Seeing Portland in Japan: The Culture of Food

As I walk through the streets of Fukuoka in the Kyushu island of Japan, a familiar scene came into my focal point- food carts along the ridge of the Naka River. I live in Portland, a food cart obsessed city where good, cheap, creative food plates are one of the delights the urban center has to offer. In Portland, one can experience the world of cuisines by just eating from food carts for a year. Fun fact: there are more than 500 food carts in the Rose City. Now in Fukuoka, the variety of food carts is not based on the variety of world cuisines but the variety of Japanese cuisines.  

In Fukuoka these stationary structures are called Yatais and have existed for centuries – sorry Portland we did not invent food carts. They serve as social hot spots for the old, young, and tourists to gather and experience the humble delights of the southern island.  Sitting in one of the u-shaped bar tables hugging the Yatais allows for a more intimate connection with food. One can smell the delicious aromas coming out from the fat-heavy pork bone broth boiling in front of you. Dotting the city, these offer the best ramen you can ever ask for, Hakata ramen. This heavy pork bone broth with thin noodles and green onion garnish is the signature dish of the Fukuoka prefecture, and let me tell you, it is a rich, tasty, and full of happiness type of ramen. Hands down one of the best meals in Japan.  

Eating a culture’s food provides a glimpse of a region’s history and how it came to be. Food is the vector through which culture evolves. The evolution of the Hakata ramen is solely dependent on that of the creativity and dedication of the culture that created it. This says a lot about the people that are part of that culture.   

Next time you visit Fukuoka don’t forget to stop at a Yatai! 

Gerardo Torres-Castellano Business Consulting Manager | Percipio Consulting Group, Inc.