Hey everyone! First and foremost, a very Happy New Year to all of you! I hope you’ve had an amazing holiday season and an ever better new year ahead 🙂
I always try to visit a new place in December, and this year we decided on the Kyushu region . I’ve been to Japan before – Hokkaido & the Tokyo/Kyoto areas, and it’s always been awesome. Japanese people are probably amongst the nicest people I’ve met, and their food, don’t get me started on their food. I’d love to live in Japan, learn the language etc just so I’d be near all that deliciousness- it’s definitely my favourite cuisine!
So with our bags packed, we were off to Fukuoka, and yes, this time, it was going to be all about the food. So if you’re a Japanese-cuisine lover or even headed to the Kyushu are, you’re in for a treat. We’ve had many of the best-in-our-life dishes here in the Kyushu region, I kid you not.
I’ll admit, I never used to be one of those “foodies”, I liked food, but I wasn’t an avid “food chaser”. I enjoyed eating, but wouldn’t go hunting for the “best” anything, if you know what I mean. However, my partner LOVES food, and slowly but surely, I’m starting to appreciate food culture much more now.
For this first post of the new year, I’ll be focusing on the food in Kyushu! Let’s dive right in!
For those interested, here’s a simplified version of the route we took in our 12 days here:
Fukuoka Airport/Saga – Nagasaki – Kumamoto – Mt Aso – Kagoshima – Miyazaki – Kurokawa Onsen – Fukuoka
I’m sure everyone has heard of Wagyu beef . Wagyu beef is known to be one of the top types of beef in the world. Before we settled on Fukuoka, I had no idea there were so many subsets of Wagyu beef(!), and Saga Waygyu beef is one of them. The Kyushu area has a number of famous beef from different regions, and on our first night, we tried Saga Wagyu Beef.
Yakiniku Hanamori Kiwami
This is one of the highest-rated beef restaurants in Saga according to Tripadvisor. They provide private rooms for dining, and it’s a DIY experience. You place your order, get served, and cook the items yourself. This happens alot everywhere in Japan, particularly in popular Wagyu beef restaurants – I’m still not sure why they do this instead of cooking it for you. If anymore knows, let me know!
Just look at the beautiful marbling on the beef. After a long flight, this was a welcome sight. We were so excited to try it, and the smells as you cooked it… heavenly. This was also the first time we’ve tried “cow hormones” as they call it, and it’s quite good and very chewy! It’s quite a popular dish with the locals. Don’t think too much about it though or you might gross yourself out;)
The beef slices were pretty soft and chewy, thought not as soft and buttery as what we’d expect for the price, and service was mediocre by Japanese standards. The staff does not speak much English, so be prepared to help yourselves and do a lot of gesturing. You’re also unable to control the “power” of the flame, and at times it kept going crazy and burning the beautiful, expensive meat. I’m not skilled at bbqs, so this was definitely not my forte.
Yakiniku Hanamori Kiwami
Address: 2-9-1 Ekimaecho, Saga 840-0801, Saga Prefecture
Phone: +81 952-97-9429
Price: We ordered ala-carte paid around 120USD for 2 people, and felt that was pretty steep and overpriced for the quality of the meat.
Kaisen Ichiba Nagasakiko Dejima Wharf
My favourite type of food to have in Japan – raw seafood! I can’t tell you how much I love these bowls. Each time I’m in Japan, I’m on the hunt for seafood. These are FRESH, FRESH, FRESH! My favourite was the scallop, it was fresh and sweet. Each seafood bowl comes with appetisers and soup as well. It was the perfect start to a cold winter’s day.
Definitely go here if you’re in Nagasaki. I preferred the ones I’ve had in Hokkaido, but this is still a must-try!
