidence of this. In fact, the city, and the prefecture as a whole, has become something of a fusion gourmet destination.

Yet unlike other parts of Japan, it’s not the number of Michelin stars that give Fukuoka its status; nope, it’s the vibrant, very affordable variety of foods from around the region. It’s no better evidenced than in Fukuoka City’s street food, served from manic little hawker stands, or yatai, to give them their Japanese name.

In summer these stands have all their temporary walls rolled up, trying to maxmise the breeze, and the roofs shelter the punters from the scorching sun. It’s all change in winter when the walls come down and people huddle together, trying to absorb as much of the grill’s heat through their faces as possible. No matter the season, these little places have a great reputation as meeting places: Fukuokans from all walks of life can’t resist the pungent aromas wafting out across the streets, drawing them in like moths to a gas flame.

Having spent the first month of the trip gorging on soba every day, the last couple of weeks have been characterised by large portions of udon. Today in the yatai it was the turn of ramen to try and impress us. Given Fukuoka’s long heritage as a port, ramen – or Chinese noodles – have been around here for more years than virtually any other part of Japan. As a result, the city has put their own spin on them. Given the huge number of yatais (Fukuoka has more than the rest of Japan combined) the noodles have grown thinner and thinner, thereby reducing cooking times and increasing the number of bums on seats per hour. The local favourite, the Hakata ramen, is served with thin slices of pork, in a thick broth. It’s salty and it’s hearty and it compliments beer especially well.

Actually, that applies to much of Japanese food – and certainly most things that are served in yatais. Some of the other highlights included a kind of rice-cake gyoza, a chewy, delicious morsel that we could have eaten all night, and a spicy (Korea) fish-roe (Japan) omelette (the West) that perfectly underlined Fukuoka’s status as a crossroads for fusion food.

It’s not all jumbled foreign grub, though. In Yanagawa, in the south of the prefecture, we were treated to a different style of dining altogether. They say the best unagi (eel) in all of Japan comes from round these parts, so much so that the naturally occurring population can’t cope with demand. The farmed stuff is no less delicious, though. The strong flavour isn’t for everyone (namely: Katy) but the meat is said to be rich in vitamin E, and full of good oils. Served, as we had it, in an traditional mansion overlooking a superbly-cared for ornamental garden, it tasted all the better – almost good enough to distract us from the unending pain of sitting on tatami mats. Two thirds of the way through the adventure we thought it’d be getting easier, but when we went to stand up, our legs were deader that the eels at the bottom of our bellies.

Must try harder.

Our time in Fukuoka prefecture was made possible by:

The Hakata Terrace by Candeo Hotels, a swanky, modern little joint on the riverside, that seems to theme its rooms chocolate or cream (we had cream). Within site of Fukuoka’s excellent Canal City mall, it could hardly be more convenient for some of the city’s biggest attractions.

The hard work of the Yanagawa tourism office who kindly laid on a morning of activities for us in their old town. We had a rare chance to relax during a serene river-boat cruise (complete with singing oarsman) along just a tiny fraction of Yanagawa’s 960km of waterways. That was followed by a delicious lunch of eel bento at the mighty Ohana residence, home to one of the oldest families in the region. It’s worth going just to see the garden: the pruning of the bushes sets the owners back ¥16.8 million. Every year.

Our guide Fumiko Soda, and the Fukuoka Convention and Tourist Bureau, for letting us pig-out all day long on the prefecture’s fantastic food. It’s probably just as well we’re leaving so soon – we’d be competing in the next sumo basho otherwise.

The sumptuous hotel Il Palazzo, which has little to do with Italy, but plenty to do with being palatial. Located in the heart of Fukuoka’s CBD, it’s a brisk walk away from the yatai’s – as well as the city’s highest high-end shopping opportunities.

And finally Nick Szasz, editor of local events publication Fukuoka Now, for indulging me at a full-speed conversation in English, and for proving that the world is indeed tiny: he knows someone we used to work with in Dubai. Freaky.


千年以上に渡って福岡はアジアの国々との交流を持ち続けてきた。その昔の元寇の記録からも分かるように、以前は日本海を渡る事は危険に満ちた事だった。だが今は高速フェリーでたった3時間で朝鮮半島に到着してしまうのだ。中国? 福岡の人にとっては上海に行くのも東京に行くのも変わらない距離だ。自然と行われるようになった大陸とのやり取りによって、福岡には商品やサービス以上のものが入ってくるようになった。それはレストランのメニューを目にしていただければお気づき頂けると思う。そう、ここ福岡はフュージョン・グルメ大国なのだ!










ホテル イル・パラッツオさん、お世話になりありがとうございました。イタリアテイストというよりは宮殿のような美しいホテルでした。福岡の中心部に位置し、屋台からも、高級ショッピングモールからも近く、最高のホテルでした。本当にありがとうございました。

Fukuoka NOWの編集長Nick Szaszさん。久しぶりに英語を“本来のスピード”で使わせてもらいました。楽しかったです。本当にありがとうございました。そして・・・世界は狭いと言う事を痛感した出会いでもありました。なぜなら私達が以前働いていた人を知っていたからです。世界は狭いです!


  1. Eunice
    November 21, 2011

    I was waiting for another food-related blog. I loved it especially the pictures of Gyoza and Ramen. You have captured their beauty (and likely their deliciousness well…). Plus you got to eat in one of those places with the thick plastic curtains during the colder months – love the authenticity!

  2. Fumiko
    November 22, 2011

    Dear Katy and Jamie,

    Thank you for coming to Fukuoka, Japan!!
    You should come back to Fukuoka just for food someday and meet us again :) )
    Lots of good luck to you two!!! XXX Fumiko

  3. Nick
    November 22, 2011

    It was nice to meet you both here in Fukuoka – and inside one of our city’s cozy yatai stalls. Glad to hear you enjoy it and please come back to Fukuoka again… if in summer, maybe next time we can show you the sandy beaches…

  4. cdb
    November 28, 2011