Quick Trip Review: Fukuoka
Recently spent two nights in Fukuoka. This was a little side trip, in the midst of a two week visit to Seoul. The wife and I had both been to Tokyo and Osaka so we decided on Fukouka since it would be new for both of us.
As soon as we got off the subway from the airport we found ourselves in the gastro-labyrinth of JR Hakata station –decided to wander the station and get a quick bite. Finding a little place on 2nd floor with everyone drinking heavily at 1pm on a Tuesday Iknew we had our spot. Sat down and used my mostly-forgotten Japanese to order draft Ebisu and a uni chirashi lunch set. Best meal I ever had in a train station. Went down to the mall and loaded up on Ebisu tallboys, snacks and mentaiko salad dressing (and some soy beers for my curious companion to sample).
After lounging/snacking/boozing we decided to hit the town for dinner. Found a rec for Motsunabe Keisyu and thought that would be a good place to try out the local specialty of cow intestine nabe. There was an hour wait so we put our names down and went in search of a drink. Just a block away we saw an empty little bar with a post-war vibe and about four seats (believe the name was Syourban Nogaki). Got an imo-shochu on the rocks with a table service of firefly squid. The amicable bartender invited us to the tatami room in the back. On the way saw that half of the bar was given over as a repair shop for Japanese motorbikes from the 60’s and 70’s. My kind of bar. Tastings were proffered of a higher-end imo shochu so we moved to that.
Eventually our pleasant time there was up and off to Motsunabe Keisyu.
Arrived at the restaurant and started out with beef sashimi and amberjack – beef sashimi was amazingly fresh, melt in your mouth delicious . Daikon salad was served and then the nabe pot was brought out. A huge pile of garlic chives towered over the bowl as the server switched on the induction plate. The broth was thick and unctuous and much sleeker and richer than any nabe broth I’d had before. The intestine was perfect. Chewy yet tender. Wifey mentioned that the Japanese leave on the outside part of the intestine while the Koreans usually strip it. We were brought a dish of thin-sliced beef tongue and then an amazing cut of braised/grilled beef. I think it was the tip of the tri-tip including the first tail bone vertebrae. Absolutely melt-in your mouth perfect.
After the restaurant we went back to the same bar for a couple more rounds of imo-shochu, bourbon and good cheer. If you find yourself in town I can’t recommend the place enough. Friendly proprietor and plenty of locals out for a good time.
The next day found us wandering urban temples and we noticed everyone in town breaking out of the office to eat bento under the falling cherry blossoms. We got hungry. Decided to seek out the famous hakata ramen of Fukuoka at Ippudo. Found it easily enough when we saw the line out the door. I had the chashu tonkotsu and wifey had the tsukemen along with a plate of tiny gyoza – it was great, from an objective standpoint maybe the best ramen I’ve ever had. But from an emotional standpoint the best ramen is in some stall at four in the morning after getting piss drunk at karaoke. Ramen-fetishizing just isn’t for me.
Went shopping in the mall under Tenjin station. Snacked on a surprisingly unsweet matcha donut at Krispy Kreme. The real find was a pricey bag of dried clams from a dept. store. Perfect either as a dry beer-snack or re-hydrated in a soup. The best thing I brought back from the trip (well, aside from the numerous bottles of imo-shochu and Japanese whiskey).
Stopped off at a huge sakura festival in the park in the center island. Lots of great snacks – amazing wagyu yakitori, a perfectly grilled oyster and when we bought a couple beers to wash it down the vendor insisted we take a sample of beer slurpee. Not my favorite, but how bad can a beer slurpee be?
Dinner that night was at Yakitori Hachiman – very old-school inside and everything done on bincho tan. I learned that shishamo perfectly prepared is a far different animal than when I grill them at home – all those tiny eggs force me to err on the side of over-cooked. A big mistake. Only other real yakitori highlight was the beef intestines… when in Rome.
Can’t recommend Fukuoka enough. Walkable city, great food, friendly people. In my experience I always have more fun in a medium-sized city than in a big town like Tokyo or Osaka. Loved the emphasis on beef intestine and mentaiko and really loved buying a 180ml Nikka whisky in a 7-11 for $7.
Whilst I do love to read about all the "best" places to eat (and I say that with tongue in cheek since I believe in no such thing) ahead of a trip, when we're on the ground, we tend to be guided by what appeals at the time, by tips from people we meet, by what we spot when we're getting hungry.
And if I enjoy something so much I'm making noises of appreciation the whole time I'm eating it, I really don't care whether anyone else thinks it's the best, or even in the top 50!
I have 2 nights in Fukuoka in autumn, so it's nice to read your report.
Any tips, Other than that 7-11, for buying Japanese whisky, beer and other drinks to take home, for good prices?
Bought all my imo-shochu at a shop that was near the Nakasukawabata subway station on Meiji-dori. Took a card from there but no romaji on it. I tried to ask the guy working there for some recs in pidgin Japanese but he was not particularly helpful. Still, it was a thrill to go into a shop that was primarily stocked with imo-shochu (there was a smaller sake selection as well). The winner ended up being a $10 bottle of Yoyoggi No Tsuya but also bought some of my all-time favorite - Heihachiro. All prices were around a third of what I'd pay in NY/LA - if I could even find the stuff.
Bought my whiskey in the airport duty free. When I price checked later realized that the Suntory products were about 25% off US price while the Nikka were closer to half off. I guess cuz Suntory is the 'prestige' brand. Personally I like them both equally. Was sorely tempted by the export-only Nikka with samurai helmet stopper but ended up buying the newish Hakushu (Suntory's take on peated whiskey) instead.
Good stuff. Enjoyed reading this for, among other reasons, the complete refreshing lack of hand wringing, consternation, and fetishizing over anything Michelin related, reservations related, and any inability to come to a decision by oneself. Proof that it is possible to eat and drink well in Japan without simply being an omakase drone. Cheers!