When I travel, specially when I visit a new place, I always want to try the local specialty. On this visit to Kumamoto, the helpful lady at the Tourist Information desk at the station suggested that we would find local food at the restaurants around Kumamoto-jo.
At the foot of the castle grounds is the tourist facility called Sakura-no-baba Josaien also known as "Castle Town". There are shops selling Kumamoto's specialties, a pavilion for Edo-themed performances starring "samurai" and even a "mini museum" dedicated to the life of Kato Kiyomasa
and the Hosokawa family, feudal lords of Kumamoto.
More importantly, for hungry tourists like us there are a number of cafes and restaurants.
We peered into several before deciding on Moshiya Yumeakari because the menu posted outside offered the specialty of Kumamoto -- sakura niku or horse meat.
Inside, the restaurant was surprisingly spacious. The maitre d (yes, they have one) led us to a comfortable booth located in the back.
The english menu features just a select number of dishes -- ramen and donburi or rice bowls
but it is the noodle soup with horse meat that I had made up my mind to order.
I had tried horse meat before in Tokyo, as both basashi (sashimi) and as the prettily named
"sakura nabe" and was looking forward to enjoying it again.
Why is horse meat called sakura niku or cherry blossom meat -- this is because of the raw meat's bright, pinkish-red colour.
I'm glad that my son Gani is with me so I don't have to drink beer by myself!
Jay decides to order the donburi made from the special Higo Asobibuta pork, egg and garnished with pickled ginger strips. The pork most probably came from pigs raised in Aso, a city in Kumamoto prefecture.
This is my bowl of horse meat noodles. The soy sauce based soup is thick and a bit gelatinous, reminding me of maki, the chinese noodle dish. It's rich and tasty. The noodles are round and of medium thickness, perhaps to better soak up the hearty soup base.
My bowl is generously filled with chunks of sakura niku. It must have been boiled for hours because it's tender and dissolves deliciously in my mouth. For those of you wondering what horse meat tastes like, it has a surprisingly fine texture, more so than beef. There are undertones of a mild sweetness. It is also less fatty and probably better for your health.
In addition to the sakura niku, my bowl is dotted with my favourite gingko nuts which add a bit of chewy texture to the dish. It is said that when he built Kumamoto-jo, Lord Kiyomasa planted
many gingko trees in the castle grounds so that in case of a prolonged siege, there would always be gingko nuts to feed everyone. It's nice to have that bit of history in this delectable noodle bowl.
We definitely enjoyed our hearty lunch at Yumeakari. There was just enough time to pick up a few
souvenirs before we headed back to the station to catch the shinkansen back to Fukuoka.
One last photo with my favourite bear, Kumamon. Apparently aside from being the prefecture's mascot, he also moonlights as the Station Master of Kumamoto Station.