I woke up late and took a while to get out. We walked around the quiet back streets of Fukuoka and headed toward Ohori Park. We stumbled upon a modern, trendy-looking shop, &locals, which I insisted on checking out. It turned out to serve miso soup and Inari sushi (rice and savory fillings wrapped in tofu). I had one with ginger and sesame and one with kikurage mushrooms and yuzu, both of which were delicious. We also had green tea, which Jake said was one of the best he’d had.
We kept walking until we reached Cafe Bimi, an old-fashioned cafe up some wooden stairs on the main road. Walking upstairs was like being transported to sometime in the 20th century. We sat at a round wooden table on old fashioned wooden chairs and ordered out of a little wooden booklet.
I ordered a cold coffee, and we settled in to watch the older woman behind the counter, wearing a look of such gentle concern, produce the most careful brews. The young waiter, who I imagined to be the grandson, chipped off a piece of ice from a big block. The woman painstakingly swirled the coffee, and ground beans. I didn’t want to disturb their peace, but I tried to etch the picture of the workspace (that seems like an appropriate description) in my mind. When it arrived, on a (what else?) wooden tray, it was in the cutest little goblet. It had a rich creamy layer on the top, and when I took a sip, I was speechless. It was so creamy, the coffee so flavorful and balanced, and the taste lingered for a while. Colder than a nitro but with a similar smoothness, it was gone all too fast. So it goes with small artisan drinks. I wanted to order 6 more, but I restrained myself. Too much of a good thing, or something like that.
We walked through the nearby shrine and into Ohori Park, where there were beautiful gardens with a little waterfall and pond and trees and some flowers. A lot of locals were taking wedding photos and it was peaceful and quiet, except for the loud Australians following behind us. I really like all the gardens here. Then we walked around the bigger lake in the park, with people running and walking and hanging out. It was cool.
Then we walked through the changing city to the original Ippudo shop. It was really cool to eat the same bowl I have all the time in New York, but right at the source. It was a little more traditional here—apparently, they only serve the original two styles at this first branch. It was a big bowl (for only ¥820! Less than half as much as NYC) and I added a bowl of rice and 5 gyoza for only ¥100 more. Such a steal. I really enjoyed all of it, especially sitting in the store. There was tea that was so complex aromatically but had a simple taste (but good), spicy bean sprouts and pickled ginger on the table. While we savored all the flavors, locals came in and out, downing a full bowl of ramen in the blink of an eye. It must take years of experience to be able to consume a bowl of ramen that quickly (which is how it’s meant to be enjoyed in its true form, hot and as fresh as possible) without getting a single drop on yourself. I like to take my time eating, to really savor each bite, but I’ll have to work on my speed here.
After lunch we wandered around a central shopping area, where there were more tourists and upscale locals. We walked into a few shops, like the Adidas and Muji stores, to check out what they were like here (Pretty similar). I looked for a nail salon to get a manicure, but I could only find places that did nail art and gel, which seem to be popular here. We ended up walking across the river to Canal City, an architecturally interesting shopping complex right on the Hakata side of the water (Hakata and Fukuoka were separate cities that merged, something that happens a lot in Japan, with occasionally contentious consequences). I found the mall pretty boring, but I stumbled upon a funny water and light show where a fountain was made to dance along to music, like a (much) smaller version of the magic fountain in Barcelona, one of my favorite places in the world. I was entertained for a few minutes, and then we walked back in the direction of the Airbnb. I stopped at a vending machine for a drink, which I absolutely love. New York should take a lesson.
We walked to Tenjin around 7 and looked for some yatai (food stalls that set up every evening), which used to be prevalent all over Japan but have mostly died out. About 150 still survive in Fukuoka, although there’s a ban on the establishment of new ones. I hope that cities see the potential and bring the yatai back. We passed a few and eventually we found a stretch of four that all had some room. We chose one at random, and pulled back the curtains and entered. The yatai were mostly filled with local salarymen, but once you enter it’s clear that the atmosphere is convivial and even as gaijin, we were welcome.
We ordered an assortment of foods and I asked for shochu, and chatted with the guy next to me as I watched the (I assume) husband and wife owners whip up our food and drinks. The tofu oden (small bites in dashi broth) came out first and was a great starting point. From there, we were served fresh yakitori (I tried a few different parts of the chicken), chives with egg, and the most exquisite little gyoza that had clearly been made by hand. The shochu was good, and I wanted more along with more gyoza, but we decided to move to another yatai.
We walked to Nakasu, the entertainment (part of which is the red light) district, and I was searching for more yatai. Emma wanted dessert, so even though I was hungry I agreed to wander around in search of ice cream. It took a while and I was pretty antsy to get back to the yatai, but by the time we found ice cream (really gelato) and decided the yatai in Nakasu by the water were pricey and too touristy (a decision I stand by), and gotten back to where we had come from, the stalls we were interested in were all full. I was pretty annoyed, but I tried to let it go, and we decided to wait outside one, Kuro, that looked really good and I had read about.
We waited a long time, but we were rewarded, and I’m so happy we did. A few people left and we entered and were transported. Everything looked good so I just ordered a bunch of things.
The charcoal-grilled chicken was the best chicken I’ve ever eaten, without a doubt. It was grilled pretty quickly on a huge open flame. The setup of the yatai was all the more impressive considering they get taken down each night and resurrected the next. They felt more substantial. We ordered a second order and I devoured it. We ordered a few different yakitori (pork belly, pig cartilage, and vegetables wrapped in pork, which was really the only veggie option…) which were awesome, and we also got yaki ramen on the recommendation of a fellow customer, which turned out to be ramen without the broth (the broth was strained out). It was so good and so different. I was so happy we had waited for this yatai. The guy sitting next to us spoke English, and the chef also talked to us. When he heard I was from New York, he said “New York is fucking cool” and we all laughed. I told him I thought Fukuoka was fucking cool in that moment. He’s worked there for 10 years. He asked if he should open a yatai in New York and about regulations. I told him there would be a line stretching down the block.
I had such a good time. I I had 4 or 5 shochu drinks. I love shochu because it’s flavorful and tasty and you can have a lot of it; but it’s also alcoholic. The bill came to about ¥8500 and I paid ¥5000, but it was well worth it. I didn’t love Fukuoka before, but the yatai are such a special and unique experience that I’m so happy to have seen. I can see why Fukuoka is rated as one of the most livable cities in the world: it’s walkable, there’s world-class food, and the people are friendly (even though the bikers and drivers are a bit aggressive).
With a full stomach,