Scene inside a Fukuoka yatai
More than a decade ago now, my mother and I went on vacation to Taipei. Among the attractions we were most looking forward to checking out was at least one of its famous night markets. But our visit to the one at Shilin turned out to be on the underwhelming side.
Upon wondering why it was so hyped, my mother was moved to suggest that those visitors who make such a big deal of it do so because they have never been to Penang, where there are lots of places to eat street food -- and a great variety of food to eat -- at night. The more I think about it, the more I think she may have been right. And I got to thinking again that growing up in Penang has spoilt me as far as this kind of thing is concerned when I went and checked out the similarly famous yatai scene one evening in Fukuoka and found the experience rather disappointing.
It may not have helped that the night I went out to get a meal at a yatai was a Sunday; the one day of the week that many -- though by no means all -- of them are closed. So there may have been less variety as well as fewer options numerical available. In any event, I figured that I might as well as go for it and selected a food stall that looked popular, yet didn't have too long a line of people waiting to get a seat at it, which turned out to have oden (fish cake stew), yakitori (chicken skewers), ramen and gyoza (Japanese pan-fried dumplings) on its menu (which was written in Japanese and Korean but not English!).
To be fair, the bowl of oden that I had was pretty tasty. And I liked that it had a good assortment of items; with mushroom, offal and shirataki in the mix along with the "classic" daikon and boiled egg. But the gyoza that I followed that comforting winter dish with was disappointing -- in that I didn't only think that it was over-cooked but also wasn't handmade.
Worst of all was how expensive it all (together with the one bottle of beer that I also ordered) proved to be. Given the spartan conditions of the yatai as well as the by no means high quality of the food and drink on offer, I most definitely wasn't expecting it to be more expensive than a meal of equivalent size in an izakaya with more room, comfortable chairs (as opposed to rickety stools) and indoor heating!
While I wouldn't go so far as to say that I think I had been ripped off, my Fukuoka yatai experience didn't feel as much of a bargain as well as pleasant as I had hoped that it would be. Feeling unsatisfied and unwilling to return to my hotel just yet, I went and found a dining establishment nearby where I could eat in heated, indoor comfort -- and which turned out to have better food and drink as well. Put another way: the Fukuoka yatai experience seems over-rated and since it's so easy to eat (and drink) better elsewhere in the city, I think that's what I do from now on whenever I'm there!