Yatai in Fukuoka: good food, new friends and great conversations

  • FUKUOKA
  • HAKATA
  • RESTAURANT
  • One of the many things that caught my attention when I came to Fukuoka, Japan, was these lines of food stalls on the sidewalks which open in the early evening. I had my eyes caught especially by the food stalls which line up the edges of Nakasu River.

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    Fukuoka City is famous all over Japan for these food stalls. The lights from the many food stalls flicker like beautiful fireflies in a dark night. Its reflection on the river also makes the scene somehow romantic. This beautiful site will surely make any tourist grab their cameras to take some shots just, like I have done so many times.

    What is Yatai?

    Yatai up-close
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    These food stalls, I finally found out, are called Yatai (屋台) in Japanese. It is a small stall (about 3m X 3m) with counter tables which typically can seat about seven to eight people. In front of the counter, some foods like grilled chicken skewers (yakitori) are being displayed. Common dishes are yakitori, oden (hot pot), and ramen (Japanese noodles). Usually, because of its small size, only one vendor attends to the needs of the customer, but some busy yatai have two vendors helping each other. It is also common to see a blazing red curtain and a red paper lantern hanging at a yatai.

    How to enjoy a yatai

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    There’s no question that the main reason to go to a yatai is to fill your empty stomach. Food. You need food. First (if you can still manage to walk around), you may try to do a quick yatai hopping to see which yatai food attracts you the most. Some yatai don’t have prices on their menu so it is better to ask first before you get screwed up. It is best to come early (around 6:30 to 7:30) since most yatai get crowded at peak hours (8:00-10:00). When you have finally chosen your best yatai and ordered your favorite dish, the next best way to enjoy it is to chat with fellow customers and the vendor himself/herself. These open-air food stalls provide customers a “barbecue in the garden” ambience.

    My Experience

    One early evening, after walking and exploring the streets of Fukuoka, my friend and I had to find a resting place after being runned down by our own feet. We came across these beautiful flickering lamplights in Nakasu River as if the lights were beckoning us, and in just a short while, we found ourselves perusing the stalls. We chose a stall a bit far from the crowd so we could somehow relax. With our meagre Japanese skills, we managed to order our favorite yakitori. One fellow customer, in his fifties, started talking to us asking where we were from, what do we do and since I only had about twenty Japanese words in my pocket during that time, my friend did most of the talking. He seemed like he really liked talking to us as if we were close friends. Even the vendor joined in our conversation. That was a good Japanese language practice indeed. After eating and talking, we bid goodbye and went our separate ways. From then on, I think of yatai as a place to eat while having some good conversation and to make some friends where you least expect.

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