Top 5 Food Experiences in Saga, the Coastal Gourmet Paradise of Kyushu

Facing the Ariake Sea, Saga Prefecture is a coastal area that's most known for its strong pottery culture, especially in the towns of Karatsu, Imari, and Arita. However, it also has a growing food culture thanks to its location by the sea, mild climate, clean air, and lush mountains. From Saga beef to Ureshino tea, there are plenty of ingredients and dishes from Saga Prefecture that stand out not just locally, but even internationally. In this article, we cover the top five that you absolutely need to try if you ever get the chance to visit this stunning prefecture.


Food & Drinks

About Saga Prefecture

Saga Prefecture straddles Fukuoka and Nagasaki Prefectures. Facing the Ariake Sea and in surprisingly close proximity to mainland Asia, it was once an important gateway for the transmission of foreign culture and trade in Japanese history. Today, it is well known for its pottery culture, particularly in the towns of Karatsu, Imari, and Arita. However, it actually has a bustling food culture that begs to be explored. Read on to learn more about the top five foods that you absolutely have to try while you're in the area!

Top 5 Local Foods to Try in Saga Prefecture

Saga Beef

Saga beef is one of the great delicacies of the prefecture. It's a name only given to premium beef taken from Kuroge Wagyu cattle raised in JA* farms and that have passed strict inspection and criteria. The beef itself is beautifully marbled, soft, juicy, sweet, and rich. It's the result of not just years of hard work and loving care, but also the environment; Saga Prefecture has a mild climate and clean water and air, all of which combine to create the perfect environment for raising beef cattle. Despite Japan having over 150 different brands of quality beef, Saga beef stands out as one of the top, ranking highly in many wagyu beef competitions over the years.

If that sounds absolutely delectable, we recommend paying Kira Saga a visit the next time you drop by Saga Prefecture. It's one of the best places to try Saga beef, as it is owned and operated by JA Saga itself. Apart from having an English website and menus, they are even able to cater to food allergies if contacted in advance, making them a prime option for any tourist looking for mouthwateringly delicious Saga beef.

*JA = Japan Agricultural Cooperative. They regulate and handle everything related to agriculture in Japan.

Yobuko Squid

Yobuko is the name for a district of Karatsu City that sits at the northern tip of Saga Prefecture, facing the Genkai Sea. As a coastal area, it is home to many fisheries that raise as well as catch all kinds of seafood year-round, including the famed Yobuko squid.

Yobuko's squid is not just famous locally, but all across Japan. What's unique about it is its transparent, firm, sweet meat. In Yobuko, it is often eaten as sashimi, cut up right after being caught to preserve its freshness and beautiful transparency. This is one of the most preferred ways to eat this squid while in Yobuko, as Yobuko squids are sensitive to changing environments, so it's difficult to eat it that fresh unless you eat it locally. If raw is too much for you, however, it is served several other ways, including squid dumplings, which are often bought in Yobuko as a souvenir.

Interested in all the other ways Yobuko squid can be served up on a plate? Visit the Yobuko Morning Market while you're in the area. This is actually one of three major morning markets in all of Japan! You'll find all kinds of goods on sale, not just seafood, so eat to your heart's delight while exploring the market streets.

Onsen Yudofu

This is a specialty dish of Ureshino Onsen, located in Ureshino City in southwest Saga Prefecture. "Yudofu" literally means "boiled tofu," a dish that you can find in many places in Japan. However, what makes the one at Ureshino Onsen special is that it is cooked using the local hot spring water. The minerals in the water react with the tofu, making it literally melt into the soup, turning the broth milky white and the tofu silky soft. Of course, it's not just the appearance and texture that gets people excited—Saga also happens to be a major production area for soybeans in Japan, so it tastes amazing, too!

Want to give it a try? The last time we were in Ureshino Onsen, we ate this delicious dish at a place called Shinpachi Sushi. This restaurant specializes in not just sushi, but also onsen yudofu, offering their own take on it by adding udon noodles to the soup. It was so delicious that we couldn't stop talking about how good it was all throughout the meal!

Ureshino Tea

Another thing that Ureshino is known for is its tea. Proper cultivation of this tea is said to have begun between 1648 and 1651 when a man named "Jinbei Yoshimura" started a tea farm at Ureshino to promote its tea industry.

What makes this tea unique apart from its long history is the shape of the tea leaves. The tea leaves aren't rolled out when being processed like many other varieties of Japanese tea, resulting in curled tea leaves that release a variety of flavors and scents over time. This distinctive characteristic, along with just how little is sold in the Japanese market each year, has made this tea a delicacy that must be experienced if you ever visit Saga Prefecture.

There are many ways to experience this tea. For example, you could try tea-infused foods such as cha-shabu, where thin slices of pork are quickly cooked in tea-infused broth. Ureshino tea has a high amount of vitamin C, so you'll feel surprisingly refreshed after eating this dish. Alternatively, you could try jumping in a tea-infused hot spring bath! Lastly, you could walk through the terraces of tea fields in the area. When doing so, make sure to feast your eyes on the Daichaju. This giant tea tree is said to have been planted by Jinbei himself, making it over 350 years old. It is a national natural monument and one of the largest tea bushes in the world.

Saga Laver

Laver is a popular ingredient in Japanese cooking, and Saga Prefecture is one of the best places for it. Not only is the laver harvested from the prefecture thought to be one of the best in Japan, but Saga Prefecture actually boasts the highest laver production output in the country!

The main reason for such glowing praise comes from the prefecture's location. It faces the Ariake Sea, which is the largest bay in Kyushu with over 100 rivers flowing into it. These rivers carry soil packed with nutrients, boosting the quality of the laver grown in the area. Furthermore, the freshwater they bring in helps reduce the salt content of the bay's water, creating the perfect salt concentration for delicious laver. Lastly, there's a large difference in sea levels between high tide and low tide, meaning that the laver actually gets enough sunlight to be able to grow. This same sunlight is what gives Saga laver a unique aroma and sweetness that people can't get enough of.

Laver is healthy, as it's low in calories while high in vitamins and minerals. It can be used in many dishes, including Japan's ever-popular onigiri (rice balls), and can be processed to last for a long time if necessary. Why not pick up some as a souvenir to bring back home? It'll be a delicious way to remember your time in Saga Prefecture! You can pick some up as well as try some unique Saga laver soft-serve ice cream at Maeumi, a store that sells all kinds of local souvenirs that's run directly by the JF Saga Prefecture Fishery Cooperative Federation.

Explore Kyushu!

Saga Prefecture is just one out of the seven different prefectures that make up Kyushu, arguably Japan's most scenic and historic region. There are so many other delicacies to try in Kyushu! You can check out this article, where we cover not just some of the Saga foods covered in this article, but also all kinds of delicious dishes in Nagasaki and Fukuoka Prefectures. For more information on what's out there in the region, check out the official Kyushu tourism website.

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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

About the author

Yuri I.
A third culture kid that is forever searching for a permanent home. When I'm not busy translating or writing, I'm working on my voice, taking photographs, watching anime, and gobbling up everything in sight. For me, curiosity never ends.

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