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After sushi in Tokyo, okonomiyaki in Osaka, and kaiseki dining in Kyoto, you may think you’ve tried all there is to Japanese cuisine, but the truth is that you have only just begun to scratch the surface. Because on the northern tip of the island of Kyushu lies Fukuoka, a gourmet capital that sets the trend for food throughout the rest of Japan. Here’s why.
Due to its proximity to the Asian mainland, Fukuoka has long been the gateway by which new cultural practices and ingredients have spread to Japan from China and Korea. One such example is the ingredient mentaiko, or salted pollock roe marinated in red pepper, which arrived in Fukuoka via the Korean port city of Busan following World War II. Since then, mentaiko has become highly popular throughout Japan for everything from a pasta topping to a pub snack to enjoy with beer or sake. It’s also a common souvenir to pick up when visiting Fukuoka.
Plenty of food trends have originated in Fukuoka and later spread to the rest of the country. Motsunabe, a hotpot dish made with beef or pork offal, may not sound terribly appetizing, but it’s a big hit among young women in Japan after first taking off in Fukuoka. The high-protein, low-calorie organ meat is cleaned and blanched to remove any unpleasantness before being simmered with garlic chives, chili pepper, and plenty of cabbage in a bold flavored broth.
Fukuoka is one of the “Big Three” ramen centers of Japan and is best known for its local style of tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen called “Hakata ramen.” The name comes from the fact that Fukuoka City was formed from two seaside towns – a castle town for the samurai called “Fukuoka” and a merchant town called “Hakata.” Although the city took the name Fukuoka when the towns merged, the name Hakata is synonymous today with excellent food, in particular ramen. Two of Japan’s most well-known ramen chains, Ippudo and Ichiran, both originated in Fukuoka and have even opened shops outside of Japan.
Fukuoka is a veritable street food paradise with over a hundred yatai food stands that operate around the Tenjin district and on the waterfront at Nakasu. These open-air stalls typically seat a handful of customers and offer everything from yakitori chicken to oden stew and plenty of drinks. Go on a street food crawl, referred to locally as “hashigo,” and close out the evening with a stop at a Hakata ramen stand.
In addition to motsunabe, Fukuoka has another delicious style of hotpot called “mizutaki.” It’s made with Hakata jidori, a native pedigree chicken that’s prized for its meaty texture and excellent flavor. The free-range poultry is cut on the bone and simmered with vegetables in broth until it releases its collagen, for a rich and silky smooth soup.