Tonkotsu ramen is making global inroads. Ippudo recently opened its doors in London, to add to a stable that includes New York and various cities throughout Asia. Ippudo hails from Japan’s ‘ramen capital’ of Hakata, a district of Fukuoka city on the southern island of Kyuushu.
Hakata ramen, hearty noodle soup made by simmering pork bones for hours to produce a rich, creamy broth, is arguably the port city’s most famous export. But with Fukuoka widely touted as a must-visit for food lovers, what else should the hungry traveller be saving room for?
Fukuoka has a vibrant street food scene and is home to over 150 yatai food stalls. There are yatai in the Tenjin, Nagahama and Nakasu areas of the city; the most picturesque are those along the riverside on the southern end of Nakasu island.
From about 6pm, these little open-air kitchens form a row of colourful noren curtains and lanterns and fill the evening air with fragrant steam and mouthwatering charcoal yakitori smoke.
As well as the noisy buzz and chance to chat with locals (common language not required if there is enough Japanese beer and sake flowing!), you can sample Fukuoka’s delicious take on some of Japan’s most popular dishes.
Gyoza, juicy dumplings of ground meat and vegetables introduced from China, are popular all over Japan. You will likely have encountered the bite-sized, pan-fried style of Hakata gyoza in other cities but here’s your chance to try it in its hometown. With Fukuoka one of the birthplaces of gyoza, they really know what they’re doing. The juicy-on-the-inside, crispy-on-the-outside delights are especially good with yuzu (citrus) dipping sauce.
Apart from the yatai stalls, renowned spots for gyoza in Fukuoka include Tetsunabe and Yuushin (both near Hakata station).
Hakata-style yakitori is seasoned, skewered chicken cooked over a charcoal grill and served with cabbages leaves and condiments. Many Fukuoka yakitori-ya embody the city’s relaxed approach and serve up beef, pork, seafood and vegetables cooked in the same style. You usually order your sticks in sets of two.
If you are after a more elegant setting than a yatai stall, Yakitori Hachibei meets the bill and makes incredible yakitori.
And finally, something that you probably won’t have encountered elsewhere in your travels around Japan.
Motsunabe is a hot pot made with beef or pork offal (motsu), vegetables and garlic chives in a soy or miso broth. If the thought of offal puts you off, then mind over matter as this Hakata specialty is delicious and even the most reluctant taste-testers usually end up mopping up the leftover soup with champon noodles.
Hakata Motsunabe Yamanaka is an excellent choice for trying motsunabe with two locations, Honten and Akasaka.
ps. Make sure you fit in plenty of Hakata ramen as well. That stuff is happiness in a bowl. You won’t go wrong at Ramen Stadium, Shin Shin or, of course, the original Ippudo.