East Eats West: 5 Must-Eat Kyushu Dishes

by Wataru Yonaiyama-Jackson

It’s no secret that Japan has a rich and exquisite food culture. Whether imported or natively developed, the Japanese strive for culinary perfection and innovation. Each region even has its own take on different cuisines, exponentially multiplying into a myriad of delicious results. Kyushu in particular is a perfect example. During Japan’s period of isolation (1633-1853), Nagasaki in Kyushu remained a major trading port while much of the country was closed off to the world. Most of the trading was with China, Korea, and the Dutch, resulting in a unique food culture effortlessly integrating Japanese, Chinese, and Western approaches. These new techniques, cuisines, and flavors paired perfectly with the native agriculture grown from Kyushu's fertile, nutrient-filled volcanic soil. Today we’re going to take a look at some of Kyushu’s most iconic creations, some of which feature surprising ingredients, so buckle up and prepare for take off to Kyushu!

1. Motsunabe (もつ鍋)


Let’s dive right into the belly of the beast, literally. Motsunabe is a hot pot comprised of beef or pork tripe. The tripe is cut into delicate morsels and then simmered with cabbage, garlic chives, and flecks of red chili pepper. This can be intimidating or even strange to some, but don’t let the ingredients scare you. Trust my gut on this! The result is hot, savory, and soothing. Not only incredibly popular, motsunabe is also considered a healthy dish, being high in protein and low in calories. So you can dig in without growing out!

2. Basashi (馬刺し)


If you thought tripe was scary, hold your horses because the next dish is horse-meat sashimi! Yes, raw horse meat cut into thin slices. I know, it’s a bit of a shock, I’ll wait. Okay, ready? The Japanese have been enjoying this stunning pink delicacy since the late 1800’s. Kumamoto prefecture is famous for basashi made from domestic horse meat, a rare local specialty as most of the horse meat used for basashi in Japan is imported. There are three main cuts of basashi: fatty, marbled, and lean meat. Compared to other types of meat, horse-meat has a softer yet chewy texture and is served with different flavorings: grated ginger, garlic, chopped Welsh onions. Get over your fears and get into this mouth watering, taste-bud tickling delicacy!

3. Hakata ramen (博多ラーメン)

hakata ramen

Hopefully I haven’t scared you off just yet, because this next one is a global favorite. Ramen! As we know, different regions have different styles. Hakata-style ramen from Hakata City in Kyushu has become globally popular under the name tonkotsu ramen. Generally, ramen broth is made by boiling down chicken bones or seafood, then flavored with soy sauce. However, this ramen soup broth is based on pork bones, or "tonkotsu" (豚骨). The tonkotsu is boiled in water for a very long time, up to eight hours, creating a cloudy appearance. Hakata ramen is very simple, with only onion, garlic, spring onions, and ginger added to the broth. Popular toppings are slices of roasted or braised pork belly, karashi takana (consisting of pickled leaf mustard greens and red peppers diced up and fried), and beni shoga (pickled ginger root.): the latter two are a great way to add some spicy kick and bright acidity to the smooth, milky tonkotsu broth.

4. Mentaiko (明太子)


Due to its geographic proximity to mainland Asia, Korean and Chinese delicacies were often imported into Fukuoka. This allowed for the tasty arrival of mentaiko, a spicy cod roe marinated in red pepper and originally from Korea. Fukuoka mentaiko is hailed for its premium quality and invigorating freshness, it’s even a popular souvenir! It is usually eaten raw, seared or as a topping. Mentaiko has a unique richness, that finishes with a salty-spicy kick!

5. Ikinari Dango (いきなり団子)

ikinari dango

After all these savory and spicy delicacies, let’s end things on a sweeter note, and what better way than with ikinari dango? Kumamoto is not only known for its basashi, but also for this simple yet superb steamed bun with bean jam and sweet potato filling. Just like the name suggests (ikinari meaning "at a moment's notice"), these can be made quickly for some immediate satisfaction! Thickly sliced sweet potatoes are coated with a sweetened azuki bean paste, and then wrapped in mochi flour dough before they are steamed. Truly as easy as 1, 2, 3. Let it cool for a second so you don’t get burnt and you get to taste the naturally sweet, rich and creamy blend of these three simple ingredients.

These are just our top 5 of the myriad of dishes Kyushu has to offer. Which ones do you want to try?

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