Monday, January 28, 2013

Fukuoka - Yakitori-Hachibei Tenjin

One of the things Fukuoka is famous for is Yakitori.  Typically chicken and chicken parts only are on offer but in Fukuoka, many places seem to offer other meats, seafood and vegetables.  But one thing's constant, they are on skewers and grilled over an open fire borne of charcoal.

We couldn't possibly leave without a Yakitori meal so even if it meant waiting till 9.30pm for dinner, we still wanted a meal at Hachibei, especially after @e_ting had also blogged about it.

Sea urchin, salmon roe and crab meat on rice
So we loaded up on some pre-dinner yumminess from the Mitsukoshi food hall (bless the Japanese for getting food halls in every department store!).  But even a reservation at the reasonably late hour meant a 20 minute wait in the cold...

The counter
But that just made the inside - a boisterous buzz of conversations, interactive shouts within the open kitchen and the smoky and warm interiors - that much more welcoming.  Except for the cigarette smoke.  There is no separation of areas so if you are seated next to a smoker, tough luck.

Center of the action
The camaraderie between the young men operating the various stations within the kitchen are quite a sight to watch, and the almost nonchalant way the chef showers his meats on the grill with secret seasonings made from a base of sea salt is cool personified.

Pork belly
Fresh cabbage is free flow, like tea, but I was happy with my black sugar Umeshu, while most have beer to keep them happy.  There is an English menu but not for specials so I had to peer into the chiller that runs 2 sides of the counter and point to our server.

Tsukune (minced chicken)
Given the slightly late hour, a few things we had our eye on were sold out but they did have the Tsukune, which was a nice rendition of minced chicken and cartilage.  Smeared with a little mustard on the side, just excellent.

Belly pork with vegetables
And you can't go wrong with belly pork wrapped around vegetables (choose from chives, pea shoots or broccoli).  All good.

Gingko Nuts

Arabiki sausage
Other items like the gingko nuts and arabiki sausage were also good.

Grilled rice balls
But a surprising show stealer was the grilled rice ball.  Wrapped in a Perilla leaf and carefully (slowly) grilled so as not to burn, this was a perfect slight crisp on the outside but moist and firm rice within.  And so fragrant.

Sesame pudding
A perfectly light and sweet finish of their own house made sesame pudding with black sugar made it a glorious last night in Fukuoka.  Until next time..

2-5-28 Imaizumi Chuo-ku Fukuoka

Tel: +81-92-732-5379

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fukuoka - Ganso Nagahama and Moment / Manu Coffee

Cold and wet day in Fukuoka city
On a bad weather day, it is a huge consolation that a city like Fukuoka allows the visitor as much fun indoors as out.

Ganso Nagahama
And so we ventured by taxi to discover the hype around this little local ramen joint in the fish market area of Nagahama.

Waiting to be let into the zone
When we got out of our cab, the queue had stretched the length of exterior of the shop, all locals shivering and trying to stay warm while waiting to be let in.

Vending machine
Having done a little research, we knew to buy a meal ticket before joining the queue and shortly after I snapped this photo, a server came out to stick yet another sold out sign over the “Kaetama” option.  No extra serving of noodles available?  Oh well, back to low carb diet then..

Bustling room of ramen ravishers
There's not a lot of conversation in the room once you get in.  All you hear are the sounds of the servers communicating with the open kitchen and the sucking and slurping sounds of ramen ravishers consumed by the task at hand.

Enjoy it fast & furious
It's not the type of meal to tarry over.  If you're slow, your noodles become less firm and the soup less piping hot.  So once served, just start slurping till there's no more.

This is actually what it looks like before you dig in.  Sesame and ginger are table side so help yourself.  This version of ramen is pretty basic.  The soup stock is not as rich as other places and an equal part of the taste comes from the pork slices which are salted.  We saw the locals pouring shoyu into it, but if you like it a little less salty, I found the stock adequate though I can see how some may find it comparatively bland.  Verdict: it's definitely a taste of old world, basic and nothing fancy, probably reminiscent of something in an old Nagahama household.  But as a visitor to Fukuoka, I enjoyed my bowl at Ichiran a little more.

Taking the haul apart
The nice part of eating in this part of town is getting to see some of the seafood shops in action.  The main market was shut by the time we finished with lunch but this shop was still full of action at 3 in the afternoon.

Peddling the wares
There was still a fair bit of a variety on offer even at that time of day.

Counter at Moment Coffee
More important was our search for java which would complete my second ramen and coffee sojourn.  Given the neighborhood we were in, we weren't optimistic that we would get a satisfying cuppa since I hadn't heard that fishermen and coffee went together.  But as luck would have it, we chanced upon Moment Coffee and didn't hesitate to escape from the wet and cold outside.

House blend
Moment serves a well balanced house blend that hand dripped, was well balanced with a nice finish without being overly acidic.

 Espresso drinks were also yummy and were well put together, creating a finished product that neither coffee nor milk overpowered each other.

Manu Coffee
We would have made the short journey back to Manu Coffee (which we enjoyed on our first morning) if we didn't chance upon Moment Coffee.

Enter if you can figure out how
With lots of coffee paraphernalia around the store, it had a really nice vibe to the place, so great to chill, especially if you like the Beatles...  for some reason, all the coffee places I went to on this trip played the Beatles, with the exception on Moment which is a lot more contemporary and jazzy.

Espresso drinks done table side
Coffee here is just as good as Moment and it seems to be the more established store with 3 locations across the city.  And the novelty is espresso drinks finished table side.  Nice touch.

Ganso Nagahama
Nagahama 2-5-19 Chuo-ku
Tel: +81-92-781-0723

Moment Coffee
中央区舞鶴 2-3-10-102, Fukuoka-shi
+81 92-713-4370

Manu Coffee
Border Tower Bld 1F,3-11-2 Watanabe Street, Chuou-ku
Fukuoka 810-0004

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Ota – Yamashinobu

Kurokawa is a lot less touristy than Yufuin so there isn’t much by way of a town centre although the attraction here is a ryokan pass which allows buyers to soak from ryokan to ryokan. Not quite my scene but there are hard core soakers who don’t mind disrobing layers of layers of clothes in the dead of winter to experience the medicinal benefits of the different onsens. This clever idea concocted by the ryokan owners created the local onsen industry in Kurokawa.

Scenic drives

En route up Mount Aso
The drive from Yufuin to Kurokawa is a short one and allows time for a detour to Mount Aso, where you can enjoy picturesque views from about 1000 meters high. If you can see beyond the clouds that is! Bad weather meant we passed on the ropeway since any further elevation didn’t mean increased visibility. Plus, it was just biting cold. Ok, so not the best season to travel..

Katsu Curry
But enroute was where I had my best Katsu curry experience ever where we made the proprietress read the specials out. This standalone eatery in the middle of Aso city was worth the drive in itself.

Welcome drink - tea and red been mochi
So we beat a hasty retreat to our ryokan for the night.

Yamashinobu is a little more rustic than our ryokan in Yufuin but had its own little charm about it.  It is technically not in Kurokawa but the larger Minamioguni-machi town (within the neighboring onsen area called Ota) and only a 5 minute drive from the center of Kurokawa. There was even a wood fire burning in one of the rooms where folks can gather round to get warm over hot sake.

Dinner here was Kaiseki style, with starters presented in lovely lacquer boxes.

Horse meat sashimi or Basashi (a specialty of the Kumamoto prefecture) is on offer here. Unlike beef, horse is a little more sinewy so you have to chew a little longer for the flavors to come through since it is a little more subtle in taste.

We did have sukiyaki again although the beef here was a little less marbled and therefore required a little more chew than in Yufuin. Still good though.

Chicken soup for the soul
But my favorite was the chicken soup with home made (ryokan made) chicken balls. The clear consommé belied a flavor that was rich with all the goodness of what a chicken stock should taste like and was just downright comfort food, especially since I had been sick from the beginning of the trip, and still sniffling as I wrote this.

And the soba, another specialty of the region, so al dente and full of flavor from the very appetizing grated radish that was laced with Yuzu, garlic and a little chili. Wow.

Tomato custard
Dessert was an unusual tomato custard. It sounds a little funky but actually works probably because the local tomatoes have a distinct sweetness to them that does not leave that tomato fishy finish we expect.

While this was not the best ryokan dinner I’ve had, it is memorable for the effective use of local ingredients and produce and a creative menu that was filling yet un-heavy.

Riceball service
So hospitality includes a riceball service at 9pm lest you go hungry at night.

A true champ's breakfast
Breakfast here was more traditional and included a much fuller meal.

Assorted pickles
The highlights were the array of pickles on offer so we were a little surprised this wasn't at dinner since in our experience, the best pickles usually came with dinner. Notwithstanding, all good and we were all set to hit the road back to Fukuoka, but not without stopping at the Tosu premium outlets first!

5960 Manganji
Kumamoto Prefecture 869-2402

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Yufuin – Yawaraginosato Yadoya

It’s a little touristy but Japan touristy can be good especially for us city folk. It’s not crawling with foreigners yet but the main drag on Yufuin is really only about a 30 minute walk end to end. Like many other small towns, the area’s produce like milk, honey, senbei and pickles are on offer. Shopkeepers dish out samples too so you never go hungry.

Blue mountain
Aside from browsing the stores and sampling the wares, it is relaxing to just sit and have coffee at one of the lovely cafes.

Yasai Coffee
There was one which is a couple of doors from B-Speak that roasts its own beans and does it quite well too.

B-Speak Roll (original flavor)
And have the renowned B-Speak roll, which despite its fluffy lightness, is full of an aromatic fragrance combining egg and vanilla, and of course bound together by the freshest cream ever. So light I can eat this all day..

Kinrinko Lake
I didn't really get the excitement about the lake at the end of the strip but I suppose there is something mystical about watching vapor over the lake akin to something out of a scene from the Lord of the Rings.

Entrance at our ryokan
But like most onsen towns, the real attraction is checking into a ryokan and enjoying the hotspring and food.

Beef - just admire the marbling
Sukiyaki was on offer for dinner and Kyushu is considered beef country too, with Oita prefecture and neighboring Saga known for supreme quality bovine not unlike Kobe.

Even our server ignored the starters and just promptly started to cook all of our beef just as we put in our orders for Sake. A little too hasty for me since I enjoy the nice-and-slow but we probably looked like we were starving after a relaxing soak in the outdoor spring area, which you can reserve privately for 50 minutes. There are public baths in the ryokan too which you can access anytime without reservation but these are indoor, so you don’t have the benefit of cold crisp air on your face as the rest of your body is being cooked sous vide ( I kid!).

Soaking and eating are the benefits of checking into a ryokan. But it’s pretty regimented in terms of a routine, so you have a small window to eat dinner and a smaller window to eat breakfast, as the service ends by 9am. Check out is at 10am so if you snooze, you lose. Literally.

But breakfast is hearty so it’s well worth getting up for even if this ryokan isn’t the most traditional, offering up a half buffet which has juice and coffee. Most other places just have freshly brewed green tea as traditionalists would only allow.

A full stomach later (again) and we were off on our merry way. Next stop: Kurokawa.

Yawaraginosato Yadoya
2717-5 Yufuincho Kawakami
Oita Prefecture 879-5102

3040-2, Kawakami
Yufu City
Oita 879-5102

Yasai Coffee
*can't locate English address but it's literally a couple of shops down from B-Speak