The Yatai Redefining the Fukuoka Food Scene

There are ripples in the pond of Fukuoka’s culinary-scene as a new breed of yatai continue to impress and entertain. Twenty-eight of these iconic street stalls have opened or are in the process of opening, the first new wave of yatai to open in Fukuoka since they were effectively outlawed in 1995 by regulations which stated that only the descendents and spouses of current yatai owners could continue operations if the owner decided to close shop and/or die.

These stalls are an integral and irrestible part of the Fukuoka food scene and the yatai surviving the great law of 1995 proved rather stubborn in their ability to survive. For the last two decades the yatai have been effectively ignored, too popular to close outright but frowned upon by many in local government for their inconsistency with the order of the city.

Fukuoka’s current mayor, Sōichirō Takashima, who seems determined to become Japan’s Justin Trudeau, took a slightly different approach to his predecessors when it came to the yatai. A competition was held in 2016 to awarded licenses to twenty-eight yatai with the intention that the new stalls would open in April of 2017.

Despite their charmingly shabby exteriors, yatai can be extremely lucrative, and there was an appropriate level of scandal surrounding the competition. Six yatai were disqualified after it was found that selection criteria had been leaked by the judges (the judges weren’t corrupt, they were just too polite).

Those that did manage to apply without cheating and successfully set up shop have approached the challenge head on. The new yatai are beautiful, and most seem to have innovated (necessarily) on the standard yatai menu formula of ramen, yakitori and oden. Two of them immediately struck me as worthy of a visit, partly due to their reputation for excellent food but also because of the queues of people that seem to be perennially present outside the shops.

1. Chez Remy (レミさんチ)

Chez Remy is owned and operated by Monsieur Remi Grenard, the first foreign owner of a yatai since, well ever. The yatai is French themed and serves an excellent array of cuisine Français, while the staff dress in Breton stripes and are unsurprisingly, French. Non-Japanese love it for the generous use of cheese (yes! cheese! in Japan!) while Japanese go there for the garlic-butter-basil snails which at ¥700 for a plate of six is a pretty sweet deal. The yatai is great for vegetarians (perhaps the only one in all Fukuoka – correct me if I’m wrong) and the quiche of the day (so far, always vegetarian) is particularly good, made at Remy’s boulangerie, La Tartine.

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Recommended: Quiche of the Day (¥500). Homemade Pumpkin Gnocchi (¥600). Escargot (¥700) | Link

2. Telas & mico

I visited the Telas & mico restaurant two years ago and was blown away by Chef/Owner Kubota Kensuke’s approach to cooking (and his excellent choice in music). Kubota-san was a chef in the UK for seven years, and cooked for both Nobu and Zuma. His food fits nicely into the lower end of haute-cuisine (fancy, but not too fancy) and is notable for both its taste and presentation.

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His yatai is inspired by the market stalls of London’s Borough Market and stands apart from the other yatai for it’s pastel blue design. At the time of writing the Telas & mico yatai has only been open for three days and the menu, opening times, and everything else, seems to be in flux. If you can catch it when it’s open though, it’s a must. It is a cut above all other yatai and probably the only one I could imagine receiving a Michelin Star.

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Recommended: The Sausages (homemade – ¥680). The Bruschetta (all of them): Liver Pate, Ratatouille & Mentaiko (¥350 each). The Spare Ribs (¥1,200) | Link

Oscar Boyd