Sunday, January 15, 2017

Our Fukuoka Christmas 5 - A Salaryman's Lunch at Enya in Tenjin

The salaryman is the everyman in Japan.  Having worked for so long in a Japanese company, I know just who he is -- I worked with many of them for years.  Salarymen are hardworking, loyal to the company and very dependable.  They work from morning till night, taking only a quick break in the middle of the day.  So -- they also know the fastest, cheapest and tastiest places to grab a quick lunch.

I always like to eat in these small lunch places.  The food is always good and affordable.  
You can find the salaryman's lunch places in busy commercial areas, amidst office and shopping districts.  On this visit to Fukuoka, I found one in an intersection along Tenjin district.
This narrow building had restaurants from the ground to the top floor.

These lunch places have no english menus since they cater primarily to locals.  But who needs 
one when a picture menu is more than enough -- this appetising poster on the ground floor was for 
a restaurant on the third.  With a number of meals to choose from and none that cost over 1,000 yen, this was a salaryman's ideal lunch place indeed.

The tiny elevator stopped at the third floor and this door with the green noren  marked the entrance 
to En-ya -- how did I know the name?  Simple, I asked the waitress!

We got the last remaining seats at the counter, where I had a worm's eye view of the dishes and the two cooks busy in the kitchen.  Liquor bottles on the cabinet meant that the lunch regulars would normally have drinks here after office hours.  Most places like these turn into izakayas or casual bars in the evening.

As you can see, the restaurant is rather cramped -- there are a few tables for four plus counter seating for six.  Everyone eats a quick lunch then heads back to work so even if the space is small, turn over is quick and they can do several seatings for lunch.

Our orders came after a five minute wait.  The grilled saba  had been filleted and deboned and had a nice smoky taste.  The setto (set) includes refillable rice, tsukemono or pickles, a small salad and of course the ubiquitous miso soup.  

I had my favourite karaage -- hot, crisp and tender with a slight gingery tang.  This very generous serving of five large chicken pieces (all thigh fillets, more expensive in Japan than breast fillets) 
cost just 750 yen.   What a great deal!

If you're taking a break from shopping in the Tenjin area, try a salaryman's lunch at Enya or any of the similar lunch places.  The specials will leave you with more yen in your wallet for more shopping after.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Our Fukuoka Christmas 4 - The friendly Fukuokans at Yanagibashi Market

If Tokyo has Tsukiji and Kyoto has Nishiki,  Fukuoka has Yanagibashi Market.  All are known as 
their respective cities' "kitchens" -- sources of the freshest seafood, meats and produce. 

Yanagibashi is right along the main avenue, Sumiyoshi dori.  When you reach the bridge that crosses the Nakagawa, the market is waiting at the other end.

The entrance to  Yanagibashi is marked by a mosaic of fish.  As you walk through, you will see other mosaics of the other things sold in the market like vegetables and fruits. 

Unlike Nishiki which stretches out for more than four blocks, Yanagibashi is quite compact.  The market's entire length must be two hundred meters or so and there are just about 50 stores.  But 
what the market lacks for in size,  they make up for in smiles  -- the vendors are the 
friendliest and most helpful that I have ever encountered.

Both home cooks and chefs will find the the best seafood in the market -- clams and other shellfish are kept alive for maximum freshness.

These fish seem surprised that they were caught! 

Because we are nearing the end of the year,  kazunoko or golden herring roe is prominently displayed.  This is one of the traditional good luck foods for oshogatsu or the Japanese New Year.

Do you see the  packaged dried fish hanging from the shop ceiling? That is yaki ago,  dried flying 
fish  used to make dashi, which is the base for many soup stocks.  Yaki ago is used in ozoni, a soup that is served during the New Year.  

Even if the market is abuzz with people, the vendors are never too busy to stop and say hello or even answer questions about what they're selling.  Photographs are allowed and they'll even hold up their produce for you to take a close up shot.   Most of them will even stop and have their picture taken!

 Mentaiko or seasoned fish roe is a Fukuoka specialty and you can definitely find it at Yanagibashi.  These are fresh, premium quality mentaiko, much better than the frozen ones sold at the airport.  

One of my discoveries at Yanagibashi is mentaiko mayonnaise.  It works deliciously as a spread, a dip or even as a salad dressing.  Only one store in the market sells it -- and they make it themselves.  You can get a commercial brand at the supermarket and even at the airport but it isn't half as good.

