Culinary adventures in northern Kyushu

Fukuoka and Saga prefectures, in northern Kyūshū, are accessible places to start a food-inspired tour of the region. From ever-popular ramen to the more nuanced flavours of fermented vinegar, here is a small selection of the many local specialities worth savouring on your trip.

 

Ramen in Fukuoka

Any conversation about food in this corner of Kyūshū has to begin with ramen (and for some it ends right there, too). The ubiquitous noodles may have their origins in China, but they are hugely popular in Japan, with every region having its particular variations. Fukuoka is the country’s top ramen destination, famous for its signature tonkotsu ramen, also called Hakata or Nagahama ramen: straight, thin noodles in a thick, rich pork-bone-based broth. You can slurp back a bowl at one of the many food stalls around Fukuoka city. There are about 150 of these hawker-style stalls (yatai in Japanese), which typically have a simple counter with a few stools and start service in the evenings. Most stalls set up along the river in the Nakasu area, in the Tenjin area, and in Nagahama near the docks.

Or, for ramen indoors, head to 40-year-old Ichiran, where customers dine in individual cubicles (presumably so one can give the noodles their full deserved attention). Fukuoka city is also home to the now international Ippudo ramen restaurant chain. There are a few Ippudo dotted around the city (the flagship store, established 1985, is at 1-13-14 Daimyo); a collaboration between Ippudo and the Kyushu-based Drum Tao performance group means that the ‘Ippudo Tao’ store at 1-13-13 Tenjin (ippudo.com/store/tao_fukuoka) has taiko drums as decor.

 

Kudzu in Akizuki castle town

All that remains of the castle in Akizuki is a large gate and some hulking stone-wall ruins, but the 800-year-old village still draws visitors, especially when the laneways flush with pink in cherry-blossom season. Amid the old samurai residences, pretty bridges and temples of the historic centre is the similarly historic store Hirokyu Kuzu Honpo (0946-25-0215; 532 Akizuki), a 9th-generation family business. The speciality here is kudzu (or kuzu), also called Japanese arrowroot, a kind of woody vine whose large roots are processed into a starch powder. Heated with water and set, kudzu forms the basis of Japanese summertime favourites such as kuzu-mochi – a chilled firm jelly-like ‘cake’ sweetened with syrup or topped with nutty-tasting kinako (roasted soybean flour).