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.