a Feast for Every Taste
Whether you're a first-time visitor to Kyushu or a repeat traveler – a cautious palate or a seasoned foodie – you can be sure of one thing: when it comes to mealtimes during your sojourn to the island, you are in for a serious treat.
From innovative twists on mainstays of Japanese cuisine to completely unique dishes that are nary to be found on the mainland, food and drink are something that Kyushu consistently does right. Here is a go-to guide to get you started on some of the dishes you should be on the lookout for as you eat – err, make – your way through this southerly region of the Japanese archipelago.
While clichéd images of exorbitantly priced luxury melons may come to mind when thinking about fruit in Japan, the truth is that this country is home to many affordable, delectable-tasting fruits… and Kyushu is an excellent place to sample them.
Starting up north in Fukuoka prefecture, which yields some of the highest fruit crops throughout Japan, you will find fruit-picking experiences offered at many farm orchards including kyohou grapes, persimmons, apples, blueberries, strawberries, nashi (Asian pear) and kabosu (a type of citrus).
Speaking of citrus, Kyushu is an excellent place to find creative uses thereof. Down in Miyazaki and Kagoshima prefectures, including in the far-flung Amami islands, you will find copious amounts of kabosu, along with hybrid citrus fruits such as ponkan (mandarin with pomelo) and tankan (ponkan with naval orange) used in everything from cocktail pairings to jams to jellied confectionery.
And while you are down south, do not miss the opportunity to sample the tropical fruits on offer, including passionfruit, guava, mango, kumquat, and papaya. Wait, is this still Japan?
In addition to indigenous vegetables such as the purple sweet potatoes and Sakurajima daikon radish, both found in Kagoshima prefecture, Kyushu on the whole is home to numerous organic farms that feed fresh, tasty veggies to their communities – including local restaurants and ryokan (Japanese-style inns) – as well as customers ordering from afar.
Kyushu also features several specialties that place the humble, healthy veg front and center, including gameni from Fukuoka prefecture, where chicken is braised along with vegetables such as gobou (burdock root), shiitake mushrooms, lotus root, carrots and bamboo shoots.
Also loaded with vegetables is a dish known in Oita prefecture as dangojiru – and elsewhere throughout Kyushu (Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures) as dagojiru – which is a hearty, tasty soup that features flat noodles made from flour.
Oh, the fish. With Kyushu being home to one of Japan's largest morning markets (the Yobuko in Karatsu, Saga prefecture), and with fish such as yellowtail, red and black sea bream, tako (octopus), oysters and crabs (just to name a few of the sea creatures teeming off Kyushu's waters), it is very likely that your feasting will include the bounty of the sea.
In addition to straightforward fish meat, you will also find imaginative approaches to fish dishes such as satsumaage, a spiced and grilled fishcake that is a specialty in Kagoshima prefecture, and can come in any number of varieties – such as the delicious one we enjoyed with the tender crunch of edamame tucked inside.
So whether it's yakiniku (grilled meat) or donburi (served atop rice), a famed towering Sasebo burger in Nagasaki, or a succulent luxury wagyu dish in a high-end restaurant, beef aficionados need not fear: you will most certainly not go hungry whilst traversing the island.
Lest you feel left out, chicken lovers, Kyushu has several tasty dishes featuring the venerable bird.
In Oita prefecture, enjoy toriten, a dish of seasoned, deep-fried chicken nuggets. Further southward in Miyazaki prefecture, chicken nanban is the star, featuring fried chicken flavored with sweet vinegar and then coated in a tartar sauce.
Not kidding, folks: Kumamoto prefecture is renowned for its basashi – raw horse meat. Served ice cold and flanked by condiments such as shiso (perilla leaf), minced onion and grated ginger, along with a shoyu dipping sauce, this tasty dish will reward the adventurous diner with a soft, flavorful taste experience.
And who knows – you may find that it piques your curiosity to return to Kyushu and see what other hidden delicacies may await you.