Food Culture of Kyushu and the Okinawa Region

By Umami Recipe
Food Culture of Kyushu and the Okinawa Region

The Kyushu-Okinawa region includes Okinawa and Fukuoka, both of which are popular destinations for foreign tourists. Industries that make use of the mild climate and regional characteristics of each of these prefectures have developed deep social and cultural roots.

In this article, we introduce the natural environment, food characteristics and famous cuisine that make the Kyushu-Okinawa region special.

Nature and Industry of Kyushu and Okinawa Region

The Kyushu-Okinawa region consists of eight prefectures: Fukuoka, Saga, Nagasaki, Oita, Miyazaki, Kumamoto, Kagoshima, and Okinawa. Many remote islands also dot its shores, such as Amami Oshima, Goto Islands and Ishigaki Island. The region is characterized by high average temperatures and a large number of typhoons that lash its coasts.

The northern part of Kyushu is covered with plains and is mainly used for rice cultivation. Conversely, southern Kyushu is not suitable for rice farming because the soil lacks nutrients as it is made up of volcanic ash, causing water to dry quickly. This is a problem when trying to maintain water levels in the rice paddies. Instead, field crops such as vegetables and livestock farming are practiced in southern Kyushu. The Okinawa region has a subtropical climate with high temperatures throughout the year and its beautiful oceans attract visitors from other parts of Japan as well as around the world. Taking advantage of the warmer climate, fruit cultivation is an important part of the Okinawa economy.

Specialty Products of Fukuoka

Fukuoka Prefecture serves as a link between Honshu and Kyushu. As Fukuoka has been a base for overseas trade for centuries, it became a hub where different cultures and ideas were introduced and popularized. If you ask Japanese people what Fukuoka's specialty is, many of them will answer "mentaiko". Mentaiko is a spicy cod roe seasoned with chili peppers. It is thought to have been inspired by Korean cuisine.

Mizutaki Nabe

Mizutaki-nabe is a dish of chicken on the bone boiled with various vegetables. It is usually served with ponzu sauce. Ponzu is a popular seasoning in Japan that is a combination of citrus juice, vinegar and soy sauce. Its origins are thought to come from Western consommé and Chinese chicken soup. Ponzu is often made with local chicken from Hakata, a large city in Fukuoka.

Specialty Products of Saga

Saga Prefecture prides itself for its abundant cultivation of high quality rice. The famous rice variety "Koshihikari" is produced here. As for livestock, Saga Beef, a brand developed in Imari City, is gaining in notoriety for its delicious beef. Saga City faces the Ariake Sea and is known for its seaweed, an ingredient that is ubiquitous in Japanese cuisine, often appearing on rice balls.

Squid dishes in Yobuko

Yobuko's squid dishes are made from squid caught off Yobuko port. This firm textured squid is often prepared as sashimi to fully express its freshness. It takes only 30 seconds for a craftsman to cut the squid. The fresh squid is clear and beautiful and melts on the tongue with an ocean sweetness.
Some restaurants will serve the squid while it's still moving, a preference that may vary depending on the person. Squid in miso soup is not uncommon in Saga, as well as rice stuffed squid.

Specialty Products of Nagasaki

Nagasaki was the only prefecture that kept its doors open to the world even during Japan's Sakoku period, where all foreign exchange was halted. As a result, foreign food culture was introduced earlier than in any other region. Tomatoes, onions, loquat, beer and many other vegetables, fruits, and beverages were first introduced through the ports of Nagasaki. Biwa (loquat) is still actively cultivated in Nagasaki and is the largest producer in Japan.

Shippoku dishes

Shippoku are dishes served on a large round table. In Japan, there is a culture that determines where to sit, with the elders and invited guests sitting in the "upper seats" and the hosts sitting in the "lower seats". With a round table, there is no need for this, and everyone in the room can enjoy the meal together. This is unique to Nagasaki, where people come and go as they please. The meals are a mixture of Japanese food as well as food imported from abroad.

Specialty Products of Oita

Oita Prefecture's unshakable confidence in its hot springs is part of the reason why it calls itself the onsen prefecture, and this title is not without basis, as its onsen are known and loved by all of Japan. Another fun fact, the people of Oita Prefecture eat a lot of chicken, so much so that Oita is the largest consumer of chicken in Japan. Shiitake mushrooms called "dongko" and the citrus fruit "kabosu" are also abundantly harvested in the prefecture. As wheat has been cultivated in Oita for a very long time, there is a tradition of wheat flour appearing in many dishes.

Danko Jiru (Dango Soup)

Dango-jiru is a dish made by kneading wheat flour with water and stretching it thinly into dumplings, which are then simmered with many vegetables and seasoned with miso. The dango is very elastic and absorbs umami from the vegetables and dashi, making it a delightful biteful. Vegetables such as shiitake mushrooms, carrots, burdocks and leeks are often used in the dish. Each family has its own flavor that has been handed down from generation to generation, and it is often made in winter to warm the body. It is a dish that has been loved for a long time in Oita Prefecture, where powdered food culture has deep roots.

Specialty Products of Miyazaki

Miyazaki Prefecture boasts one of the longest days of sunlight and the most total sunny days in Japan. As it is blessed with sun, crops grow well, with rice, vegetables and fruits widely grown in the plains region. As for marine products, tuna and bonito are important catches for the fishing industry. The livestock business is also very active. The production of beef, pigs and chickens is one of the largest in Japan.

Chicken Nanban

Chicken Nanban is a dish in which fried chicken is dipped in sweet vinegar and topped with a generous spoonful of tartar sauce. The dish was born in Nobeoka City and is popular throughout Japan. The culture of the Portuguese people was introduced to Japan during the Warring States period were called "Nanban". One of the dishes that spread at this time is "Nanban-zuke," in which ingredients are pickled in sweet vinegar with chili peppers. The name "Chicken Nanban" came from the application of this time in history.

Specialty Products of Kumamoto

Kumamoto Prefecture is one of the most agriculturally active prefectures in Japan. Tomatoes, strawberries and beef cattle are its specialty products. Facing the Ariake Sea, shrimp and seaweed are cultivated. It is said that agriculture flourished because of the efforts of the warlord Kiyomasa Kato of the Edo period, who was integral in the development of Kumamoto Prefecture. The people of Kumamoto show their gratitude to him to this day.

Basashi (horse sashimi)

Horse sashimi is raw horse meat cut into thin slices and eaten with sweet soy sauce. It is eaten with onions, ginger and garlic. Various parts of the horse are eaten as sashimi. It is said to have started when Kiyomasa Kato ate horse because he ran out of food during a battle. The delicacy is often eaten during celebrations, but nowadays there are restaurants specializing in horse sashimi, making it a familiar dish.

Specialty Products of Kagoshima

Kagoshima Prefecture is located at the southernmost tip of Kyushu, a key reason why it has been trading with foreign countries since pre-industrial times. Some of the food culture has also been influenced by foreign cuisine. The city is famous for its "Kurobuta," or black pig, and is the largest producer of pigs in Japan. In terms of agricultural products, sweet potatoes, beans and tea are widely grown and famous for their high quality.

Keihan (Chicken rice)

Chicken rice is a dish of rice topped with many ingredients and covered with chicken soup. Chicken, thinly sliced egg, shiitake mushrooms, green onions and seaweed are the traditional ingredients for the dish. The amount of each ingredient can be adjusted according to preference. This dish is often made for entertaining and celebrations. The original, and most delicious, way to make this dish is preparing the soup stock from chicken bones, but since this is time-consuming, the process is simplified for home cooking by utilizing granulated chicken bone soup seasoning. It is said that the women of the Amami Islands came up with the idea of making this dish to please and entertain the officials of the Kagoshima mainland.

Specialty Products of Okinawa

Okinawa Prefecture is the westernmost island of Japan, and in addition to the main island of Okinawa, there are many other islands that make up the prefecture: Ishigaki Island, Taketomi Island and Miyako Island. The dialect is unique and would cause wonder and perhaps even a little confusion for those from the mainland.
The island is known for its sugar cane cultivation and because of the subtropical climate with high temperatures throughout the year, many fruits such as mangoes, pineapples and dragon fruit are also grown here.

Goya Chanpuru

Goya Chanpuru is a stir-fry dish using a bitter vegetable called goya (bitter melon), characterized by its rugged surface. The word "chanpuru" means "mixed" in Japanese. In addition to goya, other ingredients such as tofu, eggs, spam, and other types of meat are commonly used. Goya has a bitter taste, but when combined with tofu and eggs, the bitterness is reduced and the taste can become quite addictive. It is an iconic dish of Okinawa, and indispensable in fighting the hot Okinawa climate with the nutrition-packed goya.

Dishes with Local Specialties

The Kyushu-Okinawa region has been trading with foreign countries since ancient times, and has developed a cuisine that is a mixture of foreign and Japanese food cultures.
In addition, the region has found success in identifying crops that grow exceptionally well in its varying topography and warm climate. The dishes that have been handed down to this day are all things that any visitor should try at least once. Feel free to use this article as a reference if you ever have the chance to visit the Kyushu and Okinawa regions.

Umami Recipe Team

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