For 2 years, Macao had hosted Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants but for 2020, it was announced that the ceremony would take place in Saga, Japan. This lesser-known town is part of Kyushu Island, the Southern Island of Japan.
But what is special about Saga? Saga is a prefecture in Kyushu Island. The word prefecture means an administrative jurisdiction or subdivision in any of various countries. Saga provides memorable examples of Asia’s gastronomy but offers different approaches in restaurant and cuisine. Also, Saga’s access to fine seafood, artisanal preparation technique, and the pastoral landscape is lush with produce.
A bizarre delicacy which many may grimace at is the mutsugoro [鯥五郎] AKA ‘mudskipper’. We know, it doesn’t sound appetising but is a desirable treat in Saga, sought out by foodies looking for exotic treats! Most commonly it is covered in a soy sauce or mirin (sweet cooking rice wine) and freshly grilled.
Saga’s is also known for their famous culinary technique, the ikizukuri [生き作り]. This is the preparation for sashimi from live seafood eg. fish, octopus, shrimp and lobster. Trust us, we’ve seen the videos, and it’s not for the faint at heart. Live seafood is prepared either cut as sashimi or in sections or alive and whole, ready to be eaten raw! Customers can watch them writhe around or twitching on their plate, some literally attempting to jump off the chef’s board.
Fast Facts: Ikizukuri is outlawed in Australia and Germany
Foodies who happen to also be tea lovers should know that Saga produces quality tea in Japan. You can drop by the Ureshino Tea Village where you can sign up for a tour of tea plantation. You can enjoy the scenery of the hills filled with the colour green from the tea.
Apart from being one of Japan’s food sources and having a controversial style of culinary cooking, this prefecture is also famous for quality ceramic for 400 years. Arita and Imari are Saga’s two villages that sell incredible handicraft souvenirs to take back home for loved ones.
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If you’re looking for a historical and cultural tour, you can also explore Yoshinogari Park which is one of the main archaeological wonders of Saga. Some settlements here are said to date from the Yayoi Period (300 BC to 300 AD). There are a number of ancient pits where you can see rooms and tombs which date back to this period, there are some 2,000 of these dwellings on show at Yoshinogari Park.
Saga Castle and Saga Castle History Museum are the places you shouldn’t miss. This castle is one of many castles in Kyushu Island due to its origin in the Japanese feudal period. It was destroyed by battles and fire many times. It was rebuilt 2 times, the first time was after the Battle of Sekigahara (Japan’s civil war amongst daimyos) which led to the rise of Tokugawa Ieyasu who happened to be the last shogun, and the second time was in 2004 and became a history museum as well. And if you climb the inner towers, you’ll experience the views of the whole city. Guarantee instant Instagram kudos!
And if you’re looking for some spiritual guidance you can also visit Yutoku Inari Shrine, Yasaka Shrine and Kodenji Temple which will give you peace of mind either through their architectural aesthetics or their philosophies.
Either you are foodies who focus solely on food or fascinated by cultural and historical aspects, Saga seems to be an odd but definitely a unique place to explore for this great, upcoming gastronomy event.
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Author: Wariya I.
Wariya has a strong passion for cocktails, and you may have met her several times but she likes to keep it casual and low-profile. She also likes to enjoy quality tea, especially Japanese green tea.