Yatai: Fukuoka's Food Carts

8 Mar 2017

No travel experience is complete until you’ve order from a menu from which you understand absolutely nothing.

Of course we didn’t plan it that way.

We were on our way to Beppu and Yufuin, after having started our exploration of Japan in Osaka. There was no way we were going to make it that far without an overnight stop somewhere along the way, and we picked Fukuoka.

I can’t say much about Fukuoka, because I didn’t see much of it. But what I did do in Fukuoka was eat through more strange dishes I can count with the fingers in one hand, which, in one sitting, is saying something.

The Yatai are the food carts. This is the way to eat in Fukuoka, home to over 150 yatai.

Most of the yatai are spread over one of two areas: Tenjin or Nagahama. We headed to Tenjin to see if we could find a seat in one of the little huts.

The first thing that I noticed was how many people were hanging out outside on a coldish Thursday night. Swarms of people were walking from yatai to yatai, checking out the menus and making a line to secure a coveted seat around the very tiny table.

The Sakura had not quite blossomed yet but one tree was full of it and there were locals and tourists alike trying to take a night-time self-portrait.

With the distraction in hand, we made for one of the yatais and took two seats. We stared at the menu, a lightbox above the centre of the hut. It was all in Japanese.

Japanese man through smoke in a Yatai in Fukuoka cooking food at night time

We shrugged our shoulders and just stared pointing at different things. Ramen, grilled octopus, grilled chicken, anything goes. The space to eat is but a small wooden bar wide enough for two beers, but we were swiftly filling it with little dishes of food that we could see being cooked just behind the hut on a makeshift grill. I was mentally preparing for a few bad days of an upset stomach.

I could show you pictures of the Ramen, the grilled bits and bobs… but to be honest, this is more of an experience that you have to have. I barely touched my camera once the food had arrived. A plump English lady promptly sat beside us, looked around and asked, “what’s good?”. We made conversation. There’s only 12 seats or so in each hut, so one quickly makes friends with the neighbours.

Having eaten our fair share of nibbles, ramen, beef and Umeshu (sweet plum wine), we slowly walked back to our Ryokan and fared Fukuoka good night.

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