Overview

Known for its unique dishes, Kumamoto prefecture is home to some fascinatingly delicious local foods. Horse meat is popular in the prefecture and just like Kumamoto's signature spicy lotus root dish, horse meat began as an emergency food in feudal times. Complementing theses unique flavours is sweetfish sushi with the rice inside the fish and a popular rice flour dumpling filled with sweet potato and red bean paste. Here is a simple guide to some of the regional cuisine of Kumamoto.

Basashi

Horse meat sashimi is famous in Kumamoto. Known as basashi, the meat's vibrant red colouring suggests a powerful flavour but in fact the taste is considered to be quite clean. Usually served with grated garlic or ginger with soy sauce, the dish was said to have originated during a period of food shortage in the 16th century though today, basashi is quite the fashionable feed.

Basashi (Photo: <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/takoyaki_king/9011941932" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">George N / CC BY 2.0</a>)
Basashi (Photo: George N / CC BY 2.0)

Karashi renkon

Another famous Kumamoto delicacy with an emergency origin story, karashi renkon are lotus roots filled with Japanese mustard and miso paste and then battered and deep fried. Said to cleanse the blood, the lotus root's pattern resembled that of the powerful Hosokawa clan and with one of their lords falling ill, the dish was created to help help him recover.

Karashi renkon (Photo: <a href="https://www.odarenkon.com/%E3%81%8B%E3%82%89%E3%81%97%E8%93%AE%E6%A0%B9/" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Image by Oda Shoten</a>)
Karashi renkon (Photo: Image by Oda Shoten)

Ayu no sugatazushi

The sweet flesh of the ayu sweetfish is a popular delicacy throughout the country. In Kumamoto, ayu no sugatazushi sees the entire ayu is used as a dish of sushi, with the rice being served inside the fish. Whether it is cured with vinegar or grilled, ayu no sugatazushi is a mainstay of any celebration in the prefecture.

Ayu no sugata sushi (Photo: <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%E7%84%BC%E3%81%8D%E9%AE%8E%E3%81%AE%E5%A7%BF%E5%AF%BF%E5%8F%B8.jpg" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Indiana jo / CC BY-SA 4.0</a>)
Ayu no sugata sushi (Photo: Indiana jo / CC BY-SA 4.0)

Ikinari dango

Traditionally served to guests who arrived unexpectedly, ikinari dango is a confectionery made with a layer of sweet potato and a layer of red bean paste all wrapped in mochiko rice flour. Literally meaning 'sudden dango', this simple but wholesome sweet is one of the prefecture's most popular treats.

Ikinari dango (Photo: <a href="http://darling.jpn.org/article/29788527.html" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener nofollow">Image by ちょび</a>)
Ikinari dango (Photo: Image by ちょび)