Friday, June 17, 2016

Fukuoka in Five - A late tasty dinner at Yayoiken

For almost 20 years, Japan has been one of our favourite travel destinations.  We have loved 
going regularly to  Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and yes, even once to Sapporo but this June, 
Jay and I decided to expand our horizons and visit a place that we had not been to before.  

Fukuoka, the main city on the island of Kyushu is serviced by direct flights from Manila by both Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific.  
While I would have wanted to fly PAL, Cebu Pacific had an irresistible seat sale that was just too good to pass up.  I must admit, with all the negative reviews that the airline had been receiving, 
I was a bit worried about how the experience would go.   
So,  I set my expectations really, really low and put myself in zen mode ("Ommm, nothing, nothing will bother me, ommm).

It is always wonderful to be delightfully surprised.  The check in was quick and efficient, there was hardly any queue.  The flight was barely half full so we enjoyed the extra legroom by sitting in separate empty rows.  And the crew were all pleasant and smiling throughout the flight.
Cebu Pacific, you certainly exceeded this first time passenger's expectations!

We were an hour late arriving at Fukuoka Airport -- not really the airline's fault but because of 
the usual traffic on the NAIA runway.   The airport was nearly deserted.  Unlike NaritaKIX 
or Chitose Airport which are all a long way from the city,  Fukuoka Airport  is a mere 20 minute 
taxi ride  to the centre of town.  If you have luggage and arrive at night,  I suggest you take the 
cab instead of the train. 
In our case, we spent just 2,000 yen from the airport to our hotel,  located at the corner of the main streets Watanabe-dori and Sumiyoshi-dori.  

Like other budget airlines, a hot meal is  extra on Cebu Pacific.  We opted not to eat during 
the flight but to save our appetites for what would surely be much better food in Fukuoka.  
Our hotel was in a quiet area right beside a covered shopping arcade but most of the stores and 
the small restaurants were closed. It was way past 10 p.m after all. 
A meal from the nearby convenience store was not exactly what we had in mind so we decided to walk a little further in search of food.

We walked a few blocks and saw Yayoiken, a 24 hour teishoku restaurant chain.  Teishoku means 
"set meal", one complete with hot rice, miso soup, and tsukemeno or Japanese pickles. The 
window display showed a wide variety of dishes ... what a lucky find!

While the restaurant was not full, there were a number of late night diners and more would 
continue to come during the time we were there.  The decor was muted and lighting was comfortably soft. The booths were spacious and well spaced from each other.  All in all,  it was a very pleasant place and a bit more upmarket than the other teishoku chains I have eaten in.  
We were lucky to get the table right by the window from where we could see our first impressions 
of the city.  

At Yayoiken,  ordering and payments are done via the vending machine right by the entrance. 
The waitstaff then comes by your table to pick up your order stubs and then returns a few minutes later with your meal.

Surprise, surprise,  Yayoiken's vending machine had an English button -- press it and the entire menu is suddenly transformed into something I could actually read.   Fukuoka was turning out to be quite tourist friendly!

I ordered the shogayaki teishoku -- this is ginger stewed pork that is a daily staple in many 
Japanese homes.  It was a generous order of tender strips of juicy pork served with a fresh 
green salad.  The rice was hot, fragrant  and delicious -- just the thing our hungry stomachs 
were growling for!   If one bowl of rice is not enough,  there is a large rice cooker off to one side where you can fill up your bowl a second (or even a third) time.  And no, I did not indulge.

Jay had his favourite -- a hambagu steak with an ebi fry on the side.  The patty was well seasoned, drizzled with gravy  and came on a sizzling hot plate. Oishii desu ne!

Kanpai!  Our first dinner was a roaring success and not just because we were hungry but because 
I truly believe that it's pretty much impossible to have a bad meal anywhere in Japan.  Even if it's 
just a set meal from a 24 hour teishoku restaurant chain like Yayoiken.

It was almost midnight when we walked back to the hotel.  Watanabe-dori, the wide main avenue of Fukuoka was well lit although quite empty of passing cars.  So far, Fukuoka was looking pretty good! I was excited to see what the next five days would bring. 

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