Kaisen Ichiba Nagasakiko Dejima Wharf
Hours: 11am – 3pm
Phone: +81 95-811-1677
Address: Dejimamachi, Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture 850-0862
Price: approximately 1500-2500yen per person
We noticed this little shop right outside Dormy Inn Nagasaki the first night and it was crowded, so we went back the next night and we were in luck. It’s a traditional ramen shop on wheels and the couple owning it were lovely people. So friendly! They had a friend there as well and while we couldn’t speak Japanese, they still made the effort to engage us in conversation. And that’s why I love Japan. The kindness and friendliness of Japanese people are unparalleled. They may not speak English, but they’re always keen to try, no matter what. The ramen was delicious, and there’s also an oden corner (a popular winter treat, which basically consists of a variety of snacks on sticks, dipped in soy-flavoured broth and sometimes accompanied with mustard)
Address: You’ll see this little cart set up right outside Dormy Inn Nagasaki
Hours: 6pm – 12am
Price: ~1000 yen for a bowl of ramen
Located behind Dormy Inn, we were introduced to this delicious Yakitori place by the hotel. Great too, because I had seen it earlier but couldn’t remember where it was located. Yakitori is pretty famous in Kyushu, especially in Northern Kyushu, and you’re gonna see lots of such places around.This ranks as one of the top Yakitori we’ve had. Everything is prepared for you, and there’s a little heated plate at each table so your food remains warm while you’re chit-chatting away. It’s affordable too!
Address:10-9 Dozamachi, Nagasaki, Nagasaki Prefecture 850-0841, Japan
Phone: +81 95-823-0273
Price: 130-280yen per stick
Okay, okay, I know the beef looks a little uncooked, but this is the way it’s meant to be I swear! This is DELICIOUS. There’s really not much else to say. Go during lunch when it’s cheaper. It’s a set meal and it comes with soup. There’s some “hormones” in it as well (top left of the bowl).
Hours: 12-3pm for lunch, 6pm-2am for dinner
Address:Japan, 〒860-0806 Kumamoto Prefecture, Kumamoto, Chuo Ward, Hanabatacho, 11−20, 水田ビル
Price: ~1600yen per pax during lunch
In Japan, people have KFC for dinner. It’s a tradition and you’ll see tons of posters and advertisements and on Christmas, be prepared for long queues outside KFC. It’s so popular they’ve even set up little booths outside malls before Christmas to place your order, or have an early pre-Christmas KFC meal, like so:
The short story goes: Foreigners who came to Japan and spent Christmas here couldn’t find turkeys, so they settled for the closest thing to a turkey; fried chicken at KFC. This is a true story. The trend somehow caught on with the locals and it’s been so ever since. For those who aren’t in the mood for ques during Christmas, fried chicken can also be found in supermarkets and department stores. We weren’t very keen on fried chicken though, so we settled on a yakitori restaurant recommended to us by our Airbnb host. Yup, we hadn’t had enough!
It has a japanese name which I can’t remember off the top of my head, but I do have the address:
Address: 1 Chome-1-4 Nagaminenishi, Higashi-ku, Kumamoto-shi, Kumamoto-ken 861-8037
Farmhouse restaurant Tangoyama
We visited this farmhouse on our way to Mt Aso. We’ve been looking for a farmhouse for authentic wagyu since we started planning this trip, because we’d previously visited one in Hokkaido, and it served the best beef we’ve ever tasted – thus far. In this restaurant, they serve Akaushi beef, meaning the cows are born and bred in Kumamoto and nowhere else – another wagyu beef brand! We had high expectations for this place needless to say. There were lots of appetisers provided, and the vegetables here are home-grown on their farmland. It was better than anywhere outside Japan and the previous one we had in Sagfa, but it still couldn’t beat the Onuma farmhouse beef in Hokkaido!
