Known as ‘chirin chirin ice cream’, this delicious sorbet-like ice cream in a cone is sold at ice-cream carts located at tourist attractions around the city. The ice-cream seller would usually shape the ice-cream into a pretty rose design.
I bought my ice-cream right outside the Atomic Bomb Museum. Only 100 Yen!
To me, ice-cream somehow tastes better in cold weather than in hot weather.
I went to Nagasaki on a day trip for two reasons – to visit the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum and to eat chawanmushi at Yossou, a famous restaurant that was established in the city over a 100 years ago. After visiting the museum in the morning and eating a huge lunch afterwards, I went to see the Spectacles Bridge, the oldest stone arch bridge in Japan that was constructed by a Japanese monk in the 1600s.
The twin-arch reflection in the waters of the Nakajima River produces an image that resembles a pair of spectacles. The bridge is a lovely piece of construction, simple yet manages to produce a beautiful imagery.
A small diversion for Japanese salarymen in suits. They seemed so happy laughing and waving at their friends standing at the bridge watching them taking photos from the stone slabs on the river.
Nagasaki needs more than just a day-trip for one to see most of the sights that the city has to offer. After spending most of the day at the Atomic Museum, walking around the Peace Park as well as going to the Spectacles Bridge, I did not have very much time to see some of the other attractions, such as the Kofukuji Temple and Chinatown, before heading back to Fukuoka. It is always good to leave something behind for the next visit.
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 and mizutaki.
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.
Ever since I read Ekiben Hitoritabi, the food manga about a train enthusiast who went travelling around Japan to eat the various bentos sold at Japanese train stations, I have been wanting to do an ekiben trip myself someday.
Like Oishinbo, Ekiben Hitoritabi is an interesting food (and also train) manga where an English translated version should be in print. But sadly, this is not currently available in either print or digital format. I bought the English digital format on JManga, an online manga website, some years ago and enjoyed reading it so much. Pity that JManga has shut down and all the digital mangas distributed by them also bit the dust with the business closure. I am just glad that I had the chance to read this manga once, in English. I am hoping that someone will license it for distribution again some day.
My recent trip to Japan involved quite a bit of travelling around on the Shinkansen and other JR trains, and I looked forward to eating ekibens during my train rides. Choosing an ekiben from the display sets at the ekiben shop was a lengthy exercise, albeit a very pleasant one. I felt like an excited child standing in a candy store with too many choices and limited resources. There were so many ekiben options to choose from! I would decide on one because I liked the food, then change my mind because I liked the shape of the box in another set, then change my mind again because the food in another box looked more delicious. The indecisiveness lasted all the way till it is time to dash to the platform to catch the train.
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‘.
Yesterday, I had coffee and cake with my cousin at a Ciel Patissierie, a bakery tucked in a housing estate at Lor Ah Soo which offers pastries that are very good value for money. We ordered the lemon meringue tart and choux puff filled with pastry cream. Both were excellent, and at very affordable prices.
I want to go back soon to sample some of their other cakes.
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.
No matter how much I love Japanese food, I start craving for spicy food after a while. I cannot go without my regular chili fix. The sort that burns my mouth and stomach, and makes me perspire so much that beads of sweat form above my brow, lips and start trickling down my cheeks. Like this bowl of beef soto with tripe made by C’s Indonesian helper. I ate the soto with a generous helping of her homemade green chili paste, and started making hissing noises ‘cos it was sooooo spicy.
As we Singaporeans always like to say when we feel good about something – SHIOK ah!
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 tonkotsu ramen, 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 tonkotsu ramen? This udon shop must be quite something. I rarely eat udon in Singapore. From time to time, I eat zaru udon 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 – zaru udon 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.
Suncheon Bay is an ecological wetland comprising a long stream, a wide tideland and wide fields of reeds. It is the habitat of migratory birds, plants and animals. I knew I wanted to visit this place when I first read about it.
I stayed 3D2N in downtown Suncheon, just enough time for me to visit the Songgwangsa Temple, Suncheon Bay, the Seonamsa Temple, and the Suncheon Open Film Set before taking the bus back to Seoul. Most of the city buses heading to the attractions in Suncheon leave from the city centre, in front or close to the train station. Suncheon Bay is about 20 minutes away by the city bus which stops just across the road from the entrance of the park, and entry to the park is free.
I fell in love with this park the minute I stepped foot into the sprawling park. It was late autumn and the park was bathed in a sea of golden reeds.