This story started 35,000 years ago in the Palaeolithic age when you and I were nothing but a metaphysical existence.
In 35,000 BC, Fred and Wilma Flintstone-san, along with baby Pebbles sat down at their stone table for dinner served in stone bowls.
Many many years later in modern times, archeologist dug and found fragments of the Flintstone stone bowls, proving the existence of Palaeolithic life and Flintstone in ancient Fukuoka.
In 34,982 BC, Pebbles met the man of her dreams and moved across Ganban (Japanese for Bedrock) with him to their very own cave. Here, they make Genesis 1:28 their mission- to go forth and multiply- even though Genesis won’t exist until 1400 BC. However, since the Flintstone family celebrate Christmas, time is clearly fluid.
Pebbles and Mr. Pebbles went on to populate Fukuoka with descendants that lived in castle towns by the sea. In 57 AD during a diplomatic mission, Han emperor Guan Wu presented to Pebble’s scion a gold seal. This seal was eventually discovered by a farmer from Shikanoshima in 1784.
Then in the 800s, Chinese merchants from the Han Dynasty frequented the castle towns of Fukuoka to trade and barter. Afterwards, they chill with local traders over tea and co-compose poetry, because that’s the totally normal thing to do. Hey you, wanna yumcha and write poetry together?
Fukuoka City Museum
If you think I sound like an expert on Fukuoka history with these fascinating anecdotes, that is owed to a very informative trip to the Fukuoka City Museum. Broady and I decided upon arriving in Fukuoka there is no better way to get a lay of the land than by paying their local museum a social call. Every nation have their own version of events. Every country is a victim and a hero, never the villain. And if they started a war and killed millions, it was because they were forced to. Ahem.
So, we ventured via subway to the Nishijin station where we navigated through what must be an academic street, judging by the sheer number of educational institutions. (Fun fact: Tenjin, located not far away, is also the name of the kami (deity) of academics, scholarship, and learning.)
Not far from the Fukuoka City Museum is Fukuoka Tower, standing tall and majestic and a little like a Dr Doofenshmirtz original weapon. The entrance ticket cost 800 yen each, which could buy you a steamy bowl of scrumptious ramen. But a tourist gotta do what a tourist does, so we forked out 1600 yen, got our picture taken for one of those money-making tourist traps, and shot up to a platform 234 meters above ground level.
Fukuoka Castle Ruins
I’ve been to Osaka Castle and Nagoya Castle, so I expected Fukuoka Castle to be similar- a thousand year old fortress, standing tall, bracing the cold spring gales. I’m aware that Fukuoka Castle was at one point destroyed, but have since been rehabilitated.
Pictures suggested likewise. The internet conned me with carefully angled photographs of old Japanese buildings spread out over large areas of land.
Upon approaching from the afar, my preconceived expectations started taking physical shape. The edifice of my imaginations, here I come!…
… Only to discover that there is no castle. There is the odd reconstructed hut, and just ruins. Ruins, ruins, ruins. There is a reason why the place is called “Fukuoka Castle ruins“. Take a hint, Chow Ping.
Took me awhile to get over that one.
Korokan Historical Museum
The Korokan Historical Museum is just a stone throw away from the ruins.
A korokan is an ancient guest house for foreign diplomats (many of who enjoy poetry over tea). The remains of this korokan was found in 1987. Pictures of the archaeological dig is widely circulated, where archaeologist descend into a synthetic opening in the ground, now confirmed to be an ancient toilet. Equally flaunted are thin wooden strips, believed to be ancient toilet paper to clean one’s anus post defecation.
Kyushu National Museum
Now, it was previously mentioned that a visit to the Fukuoka City Museum was essential to achieving a sense of Fukuoka. In truth, equally entertaining is the Kyushu National Museum. Situated at the top of a hill, thank the Japanese for building long stretches of escalators that will take you to the museum without exerting a muscle.
Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine
Since we were already in the area, and one does not travel to Japan without a spiritual encounter at a shrine, we set course for Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine (the Kyushu National Museum is right next to the shrine).
Tenmangu Shrine is dedicated to the spirit of Sugawara Michizane, a greatly learned scholar who started writing poetry at 11 years old. Dear people of Fukuoka, I wrote “My teacher waved her cane like a banner” at 11 years old. Does that count?
NOW, LET’S TALK ABOUT THE FOOD.
Located along Fukuoka canal is a stretch of yatai stalls. As the sun sets, these yatais come out to play. They serve various street food like ramen and gyozas and snacks on skewers. We picked one at random and settled down for bowls of Hakata ramen.
At one point, a Singaporean couple joint in the make shift tent and mimicked our order. I know this because the friendly stall owner tried to strike conversation by asking their home country.
I should’ve warned the stall owner in case the Singaporeans decide to claim ramen to be a Singaporean dish, the way they claimed nasi lemak, cendol, and yee sang. *eye roll*
Tucked between two commercialised eateries in the Dazaifu district is a cozy teahouse. They serve Umegaemochi with matcha, which is a Dazaifu delicacy, or so I gather. According to one of the many leaflets I snatched from the airport information counter, umegaemochi is “crispy outer, inside packed with red bean jam”. However, I would argue that the skin is more mushy than crispy, stuffed with sweet red bean paste, like a compact tau sar pau.
Wandering through the streets of Fukuoka while freezing our asses off, we stumble upon an izakaya, which is a common noun for Japanese pub. Faces pink from the bitter cold, stumble up the stairs leading to the first floor that is the izakaya 成吉.
Removing our coats, we sit at the counter. On the other side of the table, chefs hustle with skewers over grills. We order a beer and settle down. I raise my beer bottle and say “to good sex”. We clink glass against glass, then proceed to pour over the menu.
Little did I know, this turned out to be one of my best meals in post-Flintstone land.
If you’re a loyal reader of this blog (I love you more than life itself!), you might’ve guessed that Broady and I consider ramen our favourite food. In our opinion, of all the ramens, one outshines the rest: Tonkotsu ramen, which is pork bone broth brewed to perfection. Perfectly enough, Fukuoka is the birth place of Tonkotsu ramen! (Which is also why Tonkotsu ramen is also known as Hakata ramen, Hakata being the PJ of Fukuoka- the centre of life in Fukuoka)
Armed with our immense passion for Tonkotsu ramen, we set out in search of the one that tops them all. We did visit the Ramen stadium at Canal City, but the ramen we sampled there, despite being Michelin rated, left much to be desired. On the bright side, Canal City presents a delightful display of dancing water, where colourful fountains dance to upbeat music against a 3D projection.
As for the Tonkotsu ramen of Fukuoka, here are our top 3 favourite picks:
Note: You will notice from the pictures below that the shop names are entirely in Japanese. Since I know a total of 3 Japanese words: Arigato, Konichiwa, and Kimochi, and am therefore unable to offer you the english pronunciation of these words, the names will be in Japanese.
The ramen here admit a tinge of bitterness. Yet it works. Somehow, the bitterness fit the rich fragrant broth like a glove. I’ve also come to identify the bubbles floating on the soup surface as a good meal to come, perhaps a testament to the broth’s thickness.
Everybody have a personal preference. I like my ramen broth thick and creamy.
I learned that this shop is a franchise. It is common knowledge that usually food lose its quality when it’s commercialised. Few enterprises manage the delicate equilibrium of profit-maximisation and authenticity. However, I am happy to report that 一辛舍 is one of those businesses.
I’ll go back for more. A hundred times over.
I was apprehensive with this one. I had just sampled a bowl of mediocre ramen, and was feeling rather full.
But the first law of Japan travels is never say no to ramen. So, I said “let’s do it”.
(The second law is don’t stand still on the right side of an escalator.)
Although my appetite wasn’t gaping at that point, as soon as the savoury broth hit my tongue, I knew I found my soulmate.
Of all the Tonkotsu ramens I tasted in Fukuoka- the home of Tonkotsu ramen- 一男坊 is queen.
Roving through the streets of Fukuoka City. Ramen hunting. Learning about Flintstone. There is nothing to dislike about Fukuoka. Still relatively untouched by tourist (most eateries don’t have english menus, so that’s a give away), I pray she stays that way. May there never be a reason for english signboards.
I’ll leave you with this for now: yabba-dabba-doo!