Kyushu Food Guide: 8 Wonders of Japan's Southwest Coast
Japan is a country that takes great pride in its food culture, and nowhere is that truer than in Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan's four main islands. Kyushu's volcanic soil is packed with nutrients, which along with its warm temperate climate makes the area an agricultural paradise. In addition, Kyushu was a major trading port in previous times, even when the rest of Japan was closed off to foreign countries, which has given the area a unique food culture that seamlessly blends together Japanese, Chinese, and Western sensibilities. A visit to Kyushu would not be complete without experiencing these 8 epicurean wonders—taste them for yourself!
Kyushu Food Explored: 8 Delicious Dishes
Hakata Ramen (Fukuoka)
The taste of Hakata ramen on the northern shore of Kyushu in Fukuoka is popular not only within Kyushu but also across Japan. The creamy white broth is made from pork bones, as pork—and kurobuta or black pork, in particular—is one of the famous agricultural products of Kyushu. The bones are simmered for hours until they become gelatin; then the soup is topped with chopped scallions and tender slices of char-siu pork. Another signature trait of Hakata ramen is its thin straight noodles, cooked al dente, which will have you begging for a second helping, or as it's known in Japanese, kaedama.
Champon is a specialty dish from the Nagasaki region on the northwestern coast of Kyushu, where it was made for Chinese students who were studying there during the Meiji Era. Like ramen, champon is a noodle dish featuring meat, vegetables and broth; but unlike ramen, champon's noodles are cooked directly in the soup. The robust taste is achieved by frying meat and vegetables together and then adding the broth, thick egg noodles, kamaboko fish cake, and other seafood. It's a hearty and affordable dish that embodies the true taste of Nagasaki.
Chicken Nanban (Miyazaki)
The signature dish of Miyazaki located on Kyushu's southeastern coast is chicken nanban. Made using some of the region’s famed free-range chicken, this fried piece of heaven is first coated in sweet and tangy vinegar, then topped off with tartar sauce. The dish originated in Miyazaki family restaurants and has become so popular that it can now be found everywhere from izakaya bars to convenience stores throughout Japan. While chicken nanban may not be gourmet, it is unquestionably delicious and deserves its place as a regional food turned national Japanese sensation.
Sasebo Burger (Nagasaki)
Hamburgers may be the last item one would expect to be a specialty food in Kyushu. However, as Nagasaki’s Sasebo City has long been home to a U.S. naval base, it should come as no great surprise that Nagasaki has a tradition of old-fashioned, handmade burgers going back several decades. Although there is no official Sasebo burger recipe, some things never change: Sasebo burgers are always generously huge, lip-smackingly greasy and lovingly made to order from local ingredients. Popular varieties include hearty burgers heaped with bacon and fried eggs, as well as massive ground chicken burgers made with poultry from the Kyushu region.
Motsunabe, which originated in the Hakata region, is a hot pot of beef or pork tripe. While its main ingredient may sound intimidating to some, don’t let the ingredients get in the way of trying this tasty cuisine. Being high in protein and low in calories, motsunabe is not only delicious but also extremely healthy. In Fukuoka, the tripe is cut into delicate morsels and simmered with cabbage and nira garlic chives until tender, then sprinkled with red chili pepper. Motsunabe is an essential part of Kyushu food culture, especially in the winter, and has gained popularity across Japan in recent years as a dish that helps keep away the cold. Just one taste and you’ll see why.
Kagoshima, on the southwestern tip of Kyushu, is the most famous producer of Kyushu's kurobuta pork, and no dish highlights this better than tonkatsu pork cutlets. Tonkatsu from this region is especially delicious, with succulent bites of meltingly rich pork coated in crisp panko bread crumbs. The two main types of tonkatsu are hire (pork fillet) or rosu (pork loin), with hire being the leaner cut of meat and rosu the juicier cut with more marbling. Tonkatsu is best enjoyed with a bit of karashi yellow mustard and a fruity Worcestershire sauce-based tonkatsu sauce that is truly a cut above the rest.
A spicy cod roe marinated in red pepper, mentaiko was originally a Korean delicacy that came to Japan due to Fukuoka’s geographical closeness to mainland Asia. Mentaiko from Fukuoka has since become a regional specialty, known for its high quality and exceptional freshness, and is now a popular souvenir to take home from this area. It may be eaten raw, seared or mixed in as a topping that adds a rich, salty and spicy Japanese punch to any dish. Try the wonders of mentaiko pizza and pasta, or even mentaiko potato salad—and never go back!
Ikinari Dango (Kumamoto)
Kumamoto, on the western coast of Kyushu, is well known for the ikinari dango, a steamed bun with bean jam and sweet potato filling. This delectable dumpling gets its name because it may be easily cooked ikinari or "at a moment's notice"; it’s also a popular Kumamoto souvenir—that is if you can wait to chow down until after your trip! Ikinari dango is created by cutting sweet potatoes into thick slices, slathering each one with sweetened azuki bean paste, and then wrapping them in mochi flour. Once finally steamed, the harmony of three distinct textures—the sweet potato, the bean paste and the mochi—comes together in every bite. You’ll have a ball eating this special dessert.
From Hakata Ramen to Ikinari Dango, Kyushu Food Is Worth the Travel
In addition to hearty bowls of Hakata ramen and Nagasaki champon noodles, Kyushu is also home to a wide range of delicious foods including upscale free-range chicken, luscious kurobuta pork dishes and down-to-earth burgers. Thanks to the area's rich agricultural resources and history as a foreign trading port, Kyushu food culture combines world-class ingredients with an awesome blend of Japanese, Chinese, and Western flavors—all of which you should experience if given the chance. For regional food lovers who still have a hankering for Japan, why not try a taste of the tropics with Okinawan food, too? So much food, and so little time to eat it—that’s why we’re here!