Now Reports

Fukuoka is Saba City!

saba intro shot

Located on Hakata Bay facing the Genkai Sea, the city of Fukuoka is known throughout Japan for its delicious fish. One of the most loved fishes of local Fukuokans is saba, or mackerel. Packed with fatty acids, saba comes into season in the fall and winter, but Fukuokans enjoy it year-round. Any way you serve it—raw, as sashimi, marinated in dressing or grilled—saba is delicious. In fact, it’s no stretch to consider saba the most popular fish in Fukuoka. So, why do Fukuokans love it so much?


Topic 1

Northern Kyushu, where Fukuoka is located, is one of the few places in Japan where you can eat saba raw. Saba, like all oily fish, spoil faster than white fish, so in many other parts of Japan, they are typically lightly pickled or eaten cooked. So, why did people in this area start eating raw saba? The reason can be found in the geography. The fishing grounds of the Genkai Sea lie just beyond the mouth of Hakata Bay. Having grown up in turbid waters, fish caught here are heartier, and when in season during the colder months, they are fattier as well. Fishing boats land their catches directly at the Fukuoka City Seafood Market, which is only a 10-minute drive from the city center, and there they are auctioned off daily. In Fukuoka, it only takes a short time for fresh saba to reach your plate, and that’s the main reason it can be eaten raw here. Another reason is that the saba from this part of the ocean carry almost no Anisakis parasites. Many Fukuokans who’ve been eating raw saba since childhood without any problems can attest to this.


Topic 2

Whether it’s served as sashimi or grilled with salt, Fukuokans love saba. The sheer number of local restaurants that carry sabasabadishes on the menu is a testament to the fish’s popularity. The most famous dish of all, however, is goma saba—raw mackerel dressed with sesame and soy sauce. Many Japanese-style pubs and Japanese food restaurants serve this dish, and many locals even serve it at home. Since the flavoring is a little rich, it goes well with rice and sake, but Fukuokans of all ages love goma saba. Each restaurant and household has its own flavor. Although the simplest version of the dish just uses sesame and soy sauce, other variations include sugar, mirin (sweet cooking sake) and sake. It is often topped with chopped green onions, wasabi or shiso, and sometimes it is served with finely chopped daikon radish or wakame seaweed. The best time to enjoy goma saba is when the fish is in season in late fall and early winter, but you can find it on the menu almost year-round, so why not try it whenever you go out?


Topic 3

Of course, raw is not the only way to enjoy saba in Fukuoka. Restaurants offering set meals will afford you the chance to try one of the many other delicious ways the fish can be prepared. Japanese people love set meals, simple combinations of rice, miso soup and a main dish. Many set meal restaurants offer saba-based meals, but the most “Fukuokan” of them all is saba mirin. This dish is made by soaking saba in a mixture of soy sauce and mirin, then letting it dry and serving it with rice. The sweetness of the mirin counters the richness of the fish, making for a delightful dish. In Tokyo and other regions of Japan, people are not accustomed to eating sweetened dried fish, so saba mirin is a popular souvenir among out-of-town visitors. You can find it easily in the basement of any department store (where foodstuffs are typically sold). Other popular dishes include shio saba (salted dried saba) and saba simmered in miso. The saba mirin pictured is from Aji no Masafuku – read our full report here.


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Fukuoka offers a veritable cornucopia of saba dishes.
Try them all to see just how versatile this fish really is.

Saba miso
Tatsumi Sushi, a famous purveyor of sushi on the second basement floor of the Iwataya department store, sells saba miso—a paste of mackerel sashimi and miso. Fresh-caught saba is blended with miso and raw ginger, and the concoction goes great with a steaming hot bowl of rice. It can also be eaten as is, making it a great partner for sake, or be used as a dip for vegetables. Available at Iwataya Main Building.

sabamiso formatted

Saba sandwich
One dish that has become more common in recent years is the saba sandwich. Mackerel sandwiches, which are popular in Turkey, seem to have found a new home in Fukuoka, and their popularity is on the rise. The sandwich in the first photo is from City Bakery, located on the second basement floor of Solaria Plaza. The saba, which is flavored with curry, comes in a sandwich with red cabbage. The sandwich in the second photo is from Bakery Kitchen Raggruppi.

fn211 saba sandwich 001 (1)

saba sandwich 001

Saba mentai
Saba mentai is a fusion of saba and Fukuoka’s most well-known souvenir, karashi mentaiko (spicy cod roe). Although the naming is slightly different, each karashi mentaiko maker has its own version of saba mentai. This unique combination of two local favorites has become a popular souvenir in its own right. Photo courtesy of Chikumaya. Note: Must be heated before eating.

new saba mentai

Looking for a restaurant with delicious saba dishes in Fukuoka? Fukuoka Now recommends Umeyama Teppei Shokudo. Read our full report on the restaurant here.

saba umeyama man 001

Originally published in Fukuoka Now Magazine (fn211, Jul. 2016)

Fukuoka Prefecture
Published: Jun 16, 2016 / Last Updated: Jun 13, 2017

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