No matter which stall you go to, the shopkeepers have a ready smile and are always happy to chat.
And even with my limited Nihongo we are able to carry on a conversation. 

This is a very popular stall that sells processed fish products in different forms and varieties.  Some are ready to eat,  while some are used as toppings or ingredients in dishes like nabe, shabu shabu or even in ramen.

One store in the market doubles as a restaurant.  The chiller has various sashimi cuts which they 
can prepare for you or you can buy a pack to take home.    Since we had just had breakfast, it was 
too soon to think about lunch.  

At the end of the market is an old time bakery -- selling breads, cookies, crackers, traditional sweets and candies.

It may be too early for lunch but a mid morning pastry seems doable.  There are soft buns filled with custard cream or sweet red beans, fried donuts, plain breads -- baking must be done right on premise because appetising smells waft all over the store.

Right across the bakery is Manu Coffee, a local, independent coffee house.  
It's a modern take on the kissaten -- the old fashioned Japanese coffee cum tea house.  
They have many varieties of coffee beans from all over the world that they sell and use in their 
coffee.  A wooden menu board shows all  kinds of hot and cold drinks that you can order.

We bring our pastries from the bakery -- this shop highly encourages BYOB+++  or 
bring-your-own-bread-from-our-neighbor-the-bakery.  We take our coffee upstairs and sit by the window to enjoy the view of the Nakagawa.  

The baristas at Manu, just like everyone we had met at Yanagibashi Market, are smiling and 
good natured.   If you come to Fukuoka, come and say hello to everyone and feel the true essence 
of the Fukuoka spirit, right here at Yanagibashi Market.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Our Fukuoka Christmas 3 - Kawabata and the old fashioned charms of the Shotengai

One of my favourite things to do in a big sprawling foreign city is to search for the remaining traces 
of what the place used to look like before  urbanisation and gentrification set in.  These could be in the back streets, in just-at-the edge neighbourhoods,  in quaint un-touristy places where you'll find the locals going about their daily lives.

In Japan,  I enjoy going to the traditional shotengai or shopping street that you can still find even in the uber-urban sophistication of the biggest cities. 
Shotengai are old-time covered shopping arcades lined with small stores -- selling goods and services to the neighbourhood.   The shotengai  can be a few hundred meters or a kilometre or two long.  
It is always lively, vibrant and gives you an idea of the soul and character of the city.
In Fukuoka, my favourite is the Kawabata Shotengai -- casual, comfortable, friendly -- just like the spirit of Fukuoka itself. 

There are many stores along the covered arcade including small restaurants and coffee shops. 
Craving for some western food?  L.A. Diner advertises burgers and sodas.

I am surprised to see that there is a  hostel on top of this cafe cum bar.    The target would most likely be students and young tourists.

Cinderella's clothes  look a bit dated and gaudy -- our tour guide Mariya san mentioned that Kawabata is just around the corner from Fukuoka's "entertainment" district so the dresses are what the working girls are probably in to.

Not all the fashion is flashy though -- there are regular clothes and at sale prices too.

It isn't just women's wear that you can find at the arcade. 

Surprise, surprise! A children's store with Jay's name on it.  So of course, we had to take a photo 
with the "owner" himself. 

I was so intrigued by this store --it sells a lot of things that you might need for a Buddhist home altar or a shrine.  Can you see that giant dipper hanging in front?  It's like what you would find in a temizuya or purification fountain,  except of course this one is made for a giant's hands.  
And yes, I will admit that I seriously thought about how I could bring that dipper home.

Kokuyo is a stationary store. I control myself from going in as Japanese stationary stores are insidious places that make you want to buy and buy and buy all the things you want but don't need. 

Beware the Japanese drugstore -- like the stationary shop you will not be able to resist its wares from colourful socks  to all sorts of "seen-only-in-Japan" cosmetics and hair and skin care products.
I gave this one a wide berth.

I almost stumble on these boxes of traditional Oshogatsu or New Year decorations.  Hung on front doors, these are called shime-kazari and are symbols of good luck.  

There are many Koreans living in Japan --  Fukuoka is actually closer to Busan than it is to Tokyo.
This store in Kawabata sells all sorts of Korean goodies, perhaps even tickets on Korean Air?

Fancy a trim,  a perm or a blow dry?  This local salon isn't fancy and the prices are friendly too. 

