Saga Prefecture is a stunning natural region nestled in the northwest of Kyushu island located to the south of Japan. Characterized by fertile plains sandwiched between the Sea of Japan and the Ariake Sea, Saga is simply bursting with regional delicacies and breathtaking scenery. Although it’s particularly well-known for its seafood, the best of what to eat in Saga doesn’t stop there. Other pockets of Instagram-worthy natural gems and scenic spots across the prefecture each offer unique culture and food.
Saga Prefecture is boxed in by the major cities of Fukuoka and Nagasaki on either side, with fertile soils making the region home to high-quality meats and produce. Rice, strawberries, and pears are a few famous products from the region, alongside a variety of exquisite local vegetables.
Not only is there plenty of exciting food to eat, but attractions like the gorgeous Hamanoura Rice Terraces and the floating torii gate of Ouo Shrine also makes Saga a unique destination. Its mild climate makes it a popular spot for hiking, while the mineral-rich hot springs of Ureshino to Saga’s southwest is considered to be one of the best in all of Kyushu.
The pottery town of Arita is famous for its traditional porcelain and ceramics, known as Arita-yaki (where eating regional food from locally-made wares makes it taste even better!) Plus, the Saga International Balloon Fiesta is celebrating its 40th year of hot air balloons filling the skies in 2019 (over 100 of them), and in early November the amazing paper float-carrying festival called Karatsu-kunichi is on again. This fantastic cultural event is held in the local town of Karatsu, which is also home to one of the best fish markets in the region!
Did we get a little sidetracked? There are so many great things to see and do in Saga! Let’s get into it, check out our local guide for what to eat in Saga below.
What to Eat in Saga
Here are some local Saga delicacies to try on your trip to this stunning prefecture!
- Yobuko Ika (Live Squid Sashimi)
- Saga Gyu (Wagyu Beef)
- Ureshinocha (Saga Tea)
- Onsen Yudofu (Hot Spring Tofu)
- Shishirian Rice (Sicilian Rice)
- Dagojiru (Local Miso Soup)
- Yude Takezaki Gani (Boiled Blue Crab)
- Kankoi (Koi Fish)
- Saga Sake (Nihonshu)
1. Yobuko Ika (Live Squid Sashimi)
Yobuko ika is among the most famous dishes of seafood in the Saga region. This local delicacy is literally squid from the Yobuko port area, which is famous for serving it up raw! That’s right, travelers make trips to Yobuko to take on this characteristically transparent squid caught from the Sea of Genkai, served freshly cut and still moving! For those who are a bit squeamish, you can try other styles of cooking this local squid like having it grilled, fried in tempura, or served with local dumplings. At the local port and market area