Located on the tip of Japan’s southernmost island Kyushu, sandwiched between the perhaps better known prefectures of Fukuoka and Nagasaki, and bordered by the Sea of Japan, lies the fertile lands of Saga Prefecture. With this agricultural haven featuring some of the nation’s finest farming, fishing, and forestry, it’s no wonder the edible delicacies of the area reflect the quality of the local produce.
Famous for its ceramics and pottery, Saga’s mineral-rich landscape has largely been formed with the help of its surrounding oceans, which also make the prefecture’s seafood some of the freshest you can find in Japan. You’ll be hard pressed to find food so deeply rooted in its environment elsewhere, with elements of the land and sea coming together to form a medley of unforgettably rich flavors.
So join us as we explore the top five foods you have to try when you next find yourself in Saga…
Saga-gyu (Saga Beef)
Kicking things off we have perhaps the most famous Saga export – Saga-gyu. One of Japan’s top three types of wagyu, Saga-gyu is best known for its incredibly sweet and rich taste which will leave you immediately craving more. Although the beef here is prepared in many different ways including in Shabu-shabu or Sukiyaki (two types of Japanese hotpot), the meat can best be enjoyed grilled with a simple bowl of Saga rice. Make sure you savor each mouthful as you let the high fat content of the beef melt in your mouth.
If you want to truly experience the flavors of the prefecture, the locally raised, grassfed Japanese Black Wagyu is sure to leave your palette with an unforgettable taste impression.
Yobuko Ika (Yobuko Squid)
As we mentioned, the seafood in Saga is some of the freshest in Japan and can you get any fresher than a delicious serving of squid sashimi – often plated up while it’s still moving! In fact, the freshness of this must-eat item is so important, it’s often transported to restaurants in special seawater cages, straight from the ocean.
Saga is known for its Yobuko-ika (Yobuka squid) from the ancient fishing town of Yobuko in the northwest of the prefecture. This squid can be instantly recognized by its colorless, transparent skin which allows diners to see the pattern on its body and is known to have a particularly sweet flavor as well as a crispy texture when cooked.
Yude Takezaki Gani (Boiled Takezaki Blue Crab)
Best enjoyed in the summer or fall, Yude Takezaki Gani (Boiled Takezaki Blue Crab) is the hard-shelled standout of Saga’s ocean based cuisine. The crab here is so famous, foodies travel from all over the world just to sample the sweet, exceptional flavor of the crab meat.
Found in the Tara region of the Ariake Sea, off the southwestern coast of Saga, these crabs can grow to over a foot long! The unique, concentrated flavor is created by the rich phytoplankton the crabs feed on in the tidal flats of the sea and is a delicacy you won’t want to miss.
Want to find out more about all the different types of crab you can find in Japan? Check out our recent blog and learn why crab is the king of winter seafood in Japanese cuisine.
Time for something sweet! A staple sweet snack you have to try when you visit Saga is the iconic Maruboro. A popular snack for both locals and visitors, these small, cake-like disks are made special by the sweetness of brown sugar and richness of the local eggs used to make them.
With a 300 year long history, this snack is rooted in Japan’s long standing connection to the Dutch. Introduced by travelers in 1670, this soft cake is a moreish treat you won’t be able to put down. Why not buy a few boxes as the perfect omiyage (souvenir) for your friends and family – that is, if you can avoid polishing them off first!
Of course, you can’t visit Saga without trying a steaming cup of Ureshinocha (Ureshino Tea) – straight from the birthplace of Japanese tea. The unique rounded shape of the leaves gives the tea its distinct look and when steamed, it is simply known as Guricha or ‘curly’ tea.
Enjoy the smooth, light taste of the tea on its own alongside some wagashi (traditional Japanese sweet) or if you’re feeling slightly more adventurous, try the renowned Cha-shabu – Saga’s twist on the classic Shabu-shabu. This special dish uses slices of pork cooked in Ureshino Tea extract to create a delicious nutty flavor you won’t find anywhere else.
Here are some of the other culinary highlights you can find in Saga that we didn’t have time to talk about!
- Ogi Yokan
- Saga Nori
There’s much more to explore in this culinary paradise and we encourage everyone to eat their way through this incredible prefecture the next time you find yourself in Kyushu!