Fukui-daore: 4 Flavoursome Foods in Fukui
Kuidaore (食い倒れ), meaning ”to go broke from spending too much on food”, somewhat mirrors Singaporeans’ penchant to shop until they drop—I am sure this is a problem we all face when we go to Japan, though, since all that delicious food is hard to resist! The term was originally used to describe Osaka merchants’ attitudes towards practical, daily items, but is now commonly used to refer to the many varieties of cheap snacks, like okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) and takoyaki (たこ焼き), that can be found in the largest city in the Kansai Region.
Of course, it is not only Osaka that offers residents and visitors opportunities for such gastronomic experiences; all prefectures in Japan have their own famed dishes, ranging from kaiseki fine dining to B-level street food (B級グルメ B-kyū gurume). Fukui Prefecture (福井県 Fukui-ken) is no exception. Though the seemingly unassuming prefecture lying to the north of Osaka is better known for its spectacle frames and dinosaurs, Fukui is also home to many tasty cuisines, as I found out during a trip to the Hokuriku Region (北陸地方 Hokuriku-chihō). Here are a few recommendations out of all that I ate during my three belly-filling days in Fukui!
1. Echizen soba (越前そば)
The oroshi soba zanmai at Amida Soba Yūbuan. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)
Soba (そば) is the most quintessential of Japanese noodles—so dedicated are the Japanese to soba that there are even noodle-making co-curricular clubs in high schools! The buckwheat noodles can be found everywhere, ranging from standing-only shops in train stations filled with Japanese salarymen slurping a quick lunch to sit-down restaurants offering freshly made noodles, and even as takeaway meals in convenience stores during the muggy summer months. (There is even a soba ekiben to be found in Hokkaido, but that is a story for another time!)
There are many regional varieties of soba, and Fukui’s Echizen soba (越前そば) is one of them. Named after the old name for the district in which present-day Fukui Prefecture lies, Echizen soba differs from other soba in its noticeably darker colour, due to the husk of the buckwheat being ground together with the grain in the milling process. In addition, Fukui prides itself in retaining the traditional method of grinding the delicate buckwheat with a stone mill, as opposed to other places which make use of mechanical mills. Though this is noticeably more labourious, the lack of heat in the process results in a buckwheat flour that is more fragrant, which makes for soba noodles with a deeper flavour.
Echizen soba is cut flatter and wider than regular soba—think of linguini, as opposed to the more traditional shape—and is commonly served with grated karami daikon (辛味大根), a type of white radish that is more pungent than regular radish, with the juice from the grated karami daikon added to the dipping broth to give it a kick.
I first experienced this combination for myself at Amida Soba Yubuan (あみだそば 遊歩庵 Amida Soba Yūbuan), a place that offers soba made with 100% premium-grade locally milled soba flour and without any binders like wheat flour used, which makes the dough tricker to handle and showcases the chef’s skills in handling the delicate noodle strands.
Making my way into the restaurant right before they were taking their last order for the evening, I opted for the oroshi soba zanmai (おろしそば三昧), which was presented as a neatly plated serving of soba with three cups of different dipping broths—with wasabi, which I was already used to, as well as the aforementioned karami daikon and tororo (とろろ grated mountain yam), both of which were new to me. The juice of the karami daikon, though pungent (and a great way to clear blocked noses in winter!), also brought with it a subtle sweetness that the wasabi did not have, and the mixture of broth and juice was refreshing, coupled with the crunch of the grated radish.
The tororo, on the other hand, was an interesting experience—most people would be put off by its appearance and slimy texture. As with all nebaneba (ネバネバ), or slimy, things, its stickiness is due to water-soluble fibre, helping to clean up your insides and making it an excellent health food. On its own, tororo is rather tasteless, and takes on the flavour of whatever it is mixed with—in this case, the umami of the dashi broth shone through, and I found myself appreciating its texture more with each slurp. It’s definitely an acquired taste, but those of you with a more adventurous palette should definitely give it a go!
Amida Soba Yūbuan (あみだそば 遊歩庵)
Address: 1-9-1 Chūō, Fuku-shii, Fukui, 910-0006
Nearest station: Fukui Station (福井駅)
Opening hours: Around 11:30–14:00 (Closes as soon as soba sells out)
Writer’s Note: The location above was open the whole day at the time of visit, but they are open only for lunch nowadays (information correct as of July 2021). Their sister outlet, “Amida Soba Fuku-no-i” (Happiring 1F, 1-2-1 Chūō, Fukui-shi, Fukui, 910-0006), is open 10:30am–8:30pm daily (L.O. 8pm).
2. Sauce katsudon (ソースカツ丼)
The sauce katsudon from Europa-ken. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)
Katsudon (カツ丼) is something Singaporeans know and love—the combination of thick, crispy katsu, fluffy egg and soft onions simmered in a dashi-based broth and served over hot steamed rice is comforting, and is one of the most famous Japanese rice bowls. However, did you know that there are also other variants of katsudon? One version is sauce katsudon (ソースカツ丼), which foregoes the egg, onions, and broth—instead, a sauce made with Worcestershire sauce as the base is often used. Even for sauce katsudon, there are a few versions—in some places, the katsu is dipped into the sauce before being placed atop a pile of cabbage covering the rice in the bowl, whereas in others, the sauce is poured onto the katsu, and yet in others, the katsu is simmered in the sauce first before being served. So loved is this version in certain prefectures like Fukui and Yamanashi that the term katsudon refers to sauce katsudon, while if you want the version simmered with egg and onion you will have to order ni-katsudon (煮カツ丼 simmered katsudon).
The exact roots of sauce katsudon are unclear due to a lack of literature. However, the few records that do exist mostly point to Europa-ken (ヨーロッパ軒), a local restaurant chain in Fukui with 19 outlets in the prefecture. The founder, Takahata Masutarō (高畠増太郎), started the first outlet in his hometown in 1924 upon moving back from Tokyo after the Great Kanto Earthquake, where he had previously opened a shop under the same moniker. Having undergone culinary training in Germany for six years, a rarity in those days, Takahata was enamoured with Worcestershire sauce while there, and sought ways to introduce it to the Japanese palette, eventually coming up with sauce katsudon after some trial and error.
The exterior of the head branch of Europa-ken. (Image credit: Richard, enjoy my life! / CC BY-SA 2.0)
It was a happy coincidence that I came across the head branch of Europa-ken while scouring for dinner—although I had done some research beforehand on what to eat during my Fukui trip, I had forgotten to look up actual shops and restaurants to visit. While Europa-ken’s menu focuses on Western food (洋食 yōshoku), their signature dish is still very much their katsudon, consisting of thin pork cutlets coated with fine breadcrumbs and dipped into a slightly sweet concoction of Worcestershire sauce and other condiments, before being served atop a bowl of rice drizzled with the same sauce. The sweet-savoury taste of the sauce was offset perfectly by the freshly steamed rice, and went well with the lightly seasoned cutlets, which were still slightly crisp despite being dipped in the sauce, and not soggy with oil, the finer breadcrumbs soaking up less of it than regular ones.
For those of you who would like other options, Europa-ken also offers a Paris-don (パリ丼), made with menchikatsu (メンチカツ), or cutlets made out of minced meat, as well as fried prawns, beef katsu and even a mixed katsudon, allowing you to try a few of their items at one go. With other options such as steak, chicken steak, and omelette rice on the menu, this is a restaurant to go to if you are craving sauce katsudon and want to visit a local chain!
Europa-ken (ヨーロッパ軒 総本店)
Address: 1-7-4 Junka, Fukui-shi, Fukui, 910-0023
Nearest station: Fukui Station (福井駅)
Opening hours: 11:00–20:00 (Closed on Tuesdays)
Writer’s Note: There are multiple locations—the address given above is for the main store. There are a total of 11 outlets within Fukui City, as well as two in Sakai City, one in Sabae City, and five in Tsuruga City. For more information on the various outlets, click on the link above.
3. Yakitori (焼き鳥)
Yakitori resting on the counter hotplate at Akiyoshi. (Image credit: gtknj / CC BY 2.0)
Yakitori (焼き鳥) is the Japanese salaryman’s go-to during drinking sessions with colleagues. Indeed, the savoury sauce that the grilled chicken skewers are coated in (or salt for those who opt for something simpler) pairs excellently with just about any drink from beer to highball, and the familiar taste means that one never gets tired of it, especially with the various cuts available.
While there exists a plethora of yakitori chains in Japan, none is perhaps quite as unique as Akiyoshi (秋吉), a chain that originated in Fukui in 1959. With over a hundred stores not just in Fukui, but in the neighbouring prefectures of the Hokuriku Area, as well as the metropolitan areas of Osaka and Tokyo, Akiyoshi has captivated the hearts of many with its commitment to quality and service, for instance using as much domestically-grown produce as possible in their items. It is no wonder, then, that the people of Fukui are the second-largest spenders on yakitori in the whole of Japan, losing only to Aomori Prefectureand a testament to how much they love their local chains.
The exterior of an Akiyoshi store. (Image credit: tsuda / CC BY-SA 2.0)
What makes Akiyoshi so special is a set of rules that they adhere to, including calling customers “Boss” (社長 shachō) because they get their earnings (and hence, salaries) from what customers spend at the outlets, as well as how their yakitori comes in a set of five sticks per order, and how they even have hotplates for each counter and table for one to reheat their yakitori on should it get cold during the meal. Five sticks per order may sound like a lot, but each stick is relatively small and can be finished in a bite or two, so your plate will be empty before you even realise it. They are also priced reasonably, at between ¥300–¥400 for each item, allowing one to enjoy a variety of skewers without burning a hole in one’s pocket.
Another thing that stood out to me when I visited them was that they offered takeaway yakitori as well, allowing one to enjoy their grilled skewers in the comfort of their own home. That was the option I went with, bagging the negima (ねぎま chicken skewered with leek), and wakakawa (若皮 chicken skin), to eat in my hotel room after a much-needed soak in the bath. Despite the yakitori having cooled down by the time I got around to consuming them, they were still juicy, going very well with a can of beer. In fact, so popular is this habit of buying yakitori back home, that Akiyoshi even has takeaway-only outlets for families to stop by on their way back.
The menu lists not only yakitori, but other items like kushikatsu (串カツ) or deep-fried skewers, kamameshi (釜飯) or claypot rice, and dessert, its extensiveness sure to satisfy everyone. They even have items such as hamburgers limited to certain stores, so there is always something new to experience when you step into an Akiyoshi outlet!
Yakitori no Meimon Akiyoshi Fukui-ekimae-ten (焼き鳥の名門 秋吉 福井駅前店)
Address: 2-5-16 Ōte, Fuku-shii, Fukui, 910-0005
Nearest station: Fukui Station (福井駅)
Opening hours: 17:00–23:30 (Weekdays & Saturdays), 17:00–23:00 (Sundays & PH)
Writer’s Note: There are multiple locations—the address given above is for the store right in front of JR Fukui Station. There are a total of twenty-seven outlets in Fukui Prefecture, including nine outlets within Fukui City, three of which are within walking distance from JR Fukui Station. For more information on the various outlets, click on the link above.
4. Echizen Kanimeshi Ekiben (越前かにめし駅弁)
An image of the kanimeshi ekiben by Banjo Honten. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)
Of course, being so close to the Sea of Japan (日本海 Nihon-kai), the seafood in Fukui is also excellent, with many restaurants offering kaisendon (海鮮丼), seafood rice bowls. The most prized catch of all, though, would be Echizen Crabs (越前がに Echizen-gani), the moniker referring to snow crabs caught along the coast of Fukui, stretching from Mikuni (三国町 Mikuni-chō) in the north to Obama (小浜市 Obama-shi) in the south. These crabs are a delicacy to be had only in winter, during the fishing season that starts in November and lasts till March, when they are at their meatiest and sweetest.
There are many ways to enjoy Echizen Crabs, ranging from simply boiling them to grilling them, or even as tempura (天ぷら) or shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ). A full-course crab dinner can be expensive, though, be it at a restaurant or at one’s lodgings. So if you would like to have a taste of Fukui’s famed crab but at more wallet-friendly prices, the Echizen Kanimeshi Ekiben (越前かにめし駅弁) from Banjo Honten (番匠本店 Banjō Honten) is your answer!
Established in 1902, Banjo Honten has been selling ekiben ever since—while they also offer other ekiben like sabazushi (鯖寿司) and sauce katsudon, it is their Echizen Kanimeshi Ekiben, launched in 1961, that is their star product. While many places either use plain white rice or vinegared rice as the base of their ekiben, Banjo Honten instead cooks the rice with the eggs and innards (カニ味噌 kanimiso) of the snow crabs, further perfuming the rice with the briny scent of the sea, upon which lightly seasoned shredded crab meat is generously piled. The ekiben is sold in a red crab-shaped plastic container and comes with a small pack of shredded seaweed to sprinkle over before eating.
The packaging of Banjo Honten’s Echizen Kanimeshi. (Image credit: Kevin Koh)
While the ekiben can be heated up in the microwave for 2–3 minutes to make it even more delicious, I had it cold early in the morning before departing for Kanazawa (金沢市 Kanazawa-shi). Even then, it was still a treat—the umami of the crab meat and innards lingering long after the last bite. The red container can also be recycled as a case for small objects, making it an ideal memento of one’s trip.
The next time I enjoy this ekiben, it will definitely be while looking out at the scenery of the Hokuriku coast while on a train!
Banjō Honten (番匠本店)
Address: Prism Fukui 1F, 1-1-25 Chūō, Fukui-shi, Fukui, 910-0006
Nearest station: JR Fukui Station (JR福井駅)
Opening hours: 08:30–19:00
Writer’s Note: Banjo Honten used to have their own ekiben stand within JR Fukui Station, but that has been closed as of November 2019. Separately, a separate ekiben stand selling ekiben from various stations on the JR Hokuriku Main Line also closed in early 2019.
Prism Fukui is a shopping street occupying the first floor of JR Fukui Station, and currently only ekibens by Banjo Honten are sold at the address listed above. Their ekiben can also be purchased at JR Arawa Onsen Station in Fukui, and at JR Kaga Onsen Station and Kanazawa Station in Ishikawa.
Fukui and beyond
Unlike its cousins Ishikawa and Toyama, which both have famous tourists spots in Kanazawa and the Tateyama-Kurobe Alpine Route (立山黒部アルペンルート) respectively, Fukui tends to be relegated to the sidelines when talking about tourism in the Hokuriku Area. However, if you ask me, Fukui’s rustic charm is precisely what makes it special, with its hot spring resorts, beautiful landscapes, and delicious cuisine. Do head over to the Hokuriku Area on your next trip to Japan and enjoy a hearty round of kuidaore with all that Fukui has to offer!
Header image credit: Kevin Koh