The gateway to international trade and an early adopter of continental culture
Fukuoka Prefecture is a core transportation hub connecting Kyushu and Honshu. It has been an international trading center since the Nara period (710-794) and has had numerous exchanges with the Chinese mainland and the Korean peninsula. Its exotic influence also extends to food culture deeply connected to modern everyday foods like rice and udon. One could call it the gateway to cultural transmission. Now, what kind of local cuisine does Fukuoka Prefecture have to offer?
Footage taken in cooperation with Oryori Matsuyama
Traces of rice cultivation excavated from Jomon-era ruins
Fukuoka Prefecture is at the southwestern tip of the Japanese archipelago. It is surrounded by three prefectures: Oita Prefecture to the southeast across the east-west running Hikosan Mountains, Saga Prefecture to the west across the Sefurisanchi Mountains, and Kumamoto Prefecture to the south across the Chikuhisanchi Mountains. Far beyond the Genkai-nada Sea, which stretches to the north, is the Korean Peninsula.
40% of Fukuoka Prefecture's total area of 4,987 m2 is mountainous, with four first-class rivers flowing through the prefecture. These rivers are the Chikugo River, the Onga River, the Yabe River, and the Yamakuni River, which all originate from the mountains.
Fukuoka is also famous as a gourmet city. Tenjin in Fukuoka City is a beloved tourist hotspot known as the busiest shopping area in western Japan. Surrounded by the Naka and Hakata Rivers, the food stalls line the Nakasu area at night, attracting many people.
There is a theory that Fukuoka Prefecture is the birthplace of rice cultivation. Traces of rice cultivation in the late Jomon period were discovered at the Itazuke Iseki, a nationally designated cultural property preserved in Fukuoka City. Why did rice cultivation begin so early in Fukuoka? Yoshimi Minari, dean of the Faculty of Nutritional Sciences at Nakamura Gakuen University, analyzes the following answer: This technology may have been introduced from Asia. "It's not hard to imagine an influx of various cultures, technologies, and performing arts from across the sea, including those from mainland China and the Korean peninsula."
According to one theory, the first udon noodles were introduced to Japan in Fukuoka when Shoichi Kokushi, the founder of Jotenji Temple in Fukuoka City, returned from his training in China in 1241. He spread the techniques for milling udon and manju he learned from China throughout Japan. "He must have risked his life on that voyage. There are various theories on the origin of the dish, but the idea that the people of Fukuoka were the first to taste the flavor beloved by the Japanese adds a sense of romanticism."
Ms. Minari is an expert on the food culture of Fukuoka Prefecture and other regions. She asserts that local cuisine is a science. "Fukuoka Prefecture has a local dish called abuttekamo, a salted and broiled damselfish. It is customary to place a persimmon leaf between the plate and the fish. While this piece of wisdom was to keep utensils clean, research has also shown that persimmon leaves have antiseptic and sterilizing effects. Whether they knew it or not, the people of the past have applied a number of such reasonable devices."
Fukuoka Prefecture consists of the central Fukuoka region, the Kitakyushu region, where industrial areas are concentrated, the Chikuho region, where the inn town atmosphere remains, and the Chikugo region stretching along the Chikugo River basin. Here is the local cuisine of each region.
< Fukuoka region >
A blend of Japanese and Western flavors handed down from a trading center in the Nara period
The Fukuoka region consists of Fukuoka City, the city with the largest population in Kyushu, and other municipalities such as Kasuga City and Dazaifu City. The region's center, Fukuoka City, has long flourished as a site for negotiations and exchanges, taking advantage of its geographical proximity to the continent and the Korean peninsula. Korokan is an ancient site that remains in the city. It was an overseas trading facility built in the Heian period. Its predecessor is believed to have existed before the Nara period, with envoys from Tang and Silla using this facility as their base in Japan.
Dishes using seafood have long been loved because of the region's proximity to fishing grounds like Hakata Bay and the Genkai-nada Sea. An example would be Hakata's gomasaba, mackerel sashimi with sesame paste as its condiment. Although mackerel quickly loses freshness, Fukuoka offers the luxury of enjoying it as sashimi. Egonori (red algae) caught in coastal areas were boiled and dissolved in water and used for okyuto (seaweed noodles). It has a texture similar to tokoroten (a traditional Japanese noodle dish) and leaves the aroma of the sea on the mouth. Long ago, peddlers would sell it from house to house. Even today, many still enjoy it as a breakfast dish.
The hot pot dish chicken mizutaki has its roots in Chinese chicken broth and Western consommé. The eye-catching pure white soup is made from chicken heads and bones. This is then slowly simmered with bone-in chicken, cabbage, and seasonal vegetables. The inventor of mizutaki was Heizaburo Hayashida, a native of Nagasaki Prefecture. He opened a restaurant specializing in mizutaki in the city in 1905, taking advantage of the Western cooking techniques he learned in Hong Kong. Today, mizutaki is served at restaurants inside and outside the city, as well as in ordinary homes.
