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Dec 13, 2006 05:48 PM

Tsukasa (司) yatai, Fukuoka/Hakata

Fukuoka is all about eating at a yatai (or outdoor stall). There’s something very comforting about sitting at a yatai with friendly strangers on a cold autumn/winter night. But rather than the typical yakitori, oden, or ramen yatai, I wanted something a little more unique to Fukuoka, and I’ve read a lot about Tsukasa, which is located on the north bank of the Nakasu river, along with a dozen other yatais. The food is prepared by one woman (you see her in all the photos) and she has a few helpers. Besides tending to the tempura fryer and the grill, she’s slicing, preparing, and pleasantly mingling with all the customers.

On a cool night after a rainy day, we found our way to Tsukasa, and snagged what I thought were the two best seats of the stand, right next to the matron of the yatai. We had a bird’s eye view of her operation, and got a chance to see what everyone else was ordering and based many of our orders off of what we saw her preparing. The mentaiko (spiced cod roe) tempura is one of the specialties. These are made by wrapping a slice of good quality local mentaiko (Fukuoka is famous for mentaiko) in a shiso leaf, then dipping it in tempura batter and lightly frying. At 900 yen for 3 little pieces, it ain’t cheap, but a real taste sensation. Another specialty of Fukuoka is iwashi-mentaiko, or anchovies stuffed with mentaiko, which are served grilled. One thing we wouldn’t have ordered if we weren’t sitting where we were is the tsukune (chicken meatball) spread on a flat skewer and grilled. I’ve had tsukune at various yakitori joints, but this one may have been the best one ever. There was something just a little tangy and sweet that I couldn’t identify, which added complexity to the tsukune, but again, a really wonderful rendition of a classic. Another dish that we liked was the sagari steak (sagari seems to be a cut similar to a flatiron steak near the blade, I think—the yakitori master at a place in Hiroshima pointed to the area near the shoulder), which is sauced with a ponzu dressing, and garnished with grated daikon. Another hit. I wanted to go through more of the menu, but we were saving our appetites for other yatais, or some other Fukuoka experiences.

Here's a photo:

Here’s Tsukasa’s website:
Here’s a website with some good photos (Tsukasa is the first set of photos):
And another website with some info:

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  1. lol eric looks like we just missed each other. pretty much spent a week loitering about those yatais eating ramen and oden. tsukasa was just a few stalls down from some of my favorite yatais. i'll just say... i wish i was still in fukuoka!

    2 Replies
    1. re: rameniac

      Yeah, too bad we missed each other. So why aren't you posting about your favorite yatais in Fukuoka? I'd like to know more about them.

      1. re: E Eto

        hehe saving the best for last! lol actually, just going chronologically... started out in tokyo and made my way west before winding up with a week in fukuoka. so getting there ^^

    2. Went last night. The mentaiko tempura is very good. She`s the only one who makes it and the other yatai seem to respect that and don`t do it themselves. You eat it straight, without putting shoyu or salt or anything..Tsukune was also very good. Like many places in Fukuoka, they serve it with yuzu-koshou. I think yuzu was also in the recipe. Anyway, the tsukune are partially grilled ahead of time. I think they do it over good charcoal (sumi) because they have a real nice smokey flavor. Another good dish was the beef tongue steak (gyu-tan steak). Served in it`s own fatty juices and chopped scallions. Excellent...Tsukasa is written up in all the Japanese tourist magazines, so it`s a bit pricey. An order of tsukune, mentaiko tempura, gyu-tan steak, and a few drinks comes out to 6,000 YEN. We told her we`d be back though...

      1 Reply
      1. re: Silverjay

        We had an 8pm flight back to Haneda last night, so we went once more to Tsukasa. Again we had the mentaiko-ten and tsukune. Regarding the tsukune, there is no yuzu in it, but also no cartiledge either. It's all meat. There's plenty of black pepper in it too, which makes it kind of spicey. It really is excellent tsukune. We tried some other dishes, but nothing topped the ones already mentioned. I think the gyu-tan steak was my favorite. I also had a few glasses of the funky makkoli-like sake, which I enjoyed tremendously...I'm almost positive that all the patrons there over the two visits were tourists, but that's not a bad thing. I'm not sure Tsukasa ever takes a day off. It was operating from 4:30pm every day from 12/31 through the holiday, so it's an easy destination spot.