Japan’s third-largest island, Kyushu, is alive with gastronomy and rich in culture. Made up of seven prefectures, the island has garnered a reputation as one of the country’s culinary hotspots. With the region’s historical ties to Britain, Denmark and Portugal, the cuisine on the island has evolved into a fusion of styles. Here, we have collated a list of some of Kyushu’s ‘must-try’ meals and delicacies.
Fukuoka’s Famous Tonkotsu Ramen
Said to be the most famous tonkotsu ramen of all is Fukuoka’s own Hakata ramen, with the use of thinner, straighter noodles that brings a vibrant and delicious delicacy to the island. This ‘soul food’, consisting of pork bone, soy sauce and miso, has garnered popularity both in Japan and worldwide. With over 1,700 ramen shops throughout Fukuoka prefecture, the dish is not one to miss for those visiting. Each restaurant brings its own interpretation of the soup, however, the milky white tonkotsu soup for the Hakata ramen remains familiar throughout.
Spectacular Seafood Specialties
The clear waters of Kyushu provide large amounts of seafood, including Takezaki crab and squid, tiger prawns, and even fugu (Japan’s deadly pufferfish). Visitors can taste the flavours of Kyushu’s famous seafood dishes, such as ikizukuri, a live-squid sashimi largely served in Saga’s Yobuko. Visitors to the Oita prefecture can enjoy the kabosu-buri speciality; a fish bred in the Bungo Channel and fed kabosu citrus, Oita’s speciality product, the fatty flavour is light and refreshing. Travellers can indulge in the fish shabu-shabu style or dine on beautifully made sushi pieces decorated with the fatty kabosu-buri meat.
Kyushu’s Historic ‘Sugar Road’
Nagasaki prefecture is known for its sugary sweet dishes, with a rich culture of sugar and confectionery that remains to this day along what is known as the ‘Sugar Road’. In 1571, the arrival of Portuguese traditional food culture in Nagasaki meant the introduction to sugary confectionery, ultimately changing the way the region approached its gastronomy. Nagasaki Kaido, otherwise referred to as Sugar Road, is a 228 km long route whereby sugar was transported through the island centuries ago. The areas surrounding the Nagasaki Kaido adapted their cuisine to this abundant introduction of sugar, which in turn developed a unique and individual food culture. Visitors to the island are encouraged to try the Castella sponge cake, Okoshi, and a sweeter version of sushi, Omura sushi, which uses an abundance of sugar within the rice.
Kagoshima’s free-range Kurobuta pork
With their curly characteristic tails and their jet-black bristles, Kurobuta pigs have been roaming on the island of Kyushu for over 400 years. Once praised by the lord of the Mito Domain centuries ago, the taste of Kurobuta pork is certainly like no other. An extremely delicate, exquisite and delectable taste, the barley grass-fed pork has become a notable export of the Kagoshima area. Visitors can indulge in the delicacy, enjoying the melt-in-your-mouth golden-brown slices hot off the barbeque, or alternatively try the popular meat pickled with miso.
Kumamoto’s Tea Field in the Clouds
The “Land of Fire” Kyushu Island, the most volcanic island of Japan, is known for making the perfect cup of tea due to its extensive tea-growing farmlands. The island is also the birthplace and beating heart of high-grade Japanese green tea, after a Buddhist priest brought over tea seeds from China centuries ago, planting them in the Sefuri mountains (today in Saga prefecture). One of the generations-old tea fields appears to sit atop all else with nothing blocking the panoramic views, thus giving it the name “Tea Field in the Clouds”. The area consists of cold uplands at an altitude of 600m, with volcanic ash soil to grow the leaves; a combination which gives the tea an extremely fragrant taste and a vibrant colour.
Bustling Yatai Food Stalls in Fukuoka
Those looking for a more immersive dive into Kyushu’s culinary scene can head to the energetic streets of Fukuoka. A city on the north coast of Kyushu, it holds some of the best street-food markets in Japan. Each night, visitors can make the most of the 150 yatai food stalls that are scattered throughout the city centre. Traipsing through the stalls, visitors are encouraged to indulge in delicious grilled chicken skewers (yakitori), warming hot pots (oden), and most famously a bowl of Hakata Ramen, a local noodle dish featuring relatively thin ramen noodles in a pork bone-based soup (tonkotsu).