Whether you’re in Kumamoto as a resident or a tourist, trying the local food should be top of your to-do list. Each region in Japan has its own specialist dishes, and Kumamoto has some particularly delectable treats to try out. If you want an authentic experience of eating traditional, local food, check out the popular Yokobachi restaurant.
This restaurant can be a little pricey, but it’s worth it for the amazing experience. I recommend getting a set meal so that you can try as many dishes as possible – it’s a good idea to go in a group to get the most out of it. There are a couple of different options for set menus – we went for the mid-range menu at 3,500 Yen per person, which came with 10 different plates of food. There is an English menu for those who can’t read Japanese, but the food is seasonal and sometimes things are substituted when they run out of certain ingredients.
Our first course was a salad – crisp lettuce leaves with mushy avocado, with large prawns and chunks of chicken under a sprinkling of flaked almonds. A juicy wedge of lemon to flavour, it made a for a great palate cleanser to start the meal. Next up was sashimi. There were five different types of fish cut in thick, generous slabs, presented on a rustic plate of entwined twigs. To tell how good a restaurant is in Japan, just look at the size of their sashimi slices; Yokobachi didn’t disappoint. The crowning glory was the salmon – it was marbled with layers of fat that left a creamy taste on your tongue.
The next course is basically the whole reason why you should choose Yokobachi – a plate of basashi (馬刺し), horse meat sashimi. Kumamoto’s famous dish is horse meat. The plate comes with two different types of basashi – one is a dark red colour and the other is a lighter pink, which was rippled with seams of fat. Served with some lemon, garlic, ginger, raw red onion and spring onion, the flavours complement each other very well. Basashi is usually quite expensive if it’s bought on it’s own, but when it is included in part of a set, you don’t feel like you’re being ripped off.
The next courses were fried red snapper and then skewered beef – the beef was mocha brown at the edges and a rosy pink in the middle. The taste was smoky and exquisitely mouth-watering. A strong, aromatic flavour which greatly contrasted the subtle deliciousness of the salmon sashimi.
Another great part of the meal – a traditional food that tourists will love to try – is the Japanese hot pot. There are different varieties of hot pot, the most popular being the onomatopoeically named shabu-shabu (for the sound of the swishing of the meat in the broth). At Yokobachi, the hot pot was horse meat – and it tasted much more delicious in this way than it did in sashimi slices. The hot pot was filling and fragrant – a particularly good choice for a winter warmer.
After that, another round of luxury with raw oysters. I’ve never been such a fan of oysters, but it was actually a really nice addition to the meal, especially after all the heavy meaty dishes, it was refreshing to have something flavoursome but lighter, and with that overwhelming taste of a misty sea breeze. After an obligatory bowl of rice (which we mixed into the leftover broth from the shabu-shabu, with some raw egg) we had a dessert of dark jelly, almond pudding and scattered goji berries. A nice end to a fantastic meal.
As I said, the Yokobachi menu is seasonal, but whatever you get served, you can rest assured that picking the set menu will be a good choice. The restaurant is atmospheric and food is prepared in an intricate way. This restaurant is a good option for those celebrating a special occasion, or if you have guests visiting.