Where And What To Eat When In Kumamoto, Japan | CoolJapan

Where And What To Eat In Kumamoto

Photo from: Kumamoto Prefectural Tourism Federation

Mention Kumamoto and its cute black bear mascot ‘Kumamon’ and premium-quality rice comes to mind. But did you know that the prefecture of Kumamoto is also regarded as a gourmet food paradise where you can find some of the most unique local dishes in Japan? Let’s take a food trip and whet your appetite!

Karashi Renkon

Simply put, Karashi Renkon is deep-fried lotus root stuffed with mustard. This is a traditional Kumamoto speciality with a history that goes back three centuries ago or since the Edo period. But for lotus root lovers, here is where it gets a lot more exciting.

Fresh lotus root is first generously stuffed with a delicious mixture of Karashi, a spicy Japanese mustard, and Miso paste. It is then covered in a simple batter of egg and flour, and fried to yummy golden perfection. The finishing touch is to serve it thinly sliced, which reveals a pretty yellow flower pattern that resembles a work of art.

Bite into the lotus root and you will be amazed by its contrasting taste and texture. The tart spiciness of the Karashi stuffing is extremely appetising and pairs harmoniously with the delicate crunchiness of the lotus root.

With its enticing flavours, this well-loved Kumamoto speciality is a popular side dish that is often enjoyed with alcohol. Although it is made from simple local ingredients, the Karashi Renkon is a sensorial experience that will have you hooked and craving for more!

Where to try: Murakami Karashi Renkon. This speciality store was founded in 1955. Using only good quality local ingredients, they are proud of their traditional taste that has remained unchanged over the years.


Where And What To Eat In Kumamoto - Horse meat sashimi

Basashi from Kumamoto; Photo from: Igorberger/CC BY-SA 3.0

Raw horse sashimi. Yup, this is what Basashi is. Although many Westerners may find this unacceptable, the idea of eating horse meat is actually not scary or bizarre at all in Japan. In fact, raw horse meat is tender and subtly sweet.

The practice of eating horse meat in Kumamoto traces its origins back to the city's most famous warlord in the 1600s,
 Kato Kiyomasa, who is the founder of Kumamoto Castle. Today, Basashi has become a famed delicacy in Kumamoto and can be commonly found in restaurants and supermarkets.

You can find horse meat stew and horse meat sausages in Japan. But in Kumamoto, eat it how the locals like it best — sashimi-style. Here, Basashi is served raw and cold. You then dip the thickly sliced succulent meat into the accompanying soy sauce, wasabi, and grated ginger. Rich in flavour yet low in calories, it tastes like a milder version of beef and melts delightfully in your mouth.

Where to try: Suganoya. One of the most famous horse meat restaurants in Kumamoto, this stop gets its fresh meat directly from its own farm. They serve an impressive menu, from premium sashimi cuts to horse meat hamburger.


Considered to be the soul food of Kumamoto, Taipien is a humble but comforting vermicelli soup whose origins is from China. Over the years, this traditional Chinese celebratory dish has taken on Kumamoto’s cultural influences and evolved to be an iconic staple of the city.

The main ingredient is bean-starch vermicelli. This low-calorie and nutritious noodle is served in a light broth made from chicken or vegetables and is typically paired with cabbage, shrimp and a fried hard-boiled egg. However, every household and restaurant has their own recipe, so do not be surprised to see other local ingredients added in such as pork slices and seasonal vegetables in some versions.

Besides being a common item in Chinese restaurants, Taipien is so well-loved that it even appears regularly on the menu of school lunches. Supermarkets also sell instant versions that you can bring home as souvenirs. Although this dish sounds relatively simple, Taipien is actually quite rare outside of Kumamoto. So if you are in the area, do give this satisfying noodle soup a try!

Where to try: Kourantei. Taipien has been a popular dish on the menu of this historical Chinese restaurant since it was founded in 1934. They still insist on using vermicelli that is made from 100 per cent green beans.

Minamata Organic Tea

If you are a tea enthusiast, you are in luck. On the prefectural border between Kumamoto and Kagoshima lies a sprawling field of high-quality Japanese tea that is cultivated from a rare local tea species that were first planted about 90 years ago. This cold upland in the city of Minamata is the birthplace of the famed Minamata tea.

Blessed with nutrient-rich volcanic ash soil and fresh air, Minamata tea is famed for its fragrance and clear bright colours when brewed. But the most important aspect of this premium tea is that it is grown using chemical-free and eco-friendly agricultural methods. Absolutely no pesticides, herbicides, fertilisers or even animal manure are used, so you can happily savour the various varieties of tea with peace of mind.

Besides farming green tea, this region also produces very delicious Japanese-style black tea with a mild aftertaste, which is unlike the usual astringent black teas produced by other countries that consumers are used to. While this organic black tea is delectable on its own, the flavours also complement Japanese food and sweets.

Where to try: Amano Tea Factory. They're one of the few producers of organic tea in Minamata that also own their very own beautiful and peaceful farm aptly named Heaven's Tea Garden. For three generations, this factory has worked tirelessly on this farm to produce teas of the highest quality.

Ikinari Dango

Where And What To Eat In Kumamoto - Ikinari Dango

Photo from: Kyushu Tourism Promotion Organization

Let us end on a sweet note with the Ikinari Dango, Kumamoto’s most famous confectionery. It is a traditional sweet that has been enjoyed by generations for a long time. The name Ikinari Dango literally translates to ‘suddenly made dumplings’ and sheds light on how this sweet snack can be prepared quickly when unexpected guests visit.

The Ikinari Dango contains only three simple ingredients:
 a thick wedge of sweet potato, Adzuki red bean paste, and steamed rice flour (similar to mochi). But, don't let it fool you — this is truly a culinary work of art.

The natural sugars in the sweet potato and the mashed red beans offer just the right amount of sweetness without being too cloying. Mouthfuls of this chewy, soft, and luscious treat will leave you satiated and overfilled with joy.

Typically served hot, this Kumamoto speciality is perfect to keep you warm in the colder months, but you can enjoy this local sweet throughout the year. Like most traditional sweets, the Ikinari Dango is also commonly eaten during festivals and special occasions.

Where to try: Higoya. This well-loved local shop specialises in making only Ikinari Dango. They use carefully selected sweet potatoes and red beans from Kyushu and pure water for its dough, resulting in a soft and chewy texture.

(Cover photo from: Kumamoto Prefectural Tourism Federation)

  1. 1.Murakami Renkon
  2. 2.Suganoya
  3. 3.Kourantei
  4. 4.Amano Tea Factory
  5. 5.Higoya
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