Get Cultured! – A Guide to Kyushu’s Strangest Local Cuisine
Kyushu (九州) – Japan’s southernmost mainland island has arguably the most sought after and unique cuisine anywhere in Japan. This is due to a multitude of factors, but most importantly their Chinese immigrant influence, geothermal phenomenon, and historic availability of coastal and deep-sea fishing due to their numerous ports.
While not an actual food, these food carts are set up every day alongside rivers in public spaces to feed the masses getting off work late at night. They are stalls that can seat three to six people at a time and are usually surrounded by other food carts. Each is unique and serves its own specialty dinner course which is usually native to their respective city. In Fukuoka (福岡), they are known to serve yakitori (焼き鳥) or barbecued chicken skewers. Yakitori usually involves using the whole chicken, so heart, liver, and kidneys are fair game.
Yet, motsunabe (モツ鍋) is what they are most known for. Motsunabe is a hot pot style stew made from a miso base flavored with konbu (昆布) and vegetables. Meat and vegetables are cooked to perfection in this umami broth and then eaten with pickled vegetables and other Japanese sides. As soon as the stalls are set up, they disappear in the early morning in preparation for the next day. If visiting Fukuoka these are a definitely a must try. You literally can’t miss them as hundreds are set up next to each other and glow in the night from the thousands of lanterns that line their carts.
Jingoku Mushi (地獄蒸し)
Known as “hell steaming,” jingoku mushi is an Edo period practice of using the Earth’s geothermal steam and heat to cook seafood in woven or wire baskets. Due to Kyushu’s geology they sit above massive lava caverns and cracks in the earth’s crust that release immense amounts of pressure. These fissures have been tamed over the centuries to power cooking appliances and entire towns. Large vats of water sit over these cracks in the Earth’s mantle where local sea life such as: crab, oysters, krill, lobster, and muscles are lowered and boiled into oblivion before being consumed by customers. The bath house capital of Japan, Beppu (別府), is most notably known for this practice of cooking.
Dubbed “cherry blossom meat” by squeamish westerners, basashi is a unique Japanese delicacy. It is raw horse meat cut very thin similar to sashimi. It's usually flash frozen to prevent parasites and served within only a few days after being butchered. The meat is typically marbled with fat and can be quite chewy. Don’t let this dissuade you from trying it, it truly is melt in your mouth delicious even if unappealing. Although it can be very expensive, it's super rich in flavor served paired with soy sauce and your choice of rice wine. It hails from the ancient Japanese city of Kumamtoto (熊本市).
Dillon Casali (Fulltime Quapa and Business Student at the University of Oregon)