Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Post-COVID Getaway

It was a wise choice in retrospect to have picked Kyushu as our first vacation destination post-COVID. The short flight from Hong Kong to Fukuoka and the proximity between the airport and downtown meant we could fully spend more time on the ground during our 5-day holiday, and so we booked our air ticket as soon as the news broke about the lifting of travel restrictions, then there’s a long 3 months wait before we actually took off at the end of November.  

Felt almost like yesterday when we travelled last, but gosh that’s already almost 3 years ago towards the end of 2019. Everything felt different from the airport which went through quite a bit of renovations, to a new airport lounge (Chase Sapphire Lounge near Gate 40) to all those new immigration procedures, but an uneventful journey brought us right into the city of Fukuoka in just less than 6 hours from the moment we left home. 

Hakata has always been our neighborhood of choice when it came to staying in Fukuoka, and this time we spent a few nights at Miyako Hotel Hakata, right across the street from Hakata Station and one renovated and reopened only 3 years ago. Can’t beat the location – they even got an exit that went straight into the subway station, and our room was more than spacious in Japanese standard with all the modern facilities one would have expected. Our only complaint was the lack of a view from the room but that was more than compensated by the gorgeous view from the café on the rooftop that we enjoyed every morning during breakfasts. There’s also a proper onsen, which was not a common feature for a city hotel, and one we spent time in almost every night. 

Mikako Hotel Hakata: global.miyakohotels.ne.jp/hakata/

Though we didn’t really travel much on train or even subway during our trip this time, the proximity to the main train station meant there’s everything within walking distance, including the shopping mall, souvenir shops, restaurants and so on. There’s never lack of options in terms of what to do. We particularly enjoyed walking around JR Hakata City, the shopping mall next to Hakata station, which was transformed into a Christmas market-like bazaar with decorations, illuminations, shops and food stalls at the outdoor public square and bustling with visitors til late.

Fukuoka may not be the most popular destinations for foliage viewing for tourists but we did hit a few spots in town where the gorgeous autumn leaves were on view. The Maizuru Park (and the adjacent Ohori Park) reminded me of Central Park of New York with people running and cycling around the lake on a weekend morning, with the wonderful view of golden leaves on the dozen gingko trees scattered around. Not far away from Hakata Station (and where we stayed) was Rakusuien. It’s nothing more than a small garden with a fish pond and a traditional residence turned tea house, but plenty of maple trees were planted around the footpath making it a good destination for a few snaps of those bright red maple leaves. But the best view of all was at Kamado Shrine in Dazaifu, some 30 minutes away from Fukuoka by car, up on top of Mount Homan, with the different shades of red leaves just covered the entire walking path leading to the temple on top. 

We came to Fukuoka partly because of the short travel distance and partly because of its food. While they may not be known to have the most exquisite cooking unlike Tokyo or Kyoto or even Osaka, they got what we craved for the most – the casual eats prepared with the fresh seasonal ingredients. We had Motsunabe as our first meal, the traditional Kyushu dish with beef offals and intestines simmered in the bubbling rich miso broth with other vegetables and ingredients. There’s nothing better than having a pot of those in the middle of the table with glass of shochu in hand.

Gyu Motsunabe Oisi: motunabe-oisi.com/sp/

Ramen was another culinary attraction of Fukuoka, and this time we managed to hit Shin-Shin just a few blocks off the popular Tenjin neighborhood. Not sure if they are the best or most popular in Fukuoka, but we had to wait for an hour before we managed to get in for our bowl of ramen with tonkotsu broth. But it was well worth the fuss with the best soup base I have tried with generous serving of pork and other condiments, having picked the “all-in” option including the half-boiled egg. 

Hakata Shin-Shin Tenjin Honten: www.hakata-shinshin.com/

Beside Motsunabe, Fukuoka was also famous with another hotpot dish called “Mizutaki”. Literally meaning “cooking in water”, it’s actually chicken hotpot with various parts of chicken cooked in the rich chicken broth. Hakata Hanamidori was perhaps the most famous restaurants in town serving Mizutaki with a few branches around. We met up with our friend A who happened to be in town travelling and enjoyed the muti-course chicken dinner served in the comfort of a private room. 

Hakata Hanamidori: www.hanamidori.net/lp_en

I came across this cafe on IG by chance just I was exploring where to eat in Fukuoka and thought we should give it a try. I was intrigued by this concept of night-only dessert cafe called Parfaiteria beL and the fancy dishes they posted on their IG account which looked like a work of art. We dropped by after our sushi dinner nearby, and unsurprisingly, there's a line that went from the front door of the cafe on 3rd floor all the way down to the ground level.

We were seated after an hour wait. Nothing special about the decor and setup; I even thought it was a bit too tight for comfort, but the food was amazing. Parfait is their specialty - they even called themselves a "Parfateria", and they got a few choices available on any given evening, including the seasonal selection. Our dessert came in like 10 minutes and they even came with a explanation card detailing each of the couple dozen ingredients that went into each. The cafe originated in Hokkaido so they also have a good selection of Hokkaido coffee on menu. 

Parfaiteria beL Fukuoka: (Tabelog) tabelog.com/fukuoka/A4001/A400104/40056247 

Check out the rest of our travel photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/g4gary/albums/72177720304148383

No comments :