Regional cuisine in Japan is a wonderful way to delve deeper into the food culture, but sadly, there are not a lot of regional cookbooks in English. "Recipes of Fukuoka" introduces the local dishes of Fukuoka in Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost island.
A revised edition of a title first published in 2009, this bilingual book has Japanese recipes followed by the same written in English, often on the same page -- an excellent way to learn Japanese culinary terms. The recipes are also simply translated, which assumes that readers already possess some elementary Japanese culinary skills, like scaling fish or familiarity with a portable gas burner for hot pots.
The book begins with essential recipes for "dashi" (Japanese soup stock), both the "ichiban dashi," made with smoked skipjack tuna flakes, and "iriko dashi," made with dried sardines, that are more prevalent in Kyushu.
Classic regional dishes include "mizutaki" (chicken broth hot pot) and "gobo ten udon" (burdock root tempura wheat noodles). It’s too bad that other regional dishes that appeal to non-Japanese palates were not included, such as Hakata gyoza (pot stickers) or Hakata ramen.
As Fukuoka is a big fishing port, the cuisine featured is rich with seafood. The freshness and quality of the seafood in Fukuoka is said to be superior to other markets in the country where fish has to be shipped overnight. For example, the boiled rice with sesame-flavored mackerel is a recipe that is made with sashimi grade Pacific mackerel. In the Tokyo area, Pacific mackerel is often found as "shimesaba," which is vinegared and not fresh.
Some of the ingredients are hyper-regional, like "suzumedai" and "damselfish, which would even be difficult to source in Tokyo. But most of the ingredients can be sourced if readers have access to a Japanese market in their area.
There are some interesting recipes, such as sardines simmered in "nukamiso." Nuka is rice bran that is often used as a pickling agent. However, there is no information on where to buy "nukamiso," if it should be taken from a "nuka" pickle pot or made from scratch.
The book is organized by seasons and includes a chapter on desserts. The last chapter is devoted to introducing local dishes. The glossary in the back of the book is useless for non-Japanese readers, as it consists of Japanese characters followed by English translations, but with no Romanization reading for the kanji.
For armchair readers, though, the book is sprinkled with informative notes, such as, “In Hakata, fried fish paste is referred to as tempura.” Or: “When you order Hakata ramen at 'yatai' food stalls in Hakata, you need to specify how you want the noodles boiled, 'yawa' (soft), 'kata' (hard) or 'barikata' (very hard).” Many of the sidebars are filled with rich information about local ingredients, like the "ashiyan ika" (squid), a dish that I still remember years later after a visit to Fukuoka.
"Recipes of Fukuoka" is a nice introduction to the local dishes of this Kyushu city. It would be even more useful if it included supplementary information on sourcing ingredients, substitutions for hard to source items and some basic Japanese cooking techniques. Readers who are new to the Japanese kitchen may struggle a bit, but that shouldn’t deter them from buying this book. Advanced Japanese foodies, however, will be able to fill in the blanks where information is lacking and start cooking from it immediately.
"Recipes of Fukuoka: New and Expanded Edition" By Akiko Tsuda, Norio Matukuma, Miki Matsuguma, Kelly MacDonald and Thomas Caton; Kaicho Publishing, 2015; 96 pages, ¥1,800© Japan Today