Farmhouse restaurant Tangoyama
Hours: 11am – 3pm
Address: Postal Code 869-2302
Phone: +81 967-32-5070
Sumo Sushi Taihou Heya
This is my hands-down my favourite sushi place in the world. Yup, I said it! The sashimi/sushi here melts in your mouth. It’s the freshest seafood I’ve tasted, and well worth the price. Each “section” has a single dedicated chef preparing your selections. Nakao-san (pictured in two of the pictures above) was ours, and he was fantastic. We were the only non-locals there yet everyone was so friendly. There is an english menu available, but they offer lots of differing specials on a daily basis which are all written in Japanese. But guess what? Japanese hospitality to the rescue again! The groups seated next to us (both right and left) were recommending and attempting to translate the specials for us. Even Nakao-san, who doesn’t speak english, tried his best. We ended up repeating the word “special” so many times, because we felt bad and decided to wing it, he happily obliged and every surprise he served us tasted out of this world. I have never had better sushi in my life. If you’re looking for a mouth-watering experience, this is it. It was a fun, lively atmosphere and we never felt out of place or unwelcome.
It was our first time trying Sawara (Spanish Mackerel) and Katsuo (Bonito/Jackfin tuna) and if you do go there, please try them! It’s so hard to find these anywhere else. Just go crazy, you won’t regret it.
Oh, be sure to make a reservation as it only seats 20-30 people, and there’s ALWAYS a queue. We were lucky to get a reservation (they don’t usually allow reservations for tourists, unless you have a local phone number), but we came here for lunch, they’re only open for dinner, asked whether we could reserve for the night but they were full. I almost left, but seeing such a cute space and being a huge sushi/sashimi person, I really wanted to try it, so I tried my luck asking for the next night. Thankfully, they had a slot the next night, and this is how our conversation went:
Him: Okay, 7pm for 2pax, Candi, okay.
Him: Phone no?
Me: Oh, I don’t have a local number. International okay?
Him: Oh no, need local number.
Me: (at this point I was feeling a bit sad and I think he could see my face fell a little)
Him: Okay, you promise to come? Promise okay? Promise okay!
Me: Yes, promise! We will come! Thank you thank you thank you, promise yes!
That was pretty much one of the cutest conversations I’ve had.
Sumo Sushi Taihou Heya
Hours: Opens from 6pm onwards
Address:1-9 Shinshigai, Chuo-ku, Kumamoto 860-0803, Kumamoto
Phone no: +81 96-322-8750
Price for two pax: We spent ~6000yen
Aji no Tonkatsu Maruichi
Kagoshima is famous for its kurobuta (black pork). It boasts the best kurobuta in all of Japan. Naturally, I had to try it. We picked this restaurant based on tripadvisor. I don’t know about you, but I can’t usually eat too much deep-fried food. It gets too much after awhile, and I was still recovering from a flu & sore throat, so I was especially wary of this. At the same time, I wanted to try the famous black pork and felt like shabu-shabu(dipping slices in broth) wouldn’t do the meat flavor justice. When we reached, we were surprised to find a queue during lunch hour, and it was mostly locals. We waited 15-20 minutes, while I stared at the pictures of the food displayed outside. It looked good, and like reviewers on tripadvisor said, the portions are huge! When we were seated, we settled on sharing one tonkatsu set (+ an extra bowl of rice and soup),
BEST. TONKATSU. EVER! and I do not say this lightly. It looks darker than most tonkatsu’s, but it goes down surprisingly smooth. The batter was crispy yet light, and the dipping sauce added a yummy, tangy twist. This however, went There is usually a queue, so go early! We were pleasantly surprised when the owner came up towards after the food was served and taught us how to eat it the right way, and he even gave us more complimentary tonkatsu. That was alot of meat! We had that for lunch, and were still full by dinner. We ended up having supper in Dormy Inn(free ramen at night for hotel guests!).
Aji no Tonkatsu Maruichi
Hours: 11am – 3pm, 7pm onwards
Address:Kagoshima Chuo Bldg. B1 1-10 Yamanokuchicho, Kagoshima 892-0844
Phone: +81 99-226-3351
Price: ~3000yen for 2
This next place isn’t anywhere fancy, but it starts burning a hole in your pocket if you’re chasing well-known restaurants all day every day! We chanced upon it on a night when we were hungry and clueless. Being a sushi-lover, I immediately requested to stop the car when I saw the plates of sushi on its posters. The prices for a plate of sushi (2 pieces usually), start at 100yen, an absolute steal!
