Yanagibashi Market, or ‘Hakata’s kitchen’ as it is sometimes known, has been supplying Fukuoka’s restaurants and residents alike with the freshest fish, vegetables, meat and other local produce for nearly 100 years. We visited the charming arcade on a Saturday morning to gather ourselves an al fresco lunchtime feast and extend our knowledge of the various ingredients used in Japanese cuisine.
The market is walking distance from both Tenjin and Hakata, but its nearest station is Yakuin on the Nishitetsu line. The main thoroughfare is compact and inviting, with friendly stall owners on hand to offer explanations, recommendations or just to chat. When we visited, more than one of them apologised for the relative lack of fish that day, as the weather had been bad. Nevertheless, the selection on offer was impressive, ranging from precious-looking piles of small silver dried fish to live crabs and larger fish destined for the sashimi platter.
Much of the stalls’ fresh local fare is not usually found in supermarkets and we discovered a surprising variety of new food, such as messy-looking blood clams, the biggest bamboo shoots we’d ever seen, and controversial cuts of whale meat on a specialist counter.
Mirugai, or geoduck in English, are giant clams with long snake-like bodies which emerge from their shells and spray water at any unsuspecting tourists who approach. We had to keep our distance for this photo (the mirugai are on the far left) after we fell foul to the strange creature’s very rude habit.
Two of the market’s highlights are the okashi shop, selling deliciously fresh traditional Japanese sweets, and the large satsuma-age stall with its assorted shapes made from fried fish paste. At the former, we sampled delicious seasonal treats such as ichigo daifuku, a round rice ball with sweet bean paste and a ripe Fukuoka strawberry in the middle, and sakura mochi – sweet pink rice wrapped in an edible cherry blossom leaf.
At one stall, we saw how traditional methods are used to make the dried fish flakes in dashi, which gives soba and udon broths their distinct flavour. Bonito fish, horse mackerel and round herring are dried and smoked, then ground into flakes and powder which are then widely used in dishes from nabe to takoyaki. We watched as the stall workers worked hard to sift the flakes into bags to sell to the area’s restaurant owners and weekend chefs.
Back at the entrance to the market, we had time to admire the teapots at the tea stall, and sample some of the different types of cha on display. A temporary stand had been set up nearby to serve grilled oysters to hungry lunchtime shoppers, which we decided to sample – oishii!
For Fukuoka’s gourmets and those curious about Japanese food, Yanagibashi is an enjoyable way to spend a morning in the city and find some unique lunchtime ingredients. You might even make some new friends, as we did.
Taking photos is fine, but be quick and polite. Remember this is a market for busy people and not a tourist destination. Resist picking up and touching everything too! The floors might be wet, so wear proper shoes. Have fun!
Open 8:00~18:00 (varies by shop)
Closed: Sun., Hol.
Address: 1-5-1, Haruyoshi, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
By Katie Forster for Fukuoka Now.
Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn183, Mar. 2014)