I only learned of Hong Kong hitting extremely hot weather after browsing some news websites. Oh, well, I could imagine the excruciatingly hot and humid weather, and I have to admit I was lucky as I walked between rows of yatai near Nishitetsu Tenjin station in Fukuoka.
Yatai are open-air food stalls in Japan typically selling ramen and various foods. They could be the Japanese version of dai pai dong. Each food stall is equipped with standard water and electricity supply, and flame cooking is permitted.
All owners respect rules and territories of one another. You won’t see folding tables being scattered around wildly even if there are long queues of customers. The lovely congenial atmosphere was probably a result of every stall owner being dedicated to serving no more than 10 diners at their own space at one time.
During the day, Fukuoka could hit 35 degrees Celsius, but it was cool when dusk fell, with a light breeze gently stroking your face. It was nothing like Hakata-ku, where I was reluctant to go in summer. I could not forget the fact that I was soaked in sweat in the yatai 10 years ago.
Having not visited Fukuoka for almost six years, I missed the yatai most and decided to spend two nights there. We went to the first one opposite the Daimaru Fukuoka Tenjin store, which appeared to be the most popular stand.
It took the three of us 25 minutes to squeeze ourselves into the stall. We tried some dishes rumored to be the most ordered. To our surprise, not only could the owner entertain the Korean tourists with simple Korean, he could also chat with us in comprehensible Mandarin and even impress us with a few lines of Cantonese.
No wonder this stand was crowded with tourists.
The next night, we visited the only available yatai in front of Tenjin Loft. We did not have to wait for a table. We came just as the previous guests were finished with their meal of yakisoba, also known as Japanese stir-fried noodles on iron griddle.
The offerings from this stand were much fairer than the one we visited on the first night. Dumplings were immediately wrapped before pan-frying.
Although my stomach was still processing the ramen that I ate at Ichiran Ramen three hours ago, I really couldn’t help but order doteyaki — beef sinew stewed in miso and mirin.
With a pint of beer, we had some tamagoyaki with marinated pollock roe and cheese and then tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) with pork and pickled vegetables.
To end the day perfectly, we had torikawa yaki, a.k.a. skewer of grilled crispy chicken skin, to go with our last gulp of beer. Such a feast cost the three of us only 4,000 Japanese yen.
I started pondering whether one week would be enough for the next yatai exploration of Fukuoka.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 23
Translation by John Chui
[Chinese version 中文版]
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