Nanden Umaka (なん伝馬家), Fukuoka/Hakata
Earlier this year, I received a certificate for a night’s stay at a Hyatt Regency Hotel, but after looking at the list of eligible hotels, I felt I probably wouldn’t use it in the US (mostly suburban locations) and that it would go unused (I think it was set to expire at the end of the year). Only one location seemed worthy of its use, and that was at the Hyatt Regency Fukuoka. Using this certificate before it expired was partly what motivated this trip. The Hyatt Regency is oddly located, on the east side of the train station, close to what seemed like a lot of municipal and government offices. The heart of the city is on the other side of the station. But it was a small price to pay for American style comforts, which I hadn’t yet experienced in Japan (a king size bed!). I usually book cheaper business hotels with very basic accommodations, so I can spend more of my resources on the food. Nonetheless, there is some life around the hotel, and within a couple blocks is Nanden Umaka—one of the places I mentioned in my previous post about my eating plans (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/338702 ).
I got hip to Nanden Umaka because it was one of the places recommended in my Tabearuki guide for serving horsemeat. When I passed by earlier in the evening, I noticed a specials board with featuring two “course menus” for about 2100 yen (for 8-10 courses), one which included some of the horsemeat dishes I wanted to try. That price seemed a little unreal, a real bargain. I was game to try it. As we looked through the menu and take in the vibe, it seemed clear that this is a quaint izakaya that specializes in serving a variety of nontraditional types of meat. For instance, the eponymous Nanden special salad is topped with strips of fried pig’s ear. There are many private booths, so it’s pretty ideal for parties, and there were a few going on.
Unfortunately, we got the rookie waitress who botched our orders and also mistakenly marked that we ordered 2 course menus, when I was the only one intent on eating the whole thing (we had eaten a few hours earlier). Through the first few courses, I was thinking how generous they were with the portions. This became detrimental towards the end since I was eating meat portions meant for two. The courses looked like the one in the top left photo of this page: http://www.g-gyao.jp/s/0003001513/menu/ (minus the nabe items towards the top of the photo). Two courses stood out. One was the horse sashimi. There were three cuts (see the photo on the lower right): regular red meat, a cut with two layers of fat, and a cut taken from the neck, just under the mane, which is pure white, but not entirely fatty. From my experience, horse meat is sweeter than beef, and if you get a really tender piece of raw horsemeat and eat it blindfolded, I’m convinced that many people would mistake it for maguro. Unfortunately, these pieces were not very tender. They were on the tough and chewy side, even the white cut from the mane. Still pretty tasty. The other course that stood out was the Genghis Khan (they pronounce it jingesu kan), which are thin slices of lamb cooked on a rounded grill, shaped like an old Chinese battle helmet (thus the name). The other courses like the fried oysters (kaki furai), or the tofu stew, or a spare rib dish, were very ordinary. It seems that the way to go is not the course menu, but getting individual dishes. Regardless, the 2100 yen is a terrific bargain.
My experience was colored by the haphazard service, and the overall quality of the course menu, but looking around the room, there were some really interesting dishes going around, so I would give it another try if I were spending some time here. I think the best thing its got going is being a solid bargain izakaya with a cool vibe.