Best of all, the sushi portion is generous and most importantly, FRESH. In Japan, these conveyor belt sushi places are considered “cheap”, and you don’t expect much from them. It’s the same thing in Singapore. Conveyor belt sushi places are a dime a dozen, and I go for them around once in two months, when I have a sushi craving. The food’s okay, nothing to shout about. You usually have to be selective about what you pick though, because most times, certain fish like the Saba comes with a fishy taste (ew) and we avoid it like the plague. I mean, places like these do not have the freshest ingredients and that’s expected.
However, this Sushiro chain (it’s the #1 Kaiten Sushi chain according to its website) was amazing. Everything was so, so good! The salmon, the swordfish, the tuna especially, was better than any we’ve had in Singapore (even the expensive places!). Of course, it can’t beat the one we had previously in Kumamoto where they had specialized sushi chefs, but that’s a whole different story.
We loved it so much we had it a second time in Fukuoka later in our trip. It was also our first time having cod milt sushi, which is basically a nice way of saying “cod sperm”. It kept appearing on the conveyor belts, and curiosity got the better of me. A quick search on google quickly showed us what it was. It’s supposedly a specialty/delicacy during winter time. I don’t know what made me decide it was a good idea to try it, but I was in Japan, nothing ever tasted bad, and this is what Japanese people love! So we pinched our noses and ate it. If you don’t think about what you’re putting in your mouth exactly, it isn’t so bad. I’m not sure I’ll have it again though. It was soft and slightly buttery, but I can’t get over what it is, so once is enough for me. But hey, at least I can go around telling people I’ve had cod sperm… right?
Price: 2000-2500yen for 2pax
This was probably my favourite meal in Kyushu (I mean, there are so many, but if I HAD to pick one) simply because of the company. This is actually an Airbnb rental place with the friendliest landlord! He has a traditional Japanese cooking setup, and on our second night, 4 of us had a mini bbq/hotpot session in the home. It was a night filled with fun, joy and laughter. I learned the myth about Japanese loving to drink was true – so much drinking, and as the alcohol flowed, so did the conversation. So much smiles and laughter, I always look back on the fond memories:)
It was fun heading to the supermarket together and buying the ingredients in preparation of the meal. Miyazaki is famous for its Miyazaki Wagyu beef and Miyazaki chicken, so those two were definitely on our list. There is a section in the supermarket that identifies their locally-made products and we made a bee-line for it.We selected the meats, and you won’t believe the prices! Wagyu beef in Japanese supermarkets cost 1580-2500yen for a pack. I can’t remember the portion exactly, but between the four of us, we bought three packs and it was plenty enough. In total, we spent around 6000yen for 4 portions of premium Miyazaki wagyu beef. How do I know? Because guess what, This was the the tastiest beef we’ve ever had, hands down. It was soft, SO juicy and oh so tender, it felt like it was melting in your mouth. I couldn’t get enough. It was without seasoning too, just on a traditional grill. It knocked Onuma right off the top spot. Bear in mind, it’s supermarket beef. I’m drooling just thinking about it now. Who would have guessed?
Remember to try out Miyzaki chicken too, it’s very tender, we got blown away by the beef though, so excuse me if I don’t sound as excited about the chicken! It’s good though, and chicken lovers will appreciate it, around 980yen for a very generous portion!
Besides the meats, we had lots of veggies(yay!) and hotpot as well. Towards the end of the meal, our host, Katsuhiro-san, added rice and eggs into the boiling Nabe pot – something we’ve never experienced. Apparently, it’s what they call “sensui” in Japan, it looks a little like porridge, and it’s delicious! I’ve had Nabe many times, back home and abroad, but this is the first time we’ve seen it done this way; it’s supposedly routine for Japanese people. #themoreyouknow
Chicken nanban, a special of Miyazaki! It’s fried chicken glazed with special nanban sauce(vinegar is one of the ingredients). The fried chicken – light, tender and tasty. It’s their restaurant’s special, practically everyone who entered was ordering it. A lovely couple runs this traditional-style restaurant, we had a little difficulty communicating (they spoke Japanese, we spoke English), but we both tried, and they so patient! Fortunately I could make out certain words in Japanese, like the names of different types of meat (chicken/beef/pork), rice, noodles etc. Learning ingredient names in the local language is important, ya’ll! They even surprised us and gave us free croquettes and fruit after! We were very lucky on this trip- we just keep meeting the nicest people.
