I first went to Japan in my early teens. There wasn’t much I could remember, except the crisscrossing roads seen from the plane’s window, and Japanese steak cooked in volcanic rocks.
Friends who regularly visit Japan would tell me about its delicious food, how everything there is expensive. But they also recounted stories I would only dream about. And so I had a long-standing wish to see Japan again, with a host and a guide to show me around.
Fortunately, our food show “Foodprints” on the Lifestyle Network (channel 52 on Sky Cable) was invited to cover where Filipinos go and eat in Japan.
The production was a tie-up with Fuji TV of Japan. I was the host and Fuji TV showed us the best dining places of the cities we featured. All I needed to do was eat and share my experience.
There were several things I learned from this visit: Life in Japan is not that expensive; authentic Japanese cuisine is a whole new experience and even convenience stores have superb food items; the Japanese are the kindest, most polite most helpful people I have met; and, last but not least, shopping can be cheap and fake items are nonexistent.
On the first part of the show, we featured Hiroshima, Totori and other places. And then last week, we did part two which included Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki and Kumamoto.
Fukuoka is known as a gastronomic city or the kitchen of Hakata. Out first stop was Yanagibashi-Rengo Ichiba (market) where you can find the freshest fish like fuku, or the poisonous blow fish, Buri or Yellowtail.
At the Fukuoka market they make dashi or dried, thinly sliced flaked fish, cod roe and many others.
There I also learned that when fish is dried, the enzymes create a reaction that makes the fish more flavorful when rehydrated.
Fukuoka market is also an interesting dining destination. We had grilled Hamachi head, simmered fish head in a
teriyaki-like sauce, an assortment of sashimi over rice with nori flakes and fish eggs, and unagi or grilled eel over sticky Japanese rice.
I don’t know if it was the psychology of the place and its ambiance, but everything we ate was simply delicious.
I also saw how the scary blow fish or fuku was cleaned. Its poison is said to be found in the eyes, innards and blood, so the Japanese chef expertly cleaned the fish, sliced it
sashimi-style, and arranged it neatly on a platter before being served. I had it with freshly grated wasabi and a dab of soy sauce.
The initial taste was nothing extraordinary yet fresh and chewy. But as I took more of it, masarap na.
From the market, we went to Motsune Shoraku Tenjinten. The place serves beef innards in a chicken broth with either miso, soy, or salt and pepper.
I chose the miso base. The dish was like a hot pot with lots of veggies. Ramen was added to the broth. Very good.
Later in the evening we explored the night stalls of Hakata along the river.
I sampled Yaki Ramen, which was like a sauteed pancit canton but using ramen. I preferred this one over the beef innards with soup.
I loved the gyoza stall, where there’s a chef who, for the past 50 years, has been specializing crunchy gyoza, its dough delicate and chewy, the best version I had ever come across.
And to think everything I devoured was healthy.
Incidentally, starting March 2017, Japanese company JTB will be organizing culinary tours in Japan including the best-tasting food places featured on “Foodprints.”
More holiday food list
Here’s my additional food list for the holidays.
1) La Reina—Spanish cuisine-educated Señora Regina Francisco serves outstanding chicken chorizo de Bilbao. She also makes a mean crispy, boneless pork belly. Yum!
2) Pastry chef Penk Ching’s 5, 8, and 10-inch individually wrapped sugar balls. Crack them and get a surprise. Tel. 0917-8122676