I ate one whole ika sashimi, with eyes, tentacles and all, for the first time at Kawataro, a well-known restaurant located in a traditional shophouse between Canal City and the yatai street.
One order comes with two big ikas. They were fished out of the pond in front of my table just after I placed the order. For those who are not fond of sashimi, it is squeamish to have the eyes of two big ikas looking at you from a plate. But for ika sashimi fans, I tell you, it is heaven on a ceramic plate.
So fresh. So sweet. I ate the body of the ikasashimi-style, and after I had eaten the body, the restaurant cooked the remaining cartilage and tentacles in two ways: grilled lightly with salt and fried in a tempura batter. So so so good.
When I was researching what to eat in Fukuoka, one of the things that kept popping up was ‘motsunabe‘, or cow’s intestines hotpot, a Fukuoka delicacy. I love eating offal (tripe being at the top of my beef offal list) and this dish was something that I would definitely want to try in Fukuoka. As I was on my own in Fukuoka, the only problem was whether the famous motsunabe restaurants would cater for a one-person portion. I wouldn’t be able to eat a standard size hotpot on my own and I didn’t want to waste food. I had to look for a place which serves the dish in a small portion.
Every evening, I walked from the Hakata train station or Hotel Nikko (the hotel where I stayed at, which is a stone’s throw away from the train station) to Karo No Udon for my daily bowl of udon. Along the way, I would pass by this shop called Uma Uma which had a stand outside the shop, displaying that they serve motsunabe for one person at 1,000 Yen. It was perfect for a solo traveller like me. So I popped into Uma Uma one day for dinner (instead of going to one of the more famous restaurants in the city). The first floor of the shop had space for only a narrow bar counter that sits no more than 10 people, but they have more seating space on the second floor. Besides motsunabe, the eatery serves quite alot of other food, such as ramen, yakisoba, yakitori andmizutaki.
Besides me, there was only one other customer in Uma Uma at 6pm in the evening. I ordered the motsunabe for one, and contemplated the yakitori skewers sitting in front of me. I figured that I could always order some later on if I still had stomach space after eating the motsunabe.
Dazaifu is accessible from Fukuoka by train. Since I had the JR Pass, I took the JR train instead of the more convenient route via the Nishitetsu line. Using the JR route required me to take a train to the JR Futsukaichi Station (about 15-25 minutes) and from there, hop onto a bus to go to the Nishitetsu Futsukaichi Station, where I connect to the Dazifu Station via the Nishitetsu Dazaifu Line. It was quite a bit of a bother.
Immediately after I exited the train station, I stepped onto this shopping street, flanked on both sides by vendors selling traditional sweets such as umegaemochi, souvenirs and knick-knacks, clothes, cafes, soft serve ice-cream in old shops. This street leads to the Tenmangu Shrine.
It is a lovely street to take a morning stroll, with an umegaemochi or ice-cream cone in your hand, popping into the shops to browse their wares. It was a good thing that I arrived early ‘cos groups of tourists started to turn up somewhere between 10.30am and 11am, making strolling leisurely along the street impossible.
I love red bean soup. When I was a kid, red bean soup made a regular appearance at home during the weekends. My mom liked to serve this dessert because it is easy to prepare, tasty and the ingredients are inexpensive. She would add a little dried orange peel to the dessert just to give the flavour some zing.
I found this little shop called Nakashu Zenzai in the next alley from Karo No Udon that serves an excellent oshiruko, a sweet adzuki bean soup with mochi. I would hop over for dessert after getting my fill of udon. I have tried oshiruko in several places in Japan, and found them too sweet for my liking. However, the version served in Nakashu Zenzai is perfect for me, and comes with shiratama dango. My eyes instantly light up whenever I see or hear the word ‘shiratama‘.
This Starbucks in Dazaifu has the most visually arresting architecture in a Starbucks store that I have ever come across. Nestled between shops selling traditional sweets and handicrafts, you cannot miss it on your way from the train station to the Tenmangu Shrine.
I Googled this store on the Internet and learnt that this iconic store, with 2000 wooden strips criss-crossing one another, was designed by famous Japanese architect, Kengo Kuma, to reflect the area’s traditional artistic roots and the modern energy of this world-famous tourist destination.
The service staff in this outlet were friendly and personable. They greeted customers with a huge smile, chatted with me and wrote a simple ‘Welcome to Fukuoka’ note on my cup when they found out that I was there on vacation. It was a really nice touch.
Also, I swear the Japanese Starbucks add more coffee to their drinks as compared to the Starbucks here. The hot cafe mocha tastes waaaay better than the ones back at home.
After I visited the Tenmangu Shrine, I came back to this Starbucks to indulge in another cup of hot cafe mocha and people-watch. I could hang out in this place ALL DAY LONG.
Visiting Yanagawa, a former castle town approximately 45 minutes away from Fukuoka city by the limited express train, was not originally on my itinerary. As the lady-owner of the o-zenzai shop recommended that I visit Yanagawa to experience the canal boat tours, I decided not to go to Yufuin, the popular onsen town in Kyushu, and spend my last day in Fukuoka at Yanagawa.
Although Fukuoka is famous for its tonkotsuramen, the most memorable noodles that I ate during my stay in Fukuoka was this delicious udon from a shop called Karo no Udon, located on Kokutai Road. A chef-friend recommended this udon shop to me and impressed upon me that I must try it. He said that their udon is so good that he dropped by the shop every day to eat their zaru udon during his stay in Fukuoka.
Udon over tonkotsuramen? This udon shop must be quite something. I rarely eat udon in Singapore. From time to time, I eat zaruudon because cold noodles dipped in tsuyu are refreshing in our hot and humid weather. I usually eat hot udon only when I am in Japan during cold weather ‘cos a piping hot bowl of broth is what my body craves when feeling cold.
Back to Karo no Udon. I dithered over what to order – zaruudon or hot udon. In the end, I ordered the gobo ten udon, which is hot udon topped with battered burdock chips and spring onions, because the staff assured me that it is their bestseller.
Karo no Udon’s handmade noodles are thick, flat and chewy, not really the same as Sanuki udon or Inaniwa udon that I am used to eating back home. The dashi broth is flavorful and more complex than the other places that I have tried. Their battered burdock chips are super good and goes very well with the noodles. I ate all the noodles, held the bowl to my mouth and downed every drop of the broth. And wanted another bowl immediately. But it was only my first night and I held myself back from overeating. I ended up coming back every evening for the rest of my stay in Fukuoka.
I have just spent five lovely days in Fukuoka, eating piles of yummy food, pounding the streets in perfect weather (neither cold nor windy), and making day trips to Nagasaki, Kagoshima, Dazaifu and Yanagawa.
I like Fukuoka.
It is a city that is not too big and intimidating, one which you can easily get around on foot, bus or subway, without feeling that that you are lost in a sea of moving bodies. It does not have the glamour and excitement of Tokyo, or the Zen beauty of Kyoto but it is very comfortable to be in, with warm and friendly people and a slower pace.
The city has plenty of physical space and I don’t feel boxed in by human beings, vehicles, skyscrapers and shopping malls, or feel overwhelmed by its history and sheer number of temples, castles and attractions to explore.
I have moved on to Kyoto, and will post more about Fukuoka later.