10 Delicious Things to Eat in Fukuoka – Sampling in Kyushu’s Culinary Capital
10. Hakata Ramen/Tonkotsu Ramen
Hakata ramen or tonkotsu [豚骨 pork bone] ramen is perhaps Fukuoka’s most famous food, originating in the Hakata district of the city. Notoriously difficult to make well, tonkotsu ramen involves boiling pork bones for over eight hours which results in a deliciously fatty broth with an almost milky appearance as well as the tell-tale sign of an excellent ramen-ya, a strong and pungent meaty scent wafting from the restaurant. You know you’re in the right place when you can choose the tenderness of your noodles and can order a (100 yen!) second helping of noodles to help you finish off your broth, called a kaedama [替え玉]. Some popular chains are Ippudo [一風堂] and Ichiran [一蘭] with locations across the city.
Fukuoka is also known for its yatai, or food stalls, the Japanese equivalent of food trucks. The yatai are concentrated mostly in the Nakasu, Tenjin, and Nagahama areas and open for business at 6 pm. Yatai serve a range of food, from the ramen mentioned above, to gyoza [dumplings] to oden [stew], and each has a speciality with prices for the available dishes listed on the menu. While yatai can be a great environment to try out your limited Japanese with a friendly owner, they are not the place to have long hang-outs with a large crowd. Seating is limited and after you finish your food and drink, it’s time to get going. Good thing there’s always another around the corner to welcome you!
Mentaiko, or walleye pollack roe often salted and lightly spiced with red pepper, is a favorite among locals. Usually eaten with rice, mentaiko can also be enjoyed in a variety of forms, including, but not limited to: in Japanese-Italian fusion pasta dishes, atop udon or soba noodles, as a pizza topping, and, of course, in the popular rice cracker [senbei] brand, Menbei. In fact, I recommend picking up two boxes of Menbei at one of the many souvenir stands found on the ground floor of Hakata station: one for a family member or friend back home and one to consume yourself along the way so that you still have one upon arrival.
7. Motsu Nabe
Like tonkotsu ramen, motsu nabe [offal hot pot] is a foodie’s food with the rich and bold flavors that Fukuoka is known for: it mainly consists of beef offal and vegetables, such as green onion, cabbage, and mushrooms. Motsu nabe is a relatively recent addition to Japanese food culture, hailing from the postwar period, but it has etched is way into residents’ hearts as soul food. A winter speciality, motsu nabe’s broth can be miso, shoyu [soy sauce], or shabu-shabu. Some famous restaurants are Rakutenchi [楽天地], which has more of an izakaya or bar vibe with locations throughout Fukuoka City, and Yamanaka [やま中], in Tenjin or Minami ward, which is more upscale and suitable for dates.
6. Teppan Gyoza
Fukuoka’s one-bite pork dumplings, a speciality of yatai as well as gyoza specialty restaurants around the city are worth writing home about. These gyoza, crispy on the outside and juicy hot on the inside, often come served in the searing hot teppan [iron griddle] they were cooked in. Alongside your gyoza are dipping sauces, often a shoyu, a vinegar, and ra-yu or spicy oil with which to bathe the already flavorful little packets. (Side note: they are also known for being light enough that women can also eat a lot of them, as I can attest to!). A great chain to check out is Temujin [テムジン], which has two restaurants in the main train station of the city, Hakata Eki (one in the basement of KITTE and the other in AMU Plaza).
Mizutaki, known as a lighter cousin of motsu nabe, is a refreshing chicken hot pot with an over 100-year history in the Hakata district. Using Kyushu chicken and cabbage as its main protein and vegetable, mizutaki is made by boiling the chicken in liquid to create a flavourful broth. Originally, as per its name [水 (mizu) water and 炊き (taki) from taku or to boil], chicken was boiled in water to create mizutaki, but now homemade chicken dashi is often used to create a punchier base. With a plethora of vegetables, such as shiitake, shimeji and enoki mushrooms, leafy greens like mizuna and spinach, and tofu to add to the broth, mizutaki is a wonderful and healthy alternative to some of the heavier dishes on this list.
Although Fukuoka is better known for its ramen than udon, Hakata is actually considered the birthplace of udon which, alongside some other mainstay Japanese dishes such as soba, are said to have been brought to Japan from China by the monk who founded Jotenji Temple in the Hakata area in the 1200s. Some particularities of Fukuoka udon is its soft exterior and pleasantly chewy interior as well as its light soup base made from a fish base with added soy sauce- a contrast with the tonkotsu ramen and the other or strong and deep-flavored [濃い koi] dishes for which the city is known. As toppings, gobou [burdock] tempura, maruten [deep fried fish cake] and kakiage [mixed vegetable and seafood tempura] are especially popular, adding some crunch to the tender noodle dish.
Yakitori, or grilled chicken skewers, is another must try food. Compared to the yakitori restaurants found in the rest of the country, which tend to focus exclusively on the chicken, Fukuoka’s yakitori establishments also serve a broad range of vegetables, meats, seafood, and complimentary cabbage doused in the house tare [sauce]! And, of course, the chicken itself, in its many forms–such as its crispy skins, juicy thighs, and chewy hearts and livers–is the star of the show. As you polish off each stick and drop the finished skewers into a handy container alongside your plate, in some restaurants, you can look forward (literally!) to the next one being prepared and grilled right in front of you.
Hakata tantanmen, a take on Chinese dan dan noodles, is a dish served in a ground pork and sesame-based broth with varying levels of spiciness. Specific to Fukuoka, however, is that the broth used can be based on tonkotsu, like the legendary ramen discussed above, or, more traditionally, on Kyushu’s flavorful chicken, such as in mizutaki above. The all-important sesame paste is also usually made in-house. As such, many restaurants with particularly tasty tantanmen either concurrently specialize in tonkotsu ramen or mizutaki. A great chicken stock one can be found at the noodle-specific branches of the famous mizutaki restaurant Tori-Den [とり田], with branches in Hakata Ward’s Minoshima and in Hakata Station.
1. Amao Ichigo
While strawberries may not come to mind when you think of Japan, let alone Fukuoka, allow me to introduce you to the incomprehensibly juicy and wonderfully sweet amao ichigo, certified by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s heaviest strawberry. The name for these strawberries, uniquely grown in Fukuoka prefecture, “Amao,” even comes from the Japanese words for Amai (sweet), MArui (round) and Oishii (tasty). As pleasing as these red marvels may be, I offer a warning: they can be rather pricey! I can assure you, however, that these flavorful explosions will leave you wanting more despite having less to spend on the other delicious items on this Top Ten List.