Near one end of the arcade,  I see a familiar shop -- it may look like a fruit and vegetable stand  but if you go in, a self-service "cafeteria" serves extremely tasty homestyle meals -- a complete set for just 750 yen!  Since you can't see the restaurant from the outside, it's probably a well kept, local "secret"
It's also one of my favourite places to grab a bite in Fukuoka.
Now excuse me while I go and have lunch ...

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Our Fukuoka Christmas 2 - Ippudo Ramen, Hakata born and bred

There seems to be as many versions of ramen as there are regions in Japan.  In Fukuoka, Hakata style ramen is king.  This ramen is characterised by its tonkotsu broth -- a rich, milky soup made from hours and hours of cooking pork bones and breaking down all its sinews and collagen to achieve a very deep and layered flavour. 

Globally famous Ippudo with branches in Manila and other Asian cities is also found in New York, in Sydney and even London.  It is a proud child of Hakata and while we missed trying it the first time we were here,  I was not about to pass up a visit this time around.
Lines are usually long in all its branches but on this late Sunday evening, the store at Hakata Station had lots of available space.  
For our hungry group of five, we were seated right at the counter, facing the kitchen.

To maximise the compact space at this store, there are no tables, just counters where you dine side by side and facing each other.  A divider that runs across each counter keeps you from staring at the person in front of you as he slurps his ramen.

You may find it strange that I had never tried Ippudo Ramen before.  It's such a popular brand 
that you can find all over Japan but tonkotsu ramen does not appeal to me.  I prefer a light, clear broth to an almost creamy soup.

For foreigners, the store has an english menu -- no need to try and decipher the photos.  Since there were five of us, we could try all the different ramen on offer.

Since we are seated on the counter facing the kitchen, the appetising smells wafted all over 
us.  I just knew that my clothes and my hair would smell of pork broth after this meal.

Ippudo has three basic types of ramen that you can order. This is their Akamaru Modern, where a dollop of miso paste and some dark fragrant oil (I'm guessing it's garlic and chili oil) add another layer of taste to the basic tonkotsu soup.  Thin nori sheets, crunchy slivers of wood ear mushroom (tengang daga as we know it), not to mention chashu slices and a boiled egg complete the bowl.

We also ordered Ippudo's original classic Shiromaru Motoaji ramen.   Putting my (very) limited Nihongo skills to practice -- I surmise that it sort of trans-literates to "white correct basis of taste".  Once you taste it, you can understand my translation.  The complex and heavy flavours of the broth must certainly be the basis for the global success of Ippudo Ramen.

Since tonkotsu ramen is not really my preference I decided to take a different path.  I had the 
Karaka ramen, a bowl of tonkotsu broth turned vivid orange by highly spiced, heat seeking chili and miso paste and generously topped with minced pork.  One can choose from 5 levels of spiciness -  from the safe level 1 to the perhaps abunai (dangerous) level 5 where you would probably be spewing fire after every spoonful.
I was not so brave -- I settled for level 2.  Any unwanted heat would be quickly doused by a gulp 
of ice cold nama beer.

Gyoza, pork and chive dumplings, is the traditional partner of ramen.  Ippudo's gyoza are kawaii and bite sized.  An order of ten just about teases your tastebuds.

Ramen sets sometimes include a small chashu donburi -- grilled pork slices over rice.   
Ippudo's version is called Chikara Meshi and because this is Fukuoka -- where mentaiko is 
a local specialty, there is a coral pink lump of mentaiko on top.  The seasoned pollack roe 
makes the rice a bit salty, which balances the sweetish sauce of the grilled pork. 

Mentaiko is a favourite of mine, so I just had to order Mentaiko Gohan.  The rice came with some grated preserved daikon and nori sheets.   Take a scoop of rice, a smudge of mentaiko 
and  some grated daikon,  wrap it all in nori and presto --   instant onigiri!

We ordered nearly everything on Ippudo's menu.  Were our eyes bigger than our stomachs?  Definitely not, as my nearly empty bowl of Karaka ramen will tell you.  We finished it all. 
We must have been particularly hungry or the food must have been specially good.  
Or perhaps both.  
Dinner was a slurpi-ly satisfying introduction to the culinary pleasures of Fukuoka -- 
through its famous hakata style ramen. 
Umai desu yo!

NB. Thanks to Jay and my son Gani who took some of the photos used in this post.