Even on a chilly December evening, the streets of Fukuoka are packed with revellers. They’re here in search of street snacks like pan-fried gyoza and meat skewers, among the pop-up eateries that dot the streets of the Tenjin, Nakasu and Nagahama districts.
Every evening around 6pm, close to 100 street vendors begin setting up shop around the city. This collection of stalls serve everything from ramen noodles to yakitori chicken to modern bistro food. In the colder months, oden (skewered meat, konjac, eggs and tofu simmered in a soy sauce dashi soup) becomes a staple.
One of the most adored aspects of Fukuoka’s food culture, these outdoor food stands are known as yatai. They are reminiscent of Singapore’s own street food stalls before Singapore’s independence in 1965. With so many to choose from and with new stalls popping up every two years per the city’s tradition, dining at a yatai has become an unmissable part of any trip to Fukuoka, any time of the year.
Long lines are quick to form around the most popular stalls, with some customers ready to brave the elements for over an hour for a seat at the table. In winter, yatai owners wrap their stands up in thick plastic to insulate the handful of lucky customers at the counter. From the outside, the blurry silhouettes of the backlit diners and muffled laughter filter out from the cosy interior. Wisps of steam rise from the tents, disappearing into the cold night.
Given the popularity of Fukuoka’s yatai culture today, it is hard to imagine that at one point it had seemed destined to disappear forever.
The history and future of Fukuoka’s yatai
Yatai first appeared on the streets of Fukuoka after the Second World