When the weather grows cold and the north wind blows, I get an appetite for nabe ryori. When young people think of nabe ryori in Fukuoka/Hakata, motsunabe comes to mind, but those with longer memories will think of mizutaki.
“The defining trait of Hakata culture is to take something that comes from somewhere else and skillfully rearrange it so that it becomes something that seems to have always been a local specialty. That’s also true of food,” observed the late Einosuke Obiya, a historian who specialized in manners and customs and the first director of the Hakata-machi Culture League. Mizutaki is a case in point.
The dish, which some people consider to be typical Japanese cuisine, is actually said to have been created by combining Chinese and Western elements. The man who by all accounts got the idea for the dish was Heisaburo Hayashida, the proprietor of a famous shop now located at 3 Hirao, Chuo Ward. A Nagasaki native, Hayashida traveled to Hong Kong at the age of 15 and lived with an English family. He studied Western cooking during his stay. After returning to Japan, he blended consommé with the Chinese method of simmering chicken in water to create a plain soup. To this he added seasonal vegetables, udon, and mochi to create a type of zosui in the Japanese style. He brought the dish to Fukuoka in 1905 when he opened his shop, Suigetsu. From there it spread throughout the country, where it became known as Hakata-ni.
To properly enjoy mizutaki, first put the chicken broth in a bowl, add Hakata green onions and kotonegi for flavor, and savor the taste. Then eat the chicken. Next, put Chinese cabbage or cabbage into the pot and add tofu, spring chrysanthemum, and mushrooms. Squeeze in the juice of a citrus fruit, like citron, sudachi, or bitter orange, and then flavor with soy sauce and yuzugosho. It’s not just for winter meals—Hakata-dwellers eat it year-round.
Obiya once explained that during the 500-year period before Sakai in Osaka became a port during the Kamakura period, foreign culture came to Japan almost exclusively through Hakata. It’s no surprise, then, that new food and eating styles came to Hakata first and then spread to the rest of the country.The legacy of this foreign influence can still be felt in Fukuoka to this day, in delicious creations such as mizutaki. Long may it continue!
Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn143, Nov. 2010)