< Kitakyushu region >
A dish that creates the perfect harmony between mackerel and salted rice-bran paste loved by the lord of Kokura Castle
The Kitakyushu region is home to various manufacturing technologies, such as steel, automobile, semiconductor, and robotics. Kitakyushu City, the driving force of the region's industry, once prospered as one of Japan's leading coal-producing areas. One of the city's most famous landmarks, Mojiko Port, is an international trading port opened to export coal.
Over the past few years, the Japanese restaurant Oryori Matsuyama in the city has started to add Fukuoka's local dishes to its appetizer menu. Here is the reasoning of the owner, Shozo Matsuyama.
"Local cuisine has a certain charm. However, we have been getting more and more customers from outside the prefecture. We thought we could leave a more lasting memory if we gave them the taste of Fukuoka." Mr. Matsuyama is particularly attached to the nukamiso daki, a traditional dish from his hometown Kitakyushu City. It is a boiled fish made by cooking sardines and fatty mackerel harvested from the Genkai-nada Sea in salted rice-bran paste. It was also a favorite of Tadaoki Hosokawa, the lord of Kokura Castle. "The original nukamiso daki has a strong salty taste. However, I wanted to make the most of the mackerel's natural flavor, so I gave it a lighter taste." The rich aroma from the fermentation process captures the mackerel's elegant fat. It tastes so good that even the lord of Kokura Castle was impressed.
In the town of Kamige in the Buzen area, nigui is an essential part of celebrations. Nigui is a local dish of chicken, diced konyaku, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, and burdocks cooked in soup stock. In some areas, they also add kuzu (Japanese arrowroot) to thicken the soup. The key to cooking this dish is making it juicy. It is also known as "dabu rabu (the onomatopoeia for sloshing in Japanese)" due to the sloshy appearance of its juice.
< Chikuho region >
Traditional spices born from the preserved food of mountain priests
During the Edo period (1603-1867), the 228-kilometer Nagasaki Kaido route connecting Nagasaki and Kokura (Kitakyushu City) became a "sugar road" that carried sugar and spread the confectionery culture throughout the region.
The Uchino Shuku Inn was established in Iizuka City in the Chikuho region. More prosperous than any other inns in Chikuho, Ino Tadataka, Yoshida Shoin, and many others rested their weary bodies here.
Mount Hiko, which straddles Soeda Town in the Chikuho region and Nakatsu City in Oita Prefecture, was home to 3,000 mountain priests until the end of the Edo period. Yuzugosho, a specialty of Soeda Town, has its roots in the culture of preserved food developed by mountain priests. It is a spice made from green pepper and yuzu citron seeds. It goes well with many dishes and stands out for its addictive cool and tangy aroma that tickles the nostrils. It seasons sashimi, chicken dishes, nabe dishes, pickles, and many others, making it an indispensable condiment on the dining table of the Fukuoka Prefecture residents.
Also, the senbuki-mage is a staple for this region's Doll's Festival. Senbuki refers to wakegi, a variant of Japanese leek. Modama (boiled shark tail sliced into rounds) and obaike (white fat under the whale's skin) are also sometimes added to the dish after being quickly dipped in hot water. The vivid green and white color of the senbuki makes it a very spring-like dish.
< Chikugo region >
A flour food culture of potato and wheat enjoyed throughout the ages
The Chikugo region is in the southern part of the prefecture, consisting of 12 municipalities. The area is rich in natural beauty and blessed with many tourism resources. These include the Chikugo River and Yabe River, which flow into the Ariake sea, as well as the Tsuzura Rice Terraces in Ukiha City, which was selected as one of the 100 Best Rice Terraces in Japan, and the Yanagawa River Rafting in Yanagawa City.
Potatoes and wheat are abundantly harvested in Yame City and the rest of the Chikugo region. People would eat imo manju (potato buns) as a substitute for rice or between farm work. Wrap the fluffed potatoes in flour dough, steam it, and the dish is ready to serve. Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes were used depending on the time of year, and some families boiled them instead of steaming them. Funayaki is a thin pancake of flour dissolved in water and covered with brown sugar, similar to the modern crepe. When freshly baked, the brown sugar gives it an addictive, melty, and savory flavor. Funayaki is said to have been an impromptu dish on board the boats of fishermen and boatmen living in the Chikugo River basin, giving rise to its quirky name, which means "cooked on board." The funayaki eaten on a small boat bobbing on a large river must have been exceptional.
What can be done to preserve the local cuisine in the future? Ms. Minari is looking for new ways to promote and raise awareness. "We're focusing on the health and environmental problems that have become social issues. When unraveling Chinese medicine, we can say that the secret to good health and longevity is to eat food suited to the local climate and topography. Although closely looking into this leads to Chinese food therapy, local Japanese cuisine is truly a model health food for the Japanese people. It is Japan's version of Chinese-style medicinal cooking. Furthermore, local production for local consumption means we can reduce the environmental impact of transportation, contributing to SDGs." She also added, "Local cuisine is still full of possibilities."
Fukuoka Prefecture's local cuisine has been an early adopter of different cultures from overseas. Now, with the addition of modern-day essence by the bearers of Fukuoka's local cuisine, a new path is about to be taken.