Known for its rich, pork-based broth and extra thin noodles, Hakata ramen is a popular dish that first appeared at food stations in Nakasu, Fukuoka starting in the early 1940s. The noodles can vary in firmness, sort of like how pasta can come al dente; there’s even an extra firm version known as “barikata” that is about as close as you can get to raw noodles. Hakata ramen can be found all around the world these days, but some of the best is still served right in Fukuoka. And feel free to add some pickled ginger, garlic, and chili to give it a little extra kick!Yatai: 800,000
Hakata, Fukuoka is also known for its yatai (street food stalls). As the sun goes down in Hakata, more than a hundred street vendors will descend on the city, especially around the Naka River. They say that more than 40% of all the yatai in Japan gather here in Hakata. This tradition has its roots in the Edo period, and became especially popular during WWII; many foods and ingredients were strictly monitored during wartime, so common citizens used these unauthorized food stalls to get their hands on restricted dishes. After the war, the government passed a number of strict health and cleanliness laws, forcing many yatai all over Japan to shut down. And yet, the stall owners in Hakata united to battle for their right to exist, and thanks to their efforts and unlimited love for yatai culture, the Fukuoka local government accepted their demands. As of the 1950s, it became a legal, regulated business; as long as you obtained a permit and could pass standard health tests and regulations, anyone could open a yatai in Hakata. Thanks to this process, you can eat as much Hakata street food as you want without ever worrying about getting sick!
The most popular yatai dish is almost certainly ramen, but you can also get yakitori, oden, soba—just about anything! At first glance, these food stalls may seem to small to be able to sit and enjoy your meal in comfort, but that’s actually the fun part! You end up sitting elbow-to-elbow with total strangers, allowing you to strike up conversations with them as if you’ve known them all your life. Everyone’s there to enjoy the yatai food, culture, and likeminded company. There’s a stereotype that Japanese people are shy, but when you sit down at a stall, you’re in their world now! So just jump in with both feet and enjoy the enthusiastic hospitality of the Japanese people. Even if you don’t speak the language, there’s a bit of magic in the yatai culture—you’ll find yourself having amazing conversations without ever understanding a thing! You can spend the evening at a single yatai, or hop from one to another. Since there’s dozens and dozens of food stalls decorating the streets of Hakata, you won’t run out anytime soon…!