Address: It’s located on the route you take when driving out of Miyazaki and heading towards Takachiho Gorge. Right before you cross an orange/red bridge, you’ll see this little restaurant!
We got to Kurokawa onsen city in the evening, and the only reason we stopped was for the pastry shop. Like I said, it was a food trip, and I was making an effort to try out all the recommended shops. This was one of them. Was it worth it? Y.E.S! Another “best” right here, this cream puff. The crust was light and crisp, unlike most cream puffs I’ve tasted. They use their local cow’s milk for the cream and I can see why everyone raves about the puffs. I’ve never had a cream puff like it. I’m continuously surprised by the food here, I can’t get enough! Notable mentions here: Cheesecake, chocolate brownie cake. We pretty much had dessert for dinner. They also have a section where you’re able to buy souvenirs if you’re heading home soon.
Hours: Closed Tuesdays, otherwise 9am – 6pm
Address:6610-1 Manganji, Aso-gun, Minamioguni-machi 869-2402
Phone: +81 967-48-8101
Price: 210yen for a cream puff, 380yen-580yen for assorted cakes
This was the last leg of the trip, as we headed back towards Fukuoka. We were going through Beppu and decided to make a stop at this. Fans of chirashi dons will love this – it’s an affordable 980yen(!) and consists of a generous amount of sashimi, all fresh! Beware though, we had to queue almost an hour for this during lunch-hour, yes it’s crazy popular among locals and tourists alike.
Have you ever had mentaiko? It’s pollock roe, which is usually marinated in chilli pepper sauce. It’s a big deal in japan, especially in Fukuoka – it’s one of their signature items! Another must-do activity in Fukuoka when it comes to food, is to eat at a Yatai stall; it’s a traditional and communal way of eating – small seating areas where everyone from everyone can gather together and make new friends. Most Yatai stalls hold a max capacity of ~8-10people, and once you’re seated, you may take hours to leave, especially when you’re in groups. All you need are friends, alcohol and a Yatai stall, and you’re set for a fun night!
I did some research on the yatai stalls to visit, and this particular stall, owned by Shima-san, appeared high on the list (the other is Mami-chan’s, but she’s closed for a week over New Year’s). When we arrived for dinner, there were 3 people in front of us, queuing. We were starving by that time, but we persevered, and half an hour later, we were seated. The specialty in this store is “Mentaiko”, like I’ve mentioned above.
Verdict? 10/10 would have it again! Everything was superbly delicious and we had lots of recommendations offered by the locals. Add in a beer or two and you’ve got a winning meal. If you’re ever in Fukuoka, make a beeline for this place, and make sure you try out their Tofu Cheese Mentaiko Yaki and Mentaiko Tamago at least! The couple opposite us ordered THREE portions of the tofu cheese! The atmosphere in the tent was lively and boisterous too, and we made friends with the locals (again, we were the only foreigners). We exchanged contacts and promised to keep in touch:)
Address: Showa Dori, next to Lawson’s Convenience Store. 天神二丁目, 2 Chome-13-17 Tenjin, Chuo Ward, Fukuoka, Fukuoka Prefecture 810-0001. There are usually 2-3 stalls beside Lawson’s, and you can identify his stall as it’s the only one with the Mentaiko Cheese pictures in the front (refer to the first picture above!).
