Kyushu’s Kumamoto Prefecture is home to remote islands, idyllic forests, a lively capital city, and the dramatic, smoking crater of Mount Aso. It also has a rich and varied local cuisine to enjoy, so read on to find out more about what to eat in Kumamoto!
Kumamoto oysters might be famous across the world, but the region has many more culinary treats on offer for those who visit. From distinctive noodle dishes and historic sweets to locally-produced liquor and even horse meat sashimi, there are a wealth of delicacies to enjoy in this picturesque and captivating prefecture!
Here are our top picks for the best Kumamoto foods to try when you visit this stunning seaside prefecture in Kyushu!
If you're feeling adventurous, one of the more unusual dishes you can try in Kumamoto is basashi, or horse meat sashimi. Also known as sakura nikku, which translates to "cherry blossom meat," basashi is dark pink or red in color. This lean and tender meat is becoming increasingly popular due to its low fat content and high levels of protein. It has a subtle taste, and is most commonly served with grated ginger, garlic, and soy sauce. You’ll find basashi served in restaurants throughout the prefecture, so why not give it a try when you visit Kumamoto?
Ramen is one of the most popular and well-known dishes in Japan, with each prefecture bringing its own unique twist to the dish. Here in Kumamoto, the broth is made using pork bone and chicken stock, resulting in a rich and creamy soup to which thick, straight noodles and a variety of toppings are added. What really makes Kumamoto ramen stand out is the garlic, though. It uses both garlic-infused oil and roasted or fried garlic chips to create a mouth-watering aroma and full-bodied flavor that's not to be missed!
This traditional local dessert should be at the top of the list of what to eat in Kumamoto for those with a sweet tooth! Ikinari dango are steamed dumplings that are made by layering a disc of sweet potato with sugared red bean paste, and wrapping it in a chewy flour coating to create a delicious, rustic treat. These chunky snacks can be enjoyed both hot and cold, and are available from street vendors as well as souvenir and confectionary stores across Kumamoto Prefecture. There are loads of different varieties to try – such as walnut, chestnut and white bean paste – plus they make great gifts to bring back home!
Akagyu (meaning "red beef") is a variety of the world-renowned wagyu beef – which is often featured in culinary Japan guides – made from cattle raised in the verdant countryside around Kumamoto’s Aso city. These are the only free-grazing cows in all of Japan, and meat lovers will enjoy savoring the beef’s buttery flavor, rich marbling, and tender texture that just melts in the mouth. Try akagyu cooked medium-rare and sliced in a donburi bowl served over Kumamoto rice, or as a juicy burger for a more Western-style meal.
Vegetarians will want to keep an eye out for this traditional dish during their Kumamoto travels. Karashi renkon is made from lotus root, which is stuffed with a mustard and miso paste before being battered and deep-fried. Said to date back to the Edo period, karashi renkon was supposedly created to help cure a feudal lord who fell ill. These days its interesting chewy texture and rich, spicy flavor make it a popular snack to enjoy with with shochu, but it can also be bought packaged as a souvenir to take home.
This noodle dish actually originated in China, and was brought to Kumamoto during the Meiji era. It has since been modified with the use of local ingredients, and transformed into a regional specialty! Taipien consists of thin, translucent vermicelli noodles that are made from bean starch – making them lighter those used in ramen, udon or soba – served in a flavorsome soup that’s often made using pork bone or chicken broth. A wide variety of ingredients can then be added, including egg, prawns and other seafood, sliced pork, and plenty of green leaves and different vegetables for a delicious and healthy meal.
Another local sweet to enjoy while in Kumamoto is chosen ame, meaning "Korean sweet." These soft candies date back about 400 years, when they were created as a preserved food for soldiers headed to Korea, as well as being enjoyed by the feudal lords. Made with glutinous rice, starch syrup and sugar, these soft, light-colored treats have a wonderfully delicate and chewy texture not dissimilar to mochi (sticky rice cakes). You may not be planning to go into battle, but chosen ame will still make a tasty souvenir of your Kumamoto trip!
Shochu is a popular, clear spirit drunk all across Japan as an alternative to sake, but it is particularly popular in Kyushu. Shochu production in Kumamoto dates back over 500 years, and Kuma shochu is a special variety made using rice grown locally in Hitoyoshi – an area in Kumamoto Prefecture that's renowned for its pure water. Various different types of Kuma shochu are available, and the drink can be enjoyed neat, on the rocks for a crisp and clean taste, mixed with hot water to bring out the aroma, or as the base for a cocktail. It also pairs perfectly with all kinds of Kumamoto food!
Whichever Kumamoto attractions you’re exploring – whether it’s the quaint beauty of Kurokawa Onsen, the serene forests of Kikuchi Valley, or the rugged slopes of Mount Aso – don’t miss out on the prefecture’s unique and fascinating food scene! From distinctive noodle dishes like Kumamoto ramen and taipien, to local specialties such as horse meat sashimi, and sweet treats like ikinari dango and chosen ame, hopefully this list has given you some inspiration for what to eat in Kumamoto.
Looking for more culinary fun? Browse our food experiences in Kumamoto to create the perfect gastronomic trip!