Japan destinations – Fukuoka

Naka river
Naka river

Of all the Japanese cities we have visited, Fukuoka ranks among the top of our favourites, because it strikes a balance of being urban without being congested.

We arrived at Fukuoka from Yakushima around noon, and it took us a while to sort out our luggage storage. Since we would be flying from Fukuoka airport again, we left two pieces of luggage in a coin operated locker. The widespread availability of lockers and luggage forwarding service in Japan makes life a lot easier for travellers.

By the time we got to Chikae for lunch, it was past 2pm, and the restaurant was virtually empty. The waitresses kept emphasizing to us that the set lunch was no longer available. I suppose that’s the main draw during lunch time, a good value at 1300 Yen. We opted for the course meal, which starts at 4500 Yen, so as to get to sample more dishes. We might have done so anyway even if we got there in time for the set lunch. This would be my second Kaiseki meal (the course meal at Yunotakean in Yufuin being the first ever).

Chikae1
The course meal. Very carefully put together, very pleasing to the eyes, and tastes as good as it looks
Chikae2
The set even includes a western style cheesy casserole (mini sized). Now that i look at the photos, actually i do wonder if it was worth the price. I would say the presentation, quality of the food and the service was top notch, and it was priced accordingly.
Chinese 'bao' normally come with pork filling, but this one comes with Wagyu beef
The Chinese ‘bao’ we are accustomed to normally come with pork filling, but this one comes with Wagyu beef filling
FkDSC_0087-01
Nice sauteed fish
Fried octopus
Fried octopus
The attractive centre-piece fish tanks
The attractive centre-piece fish tanks

My 1.5 days itinerary for Fukuoka consisted of only two things – food and shopping. We wasted no time and began our shopping at Tenjin Chikagae, the underground shopping mall. It has a very nice ambiance, and it’s amazing that it connects to all the shopping malls in and around Tenjin – Daimaru, Parco and Mitsukoshi department stores being the most prominent ones.

By chance, we walked into North Tenjin, at the northeastern exit of Tenjin Chikagae, and found Matsumoto Kiyoshi, a beauty/pharmaceutical products shop that would interest most Asian women shoppers. Unlike in Osaka, where you will find many of such shops, this was the only shop in Fukuoka that stocked all the items my better half was looking for. So here’s an important tip for shopping in Fukuoka – Tip #1 If you’re looking to buy beauty/pharmaceutical products in Fukuoka, look no further than Matsumoto Kiyoshi. The store at North Tenjin is probably the most easily accessible one, and they are well stocked. The other well-stocked outlet is at Canal City. At each of these two outlets, you will find an SK II counter selling the products at discounted prices. At the time we were there, the Facial Treatment Essence was offered at 30% discount off the retail price (15400 Yen). Obviously, you can imagine what happened..

Speaking of North Tenjin, i read that, at levels 6 and 7, there is a shop selling Anime figurines. I didn’t visit the shop, but this might be of interest to some.

We were thinking of getting some toys for the kids, but there is just a very small toys section at Daimaru, and none at the other stores, except Aeon, at the building north of North Tenjin, which used to be Daiei. Tip #2 If you’re looking for a less upscale department store, look no further than Aeon (formerly Daiei). At the time we were there, foreign tourists were given a 5% storewide discount, in addition to tax free shopping (subject to some processing fee). At the basement, there is a supermarket, and i managed to buy Japanese whiskey and Sake. Japanese snacks, condiments or fruits might be of interest to some and there’s no better place to pick up these than here. Although the toys section was pretty small too, we managed to buy get something for the kids.

You probably already know this, Fukuoka is famous for Tonkotsu Ramen. I came to Fukuoka with a very important mission in mind – to understand Tonkotsu Ramen. I decided very early on that I was going to give Ichiran a miss after the slightly disappointing experience in Tokyo. Instead, I was looking forward to try Mengekijo Genei.

Took a ride on one of the newer subway lines. This must be the most open subway train driver seat i have ever seen. This is a testament to how safe Fukuoka and Japan on the whole is.
Took a ride on one of the newer subway lines to get to Mengekijo Genei. This must be the most unsecured subway train driver seat i have ever seen. This is a testament to how safe Fukuoka and Japan on the whole is.
The theatre like seating
The theatre like seating with the chef putting up a “performance” of cooking your noodles
The seafood broth ramen, i think. Ordered 3 of the 4 types of ramen on the menu, and 2 of them turned out to be more or less the same, with one having additional dried shrimp. The soup was clear as you can see. I still prefer the Tonkotsu ramen.
The seafood broth Ramen, i think. Ordered 3 of the 4 types of Ramen on the menu, and 2 of them turned out to be more or less the same, with one having additional dried shrimp. The soup was clear as you can see.  Between this and their Tonkotsu Ramen, i very much prefer the latter.
Tonkotsu Ramen, improvised. The soup is slightly creamy and very soothing. The pork is thinly sliced, almost like bacon, but not smoked. It is nicely charred. The noodles is like wonton noodles, very taut, very different from any other Ramen i have tried, but i still prefer the usual Ramen noodles. Overall, i think they have created a very special and compelling bowl of Ramen.
The menu for your reference
The menu for your reference

On the way back to the hotel, we popped into the Hakata Ikkousha shop which was just opposite the hotel and ordered another 2 bowls of ramen. To be honest, after 3 bowls of ramen at Mengekijo Genei, shared between 2 adults and 2 kids, we were already very full. But i had a mission to accomplish!

Hakata Ikkousha
Hakata Ikkousha was quite busy even past 9pm, maybe partly because their pricing is about the lowest among the chains
Tonkotsu ramen
Tonkotsu Ramen, with thick collagen and fatty bits floating all over the broth. I’m not sure if this makes it more “traditional”, but it certainly felt like it was a classic.
Thick Ramen with Dashi gravy. The taste was a little too strong for my liking, but the noodles was pretty good.
Thick Ramen with Dashi style gravy. The taste was a little too strong for my liking, but the noodles were pretty good.

The next morning, we were back to the Tenjin area again to complete the shopping we didn’t manage to finish the day before. I noted from the previous day that there was a shop in Tenjin Chikagae that had a very long queue. It sounded familiar as i somewhat recall reading about them from a Facebook posting. Well, it was Bake cheese tart, no less. I decided i had to try the tart, and the best time to do so was when they were just open in the morning.

Not much of a queue at just over 10am
Not much of a queue at just over 10am
Gone in 60 seconds, almost
Gone in 60 seconds, almost. I was the only person in the queue who did not buy a box with a dozen of the tarts.
Amazing texture - light yet not watery, gooey yet clumpy.
Amazing texture – light yet not watery, gooey yet clumpy.

A few hours of shopping passed very quickly, and it was time for lunch. Sushiryuu was my choice, the only Sushi meal for the trip.

The normal set is good value, but nothing extraordinary.
The normal set was very good value, but nothing extraordinary in terms of taste.
The "high" set was very good!
The “high” set was very good! And i mean very good.
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The premium sets. Actually they are quite reasonably priced (in comparison to prices at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market) for premium Sushi.

It was time for Ramen again, right after the Sushi meal. Again, we were quite full from the Sushi, but i had a mission to accomplish! Ippudo was conveniently located in AMU Plaza Hakata station. By the way, i read raving reviews about Il Forno del Mignon in Hakata station, but totally forgotten about them when we walked past the station. Anyway, as it was, we didn’t have much room for the Ramen, much less for pastries.

Ippudo's Tonkotsu Ramen, the most "balanced" one. The soup was very creamy but not fatty, The Chashu were soft and just the right thickness. If i had to choose a winner, Ippudo is it!
Ippudo’s Tonkotsu Ramen, the most “balanced” one. The soup was very creamy but not fatty, The Chashu were soft and just the right thickness. The noodles were white (without Kansui?) and i like it this way just a wee bit more than the yellowish type noodles. If i had to choose a winner, Ippudo is the one!
Perfect soft boiled egg!
Perfect soft boiled egg!
Dumplings. Don't remember it being outstanding.
Dumplings. I don’t remember it being outstanding.
The menu
The menu

The Tenjin-Hakata area can be covered on foot, and i felt this was easier than having to locate the 100 yen bus service, so we walked to Canal City, which was right smack in the middle between Tenjin and Hakata.

Contrary to what i imagined, Canal City didn’t offer much in terms of shopping. There was a Matsumoto Kiyoshi at the basement, a Muji shop at level 4, and not much else that was noteworthy. This was a 20 year old mall mind you (i wasn’t aware beforehand), and it was still pretty amazing for what it is, being such a forward looking shopping complex. It did have a fantastic rest area at level 2 with very comfortable couches, where we were able to rest, and my kids were able to take a peaceful nap inside their kid carrier.

I proceeded to comb the mall, checking to see if there was any offering that would suit our needs. Matsumoto Kiyoshi was one shop that did. Also, at the Grand Hyatt Hotel side of Canal City, i was able to find a bakery that sold a birthday cake. It was my son’s birthday the day before but we didn’t manage to get him a birthday cake. Although this cake itself was nothing special, the bakery offered to write a birthday greeting on a piece of chocolate to be placed on the cake. I got the staff to write the happy birthday greeting in Japanese. Now, that’s SOMETHING!

Thank you Grand Hyatt for such a thoughtful service
Thank you Grand Hyatt for such a thoughtful service

There is a Ramen Stadium in Canal City with 8 different Ramen restaurants to choose from. Obviously, i wasn’t going to eat Ramen after all that food from lunch, plus the cake. What i also found interesting at Canal City was the hourly (or maybe half hourly) water fountain show.

The fan-like water fountain looks decidedly Japanese.
The fan-like water fountain looks decidedly Japanese.
A mini fountain area where, instead of the usual jet stream, you get perforated water sprouts. Super Kawaii!
A mini fountain area where, instead of the usual water stream, it sprouts perforated water droplets. Super Kawaii!
There happened to be a performance (maybe part of the 20th anniversary celebration). The costume, the music, the dance moves - it doesn't get more Japanese than this!
There happened to be a performance while we were there (maybe part of the 20th anniversary celebration). The costume, the music, the dance moves – it doesn’t get more Japanese than this!

We crossed over to Nakasu island and sat next to the Naka river. The atmosphere was very pleasant at this time, as the sun was setting.

The Yatais along the Naka river were already kicking into action at this time
Naka river. Yatais can be seen lining the path near the bridge.
The Yatais along the Naka river were kicking into action at 630pm
The Yatais were probably open by 6pm. The highest concentration of Yatais was to be found here. For us, it was still too early for dinner.

We continued walking towards Tenjin. The Yatais in this area were sparsely located, but they were very busy. There was just one that could accomodate us, and we took it. The food turned out to be pretty good.

The Yatai was run by a couple who were quite senior. A good sign.
The Yatai was run by a couple who were entering their senior years. Probably a good sign.
Mentaiko, the Yatai's signature dish. Also one of Fukuoka's signature dishes. Cod roe wrapped in omelette. Mmmm..
Mentaiko Tamago Yaki, the Yatai’s signature dish – Pollock roe wrapped in omelette. Mmmm!
Yasai Itame
Yasai Itame
Tempura
Tempura
Last but not least, Ramen. With this bowl, i declare mission accomplished! The soup was creamy, but less rich than those i have tasted before. I would call this the everyday Ramen. It was satisfying.
Last but not least, Ramen. With this bowl, i declare mission accomplished! The soup was creamy, but less rich than those i have tasted before. I would call this the everyday Ramen. It was satisfying enough.
Customers' name cards pasted all over the ceiling
Customers’ name cards pinned all over the ceiling

What impressed me during this Yatai experience was one of the “uncle” dining at the Yatai who struck up a conversation with another diner, and who offered to take a photo of us. It underscores the friendliness of the Japanese, and how they look out for each other.

I’ll be back, Japan!

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