Friday, December 28, 2012

Fukuoka - Kaji Honten

It’s almost criminal not to eat Fugu in Fukuoka, which is a local specialty. And the reason for that is that it is criminal not to be licensed and serve the poisonous puffer of a fish. And so it is said that eating Fugu is like dicing with death and the price of a Fugu meal is commensurate with the years of training a chef requires before passing the requisite examinations to be licensed. While I’ve never experienced it, some say that there is a slight tingle after consumption that is reminiscent of the numbness one feels after having been poisoned by Fugu or rather tetradoxin, the chemical in the Fugu’s innards, which causes death.

We asked the hotel for a recommendation, not having done much homework prior. We were told they couldn’t make reservations yet as the restaurant wasn’t open for the day yet. The taxi driver who took us to the doorstep of Teraoka, only to discover it was shut for Christmas Day, kindly drove us to a local joint called Kaji, who according to its website, has been in existence since 1959.

The main area had a boat like structure filled with live seafood although I didn’t see any puffer fish. No English is spoken but they have a limited English menu and you can get by on sign language (ie. just point and don’t ask).

First up: warm up with a Sake with a torched fin of the puffer fish. No tingles here and didn't taste of much other than someone dropping a piece of seafood into your alcohol by accident. Wasn’t bad but the combination wasn’t what it was made out to be.

I opted for a light course (having eaten all day, surprise surprise).

Sashimi of Fugu is a little chewier than other sashimi. But the chewing, if prolonged, allows you to taste the sweetness of the fish, provided you go easy on the addictive Ponzu sauce, that accompanies it.

The tempura course had but one piece of Fugu tempura which was quite tasty. The texture breaks down with heat to be a little more cottony but retaining a little bounce, so it was actually quite good.

To finish, I had a porridge made with pieces of Fugu and a fish stock. With an egg broken over it and finsihed with spring onions and Nori flakes, it was pretty much comfort food to the finish line, and in my book, the most satisfying way to eat Fugu.

The Fugu hotpot definitely makes my list of to-dos, cos you know what, I lived to tell this tale.

博多割烹 かじ 本店

2丁目-3-11Nakasu, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka,
Fukuoka Prefecture 810-0801

Tel: +81-92-291-2219

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fukuoka - Ichiran and then some

As I’ve always said and tweeted many times over: Ramen and coffee are best friends. In my book anyways. There’s something very satisfying about the combination and in that order of course. While everyone knows there’s good ramen to be had in Fukuoka, I wasn’t so sure about the coffee scene and whether coffee bars were as commonplace as in the bigger cities I’ve visited.

Join the queue
But first things first: a visit to Ichiran. One of the meccas of ramen in Fukuoka with many branches over Kyushu.

Vending machine for noodles
It’s not a full service restaurant so you literally have to get a meal ticket from the vending machine out front, then join the queue. Once it’s your turn the greeter shows you to your seat and then all you deal with is a pair of hands behind a curtain that unveils into the kitchen. You hardly see the server because there is no real need to. This is serious business where even if you come as a party, you eat individually, in your own little cubicle no less.

A little homework before you get your grub
Fill out your preferences including strength of noodles to the garnishes and whether you need a Kaetama (an extra serving of noodles for your leftover soup).
The reason we came here
That wondrous bowl arrives a few minutes later and then any chatter dies down, only to be replaced by slurps, oohs and aahs. Yes, it is a delicious concoction of rich but ungreasy stock made from pork bones, then consumed with very al dente noodles (iron and steel tensile strength), tender and thinly sliced pork shoulder and given a little kick with a lot of spring onions and their special chili sauce.

Do her thing with the hand drip
Although diehards tend to want to savor the goodness for longer, I like finishing my experience with a very good coffee. In this case, we were lucky to chance upon a little hole in the wall a couple of doors down the little alley from Ichiran, run by a very friendly lady and her husband. The hand drips on the counter attracted me to it and saved me from the huge Starbucks and Seattle’s Best on the street just perpendicular to the alley. Phew!

Le Petit Prince menu
Unfortunately our Japanese language skills were non-existent so we couldn’t even enjoy the menu she put inside The Little Prince reprint. But sign language and more pointing got us far enough to get us a well roasted hand dripped pour of aromatic but light coffee. And of course the out-of-the-world strawberry cream cake which another nice little lady at the counter with us nodded in approval.

The wowzer of a strawberry cream cake
Even despite the language barrier, they were excitedly talking about us and the fact that they had visitors all the way from Singapore.  (We assume all good since we heard Singapore like 7 times in 30 minutes).  And so helpful were they that they even tried to find us our dinner venue on their iPad. Guess we do need these great gadgets to bridge communication gaps afterall!

一蘭 天神店
天神1-10-15, 福岡市中央区
福岡県 810-0001

Oasis Coffee
天神2-3-39, 福岡市中央区
福岡県 810-0001

*Disclaimer: I don't read Japanese and have relied on the world wide web and foursquare to figure out addresses so if you get lost, just enjoy the city!  I do know that at least I got the area right!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Fukuoka - Naginoki なぎの木

Canal City Mall

I can't remember the last time I spent Christmas away from home.  A little odd especially since Fukuoka isn't actually known for its Christmas spirit, although there no short of Christmas lights at Canal city, which sits on the bank of the river that runs through the city.  Landing in sunshine did little to take away the bite of the cold except being able to wear cool shades almost anywhere, well until about 5.30 when it starts to get dark.

Fukuoka is exciting for the local cuisine that it is famous for, most notably Hakata ramen (more on that later when I actually get out to try some).

Most places will tell you that Fukuoka is home of the "nabe" or hotpot, and nothing short of beef or pork offal will do.  Sounds a little off putting?  My motsunabe of beef giblets was better than expected.  It was hard to tell actually which part of the cow they used in bite sized pieces of fat and chew combined but in a classic stock of soy with cabbage, chives and tofu, it made for a heartwarming Christmas dish.  Better than turkey!

Mentaiko tempura
Black sugar plum wine
A side of tempura, with its salty spiciness, made for a great starter with a black sugar plum wine on the rocks.  Another great way to warm up too.

It's going to be a cold Christmas but the food here in Fukuoka should do wonders to warm things up, especially at a Yatai (street vendor)?

Merry Christmas!

中央区西中洲10-1, 福岡市
福岡県 810-0002
Tel: +91-92-7372020