Saturday, September 18, 2010

Kysuhu Cuisine Could be Japan's Most Gastronomically Intriguing

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Kyushu, Japan's "Deep South" that we're highlighting in the Soul Food Festival, is long recognized for its distinct culture that differs from the rest of the country's. What's especially different is its gastronomically intriguing food, influenced by a conglomeration of unique factors such as warm climate, uncommon local ingredients, foreign culture, and political history.

Kyushu is blessed with a mildly warm to subtropical climate that yields an abundance of foods (ie. soy, sweet potatoes, rice, and tea), which account for 20% of Japan's total agricultural output. Southern Kyushu is particularly well-known for food products that are high in antioxidants, such as Amaou strawberries and tankan. The environment is also ideal for making fermented foods such as shochu, sake, and vinegar; the Kyushu landscape is dotted with numerous breweries that distribute endless varieties of Japan's best alcohol. Kurozu, or black vinegar that has become recently popular because of its health benefits, originally comes from Kagoshima prefecture.

For centuries, Kyushu was Japan's gateway to Asia and the rest of the world. The port city of Nagasaki was the only place where contact with Dutch and Portuguese traders was allowed for some 200 years. This accessibility to other cultures resulted in local specialties such as castella (a sponge cake of Portuguese origin), taipi-en and kakuni-manjyu (both of Chinese origin). Kyushu additionally has a tradition of being non-mainstream, perhaps from being the site of many political revolutions.

Each region of this island each boasts popular local dishes, but they are collectively characterized by their richness, spiciness, and strong flavors. Food here is heavily seasoned with such condiments as Yuzusco (liquid yuzu pepper), used on tonsoku (pigs' feet) to even crackers. Mentaiko, spicy cod roe, is a staple in Fukuoka prefecture. This region is also famous for yatai food stalls that sell street food throughout the night. Some Kyushu foods that are not found anywhere else include purple sweet potatoes, sakurajima daikon, ikinari dango, and a medley of fried foods like karaage.

Curious about these Kyushu soul foods? You'll have a chance to experience these regional specialties from several vendors from Kyushu at the Soul Food Festival on Sunday, September 26th!


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