Good Eats in Kumamoto: Horse, Lotus Root, and More!

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My trip to Kyushu this winter gave me the opportunity to sample some of the local delicacies—and wow, were they delicious! A couple of my favorite eating/drinking experiences were definitely in Kumamoto. Kumamoto is one’s of Kyushu’s major cities, best known for its famous castle but otherwise often dismissed as less than interesting. So imagine my surprise when the city gave me one of the trip’s best nights out!

After spending the day wandering around Kumamoto Castle (more on that coming later!), we decided to check out Yokobachi, a great little izakaya recommended by Lonely Planet. Yokobachi serves up some of Kumamoto’s famous specialties and other tasty dishes. The first thing we just *had* to try was basashi—raw horse sliced in thin sashimi form (pictured above). Being fond of horses, I was a little reluctant to try it, but “when in Rome,” and all that. And I have to say—it was *amazing*! So fresh and such a delicate flavor. I loved it!

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Next up was karashi-renkon, fried lotus root with mustard. This was a really unique experience for me. I’ve had lotus root before, but not in this form, and certainly not filled with spicy mustard. One word of caution: the mustard is quite spicy, so you might not want to take huge bites!

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We had a number of other dishes, but the other standout was definitely the nabe. Looking around the restaurant, we realized that every other table in the izakaya had ordered the nabe, which we took as a good sign. And wow! We were a little skeptical because one of the ingredients was pork intestines—but by the time the nabe had boiled down, the intestines practically melted in your mouth and just tasted like really yummy pork.

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Another great find was Café Lafcadio, a great little café/wine bar right across the street that served up some tasty wine and beer at quite reasonable prices. The atmosphere was really charming too—quiet and casual, perfect for chatting and enjoying some nibbles. They had an adorable, huge armchair in the window, and the whole place seemed like such a great neighborhood hangout. One of the proprietors was a charming ex-JET named Dom who entertained us with fun conversation (pictured above). This place was just starting out and hadn’t really been fully opened for business yet, but I really hope it succeeds!

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So, if you’re planning to pass through Kumamoto, stay a night! Enjoy yourself! Take a load off! The Kumamoto Dormy Inn is nice, affordable hotel and has great free in-house hot springs. And places like Yokobachi and Café Lafcadio mean that a good time can definitely be had.

More on Kumamoto and other Kyushu eats soon!

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