Hours: 7pm onwards
Price: ~3500yen for 2 pax
Chikushino Strawberry Fields
The next morning, we headed to Chikushino Strawberrry Fields. This is the largest strawberry farm in Kyushu and offers a variety of strawberries! Stawberries are the only fruits in season for picking during December/January. This was my first time, and it was fun! We went around 4 different greenhouses, selecting the reddest strawberries (sweetest). What they say on the box is true, these ARE juicy and delicious indeed:) We had a ball of time later back in our apartment gobbling them up! Growing up, I never knew strawberries were sweet to be honest. I’ve always sprinkled sugar on top because the strawberries we had were also sour. Japan has opened my eyes! These DO NOT need additional sugar, and the smell, you could smell the sweetness- a real treat!
Chikushino Strawberry Fields
Hours: Closed on Mondays. Opens 9am – 5pm (go early for the best picks!)
Address: 1278 Chikushi, Chikushino-shi, Fukuoka
Phone: 092-400-3239 / 090-4516-1484
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
On new year’s day, we visited Dazaifu temple for Hatsumonde. These are some of the snacks and goodies you’ll find lined along the streets during the new year period, and all yummy! If you’re coming from Fukuoka, save your appetite for these snack stalls!
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
Address:Japan, 〒818-0117 Fukuoka Prefecture, Dazaifu, Saifu, 4 Chome−7番1号
This omu rice deserves special mention. It wasn’t on our list, but we discovered it in Tenjin Parco. It’s in the basement floor, amongst a whole slew of restaurants. I haven’t had decent omu rice in over 15 years(never managed to find a good one back home), and the pictures looked good, so in we went. Their special; egg omelette with rice, topped with a savoury brown sauce and generous beef slices, yum yum yum! Look at how beautifully perfect the egg is! It looked even better in real life than in the menu. I was nostalgic and grinning from ear to ear. It’s also affordable, if you’re looking for something cheap and delish!
Address: I can’t remember the exact name of the store, but it’s an omu-rice shop in Fukuoka Parco (located in the Tenjin area) in B1. It’s the only store offering differing selections of Omu rice.
Ganso Hakata Mentaiju
On our last night, we headed to our final restaurant. I had booked this in advance, and it’s a mentaiko specialty restaurant. I was not expecting this, but inside, it looked like it was a fine dining establishment. The interior was tastefully decorated and the waiter assigned to our table was very attentive, always making sure we had our drinks topped up, and that he was there for any questions. The set here consists of: Mentaiko Broth Ramen and Mentaiko with rice(original/spicy)). The star of the night was definitely the Mentaiko Broth Ramen! The broth was aromatic, rich and full of flavour, and when you’re done with the ramen, you can pour more “stock” and drink the soup on its own. DO IT.
The rice and roe were enjoyable too, but their non-spicy version of mentaiko was still a little spicy(it’s supposed to be), and I’m totally useless when it comes to chili. I have this uncanny ability to taste even the littlest hint of chili, it’s gotten to the point where people will go “it’s not even spicy, AT ALL” and I’ll be like, “yes it is!” It’s quite ridiculous and sad sometimes, but it is what it is, and I couldn’t finish that beautiful mentaiko, but my partner happily did the job for me.
We finished off the meal with their famous in-house caramel pudding. According to their menu “celebrities come to Fukuoka just for this pudding!” so definitely had to order it. It’s worth it:)
Ganso Hakata Mentaiju
Address:Japan, 〒810-0002 Fukuoka Prefecture, Fukuoka, Chuo Ward, Nishinakasu, 6-15
Price: ~2800yen for a set per pax
And this marks the end of my wonderful foodie trip to Kyushu!
A couple of important tips about eating out in Japan: Most restaurants have specific lunch/dinner hours and close between 3pm-7pm as they prepare for the next shift, so please make sure to do your research/call before you go. Reservations are recommended for popular food places, but some don’t accept tourist reservations unless you provide them with your hotel accomodation details as well.
I hope you guys have enjoyed reading it. If you need any further tips/hints etc. Please feel free to get in touch at thelollychase [at] gmail [dot] com.