Grazing…I mean Feasting…in Kumamoto

21-22 November 2015

I had a wonderful albeit short first stint in Tokyo. I always try to get away for a few days to another part of Japan. This time I headed to Kyushu by plane. Flight was HND-FUK…no f**kin’ kidding. But Fukuoka wasn’t my final stop, just the cheapest internal flight (under USD 100!). I got my bag, hopped onto the Fukuoka subway to Hakata Station (FUK is so close to the city it’s amazing, especially considering Japan!) and went to buy a Shinkansen ticket.

I got my ticket but they told me to run as the next train leaves in 3 minutes…so I legged it and jumped onto a very full bullet train on this holiday Saturday to Kumamoto. I had forgotten this was a 3-day weekend when I made this booking, which explains the ridiculously priced hotel… I got to Kumamoto quickly but the trek to the hotel took nearly as long — as the city trams were running weekend schedule despite the rush of people arriving by train… It was pretty chaotic…and hot…

I chilled out in my tiny, ridiculous room, that cost more than my big room in Tokyo. Ugh…this is what happens when you don’t book early. I’m usually a stickler for booking early (which is why I have more rigid plans than most solo travellers), but this time was my fail…

Spent a bit of time looking at food ideas, as it was mid-afternoon when I got settled in. So I just chilled and tried to get my bearings. It’s not a big centre area, so I decided to basically do it on foot — it was easy, as the area is pretty much in a grid-like formation. I headed out with some targets, but sometimes you just improvise…

The centre of Kumamoto has a lot of food places, as it is a town known for food. I headed to my first target, a basashi-specialist place called Suganoya. I got there pretty early as it was just opening at 5pm. They told me they needed the space by 7pm and that’s not a problem at all! So I took the counter seat and chilled out with some sake and ordered their specialty. Basashi, if you didn’t know, is the local specialty and it’s horse sashimi.

1-basashi

The set arrived and presented several different cuts with different layers of marbelling. As well as the liver (top right). It was pretty good, and as you know, horse is extremely mild, so it was easy to eat. Good quality. I had also ordered another of Kumamoto’s specialty foods, karashi renkon

1-karashi renkon

This is unique to the area and most people are like, what? It’s actually fried lotus root stuffed with mustard. And yes, Japanese yellow mustard burns far, far more than wasabi… It is a great snack for booze, and worked as a good counter-measure to the mild basashi. I enjoyed this early dinner and since it was still very early I ordered more…

1-nikuzushi-01

This time a plate of nikuzushi — or meat sushi. An assortment of cuts here, and it was very nice. I’ve had them in Tokyo in the past but these are excellent quality. Lovely, and kept me full enough to say goodbye to this place. Nice, friendly place. Kumamoto is starting well!

I wandered around for a bit checking out how this town works as the sun’s now down and people are out on this busy holiday Saturday. After quite a bit I decided to drop into an izakaya I saw. It was a regional chain with the imposing name of Hakata Ichibandori Isyokuya Arai, but it was what I was looking for — more food with more booze.

It was very relaxed inside with a good bar doing both drinks and grilling, and I was very appreciative of the very picturesque menu (this is the advantage sometimes with Japanese chain restaurants/bars/izakayas) and ordered. I went with a beer this time at first, switching to a local shochu later as my food soon arrived…

2-bacon_quail_egg-cartilage

First up was grilled quail eggs wrapped by bacon and a skewer of chicken cartilage. This chain was famous for its chicken, a wonderful local variety, so I ordered more chicken…

2-chicken tail

A sizzling plate of chicken tail. Love this stuff. Rich but nice, which is why I switched to the shochu. Excellent taste, it’s one of my favourite parts of the chicken whenever I am in Japan. I chilled out a bit and ordered another drink and thought, why not, one more round…

2-pork rib

The next skewer was a simple pork rib, which sadly was rather tasteless and grey… But all that was made up with a sizzling dish of motsu

2-motsu

Motsu is basically chitlins, and that’s one of my favourite things to eat, especially done this way. Lovely dish, full of flavour. I ended up taking a young Yamazaki after this (very reasonably priced!) before heading out.

I wandered around a bit but for the first time on this trip jetlag was starting to affect me, so I decided to turn in and have a good sleep. The next morning I was up early and I headed out to the famous Suizen-ji Gardens. A beautiful place, peaceful once the initial 8am entry crowd got lost in the grounds and I had a lot of space for myself — to slowly stroll and think. I needed time to think, which was part of the reason for this trip. Although at times I felt I was in Telletubby Land

I eventually strolled out and took the tram back towards the centre and spent a bit of time exploring the grounds of Kumamoto Castle. It was reconstructed as most castles in Japan are, but still imposing. I enjoyed walking around the walls and the edges more, as the place was overrun by tourists this holiday Sunday morning.

Being a holiday Sunday I worried about having no bookings, and I was right. First place I went, a well-known place near the castle, was completely booked up even at 11am. I ended up wandering around for a little and found a place I had read about called Aoyagi — and they were happy to feed me despite filling up very, very quickly within minutes of me walking in.

This was another place famous for their basashi, so since I’m in Kumamoto, why not, right? I ordered another set and well, this was far, far better…

3-basashi

This was just beautiful. You have the sublime liver on the top left, some excellent lean meat on the top right, then wonderfully rich marbelled meat on the lower right. Then goodness, on the lower left is the most amazing thing to eat, neck mane fat. This was even more succulent than a high-quality Matsusaka beef like at Satou in Tokyo (where I revisit in a little over a week). Just melts in your mouth…wow. So amazingly damn good!

They were not rushing me and were actually asking if I wanted more food and drink, so I obliged! I ordered more sake and then more food. First up was something I will never be able to get anywhere else, horse motsu

3-horse motsu

Yeah, horse intestines. The menu (in English!) claims it is the “least gamey offal” in the world, which isn’t a selling point for me but maybe others! It is very mild, as horse is in general, and it was tasty. I do still prefer stronger motsu though… I was having so much fun so I ended up getting another of Kumamoto’s specialty…

3-squid

A very nice and large squid, sliced just before service. And as you know the squid has movement left if you put soy sauce on it (myoelectric reaction to sodium ions), so I was having fun between eating slices and playing with the moving tentacles after dripping soy on it. I’m bad. But it was very tasty and fresh so it was a great end to this epic lunch. Wow!

I wandered around a bit and back to my hotel, as I was beyond full. I had to get a few things sorted too so it wasn’t until a bit later when I headed back out to enjoy my last evening in this town. I’ve grown to like this place quite a lot, as much as I just fell for Hiroshima when I was there earlier this year. Although it was a 3-day weekend, this Sunday evening was a little quieter than last night — but not much. You can see folks really enjoying themselves.

I walked around a bit and found another place I read about called Higo no Jinya and went in. A large izakaya that was busy, but had a large counter so I happily perched myself at the corner, again thankful for the picturesque menu. I ordered some sake and a round of food and the night was beginning! I won’t do this epic evening in order but present some of the highlights. Let’s say I was in there for hours…

2-baby octopus

The marinated baby octopus was excellent. These are common in Japan, but I just love these.

4a-crab butter-wasabi squid

I also had some crab butter, which was excellent with the cucumber slices. Rich and nice! And the squid in wasabi was fabulous!

6-pork bone

The “pork bone” was a strong dish, excellent flavours. I had some chicken too, as well as squid innards, but the highlight of the evening was certainly the shishamo

1-shishamo

Oh goodness I so love these things! In fact I ordered this first, middle, and last! I ended up eating 8 of these through the night! So full with roe, it’s beyond dreamy…

After over 2 hours of heavy eating and drinking I said my goodbye to the very wonderful staff here. Lovely place. I really like this town!

I wandered around and dropped into a few bars, which fascinated the locals. Surprised how chatty they were to a foreigner. But it was good fun, and after a bit of bar-hopping (focusing on drinks), my head was getting woozy — a combination of booze and jetlag, which is deadly. But not much damage, though I ended up at a robata/izakaya that I don’t quite remember the details of, and managed to eat more…

X-seafood

I remember a wonderful set of shellfish that I grilled…utterly fantastic! And then one of my favourite things, salmon belly…

X-salmon belly

These fried pieces were heaven in a bite, rich and oily good. I remember my shock when I saw my bill as this was ridiculously cheap. I wish I took a copy as I paid in cash, so I sadly do not remember the name of this place! Sorry!

I wandered back into my tiny crappy hotel (the APA Kumamoto has friendly staff but the rooms are frighteningly small) and crashed out. Not a late start tomorrow, but a train ride south for Kagoshima… Oh, I really adore this town!

Suganoya [菅乃屋]
Jotomachi 2-12, Chuo-ku

Hakata Ichibandori Isyokuya Arai [博多 一番どり 居食屋 あらい]
Shinshigai 2-8, Chuo-ku

Aoyagi [青柳]
Shimotori 1-2-10, Chuo-ku

Higo no Jinya [肥後の陣屋]
Shimotori 1-5-20, Chuo-ku
Kumamoto, Japan

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7 thoughts on “Grazing…I mean Feasting…in Kumamoto

  1. Pingback: Scratching…I mean FUMING in Kagoshima… | melhuang1972

  2. Pingback: My Top 10 Dishes of 2015 | melhuang1972

  3. Pingback: Feasting in Okinawa…Oh My! | melhuang1972

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