During the day, you sometimes come across one or two of these food carts hiding dormant and parked in an alleyway, shuttered up and slumbering. Lights off, boarded up, you have no real idea as to their purpose. However, as night falls, Fukuoka’s traditional food carts start to emerge from their various hiding places, spread their wings, awnings, seats, sidewalk tables, makeshift walls/ partitions, lights, signs (in effect being a complete portable mini-restaurant around a counter-cum-kitchen) and cooking paraphanelia, and more attractively, their fragrant smells. Most of them congregate by the river under some trees in a stretch that’s bounded by Hakata Canal City on one side, and the seedier red light district on the other. I suppose they cater to the shoppers before they go home, and the punters before they go out.
There used to be hundreds more of these carts throughout the city, but since no new licenses have been issued in many, many years, the number is dwindling; it seems that the younger generation have not much interest in the hard work required to run a food cart anymore (licenses are usually passed down within the family(. I can’t understand why, seeing as they’re all doing a roaring trade, and a fairly light meal will cost you easily JPY2,000-3,000 ($20-30) before you include beer and sake. Given the speed of turnaround and relatively long operating hours, I calculated that a popular one of these guys must turn over close to a million dollars a year. Not bad for selling hawker food!
I had two experiences here – firstly, eating various forms of yakitori and oden; the former is various types of things on skewers, grilled over charcoal flames, and the latter is a sort of stew with radish, fried tofu, fishballs, eggs, and some of the hardier leafy vegetables, simmered in an excellent radish and katsuo-based broth. It’s the perfect thing for a cold evening, especially if you’re eating it outdoors. And eating it with a form of local mustard is a Kyushu thing, apparently; unusual, though surprisingly refreshing. It seems the majority of the yatai serve either some variation or combination of oden, yakitori, or ramen (a Kyushu speciality). I’m told there are others, but I didn’t have the time or inclination to go hunting for them.
The other one was shooting with the D-Lux 6 at night; the fast lens made it surprisingly usable, and only in the very darkest situations did I feel like I was running out of shooting envelope. (I tried to keep things at ISO 400 and below to avoid too much noise penalty.) I was also carrying the Hasselblad, but that would have been a completely futile exercise – nothing faster than f2.8, and I wasn’t carrying any fast film (or even anything particularly pushable), either. MT
Visit our Teaching Store to up your photographic game – including Photoshop Workflow DVDs and customized Email School of Photography; or go mobile with the Photography Compendium for iPad. You can also get your gear from B&H and Amazon. Prices are the same as normal, however a small portion of your purchase value is referred back to me. Thanks!
Images and content copyright Ming Thein | mingthein.com 2012 onwards. All rights reserved