Home to picturesque remote islands and the smoking Mount Aso, Kumamoto is the place to head to in Japan’s Kyushu region if you’re a foodie. Famed for its sweetfish sushi with the rice inside the fish, and fruity Kumamoto oysters, the prefecture has a variety of distinctly local savory and sweet dishes that you can find at street food stalls and takeaway establishments. Take your pick of the following mouth-watering culinary delights.
Possibly the quintessential Kumamoto delicacy, basashi is horse meat sashimi (raw horse meat). While some might find the idea off-putting, it’s the street food many visitors most want to try to immerse themselves in the local cuisine. The thinly-sliced red meat has a subtle taste and is valued for its high protein and low-fat content is often served with onions, salad, a wedge of lemon, ginger, garlic, or soy sauce.
Most parts of Japan have a signature ramen dish. Kumamoto’s is widely known nationwide as tonkotsu ramen and is one of the more popular varieties. Its sumptuous, creamy broth is made by boiling pork bones for up to 18 hours. Key ingredients are noodles, pork belly slices, half a boiled egg, and a heavy sprinkling of roasted garlic. You can also include spring onions, seaweed, or mushrooms.
Another distinct feature of Kumamoto cuisine is that this yellow-tinged bite-size snack may look sweet, but it’s a deep-fried spicy lotus root filled with a hot paste made from miso, mustard, and turmeric. Karashi renkon is tasty and easy-to-consume food on the go. It’s also viewed locally as a healthy snack and was first developed in the Edo period to help a feudal lord recover from illness.
Taipien is a noodle soup dish imported centuries ago from China and given several local twists over the years. It’s now a staple of Kumamoto gastronomy, similar to the prefecture’s ramen dish but lighter thanks to transparent vermicelli noodles. The soup is usually a pork or chicken broth and is typically seafood-heavy, with squid and prawns plus plenty of vegetables and a boiled egg. Sliced pork is sometimes added.
This popular local delicacy of the Amakusa islands in southwest Kumamoto is sold at street food stalls and seafood vendors. Served on its own, as sushi, or if you find the orange-colored appearance and strong taste a bit overpowering, as a more palatable croquette filled with a creamy sauce.
Beef bowls (gyudon) are a well-known type of street food in Japan, with strips of succulent beef served on top of a bed of rice and mixed with other ingredients. The Akagyu beef bowl is created using Kumamoto’s famed Akagyu beef, known for its balance of lean meat and good quality fat. The dish typically also includes a boiled egg topping.
This is a signature Kumamoto sweet dish. It’s a mochi rice cake with a sweet potato and red bean paste filling. With a name translated as “suddenly cake,” it’s easy to make and often whipped up by families who have guests at short notice. You can buy them hot or cold from street food vendors in Kumamoto and pre-wrapped at souvenir stores. Other filling flavors, such as walnut and white bean paste, are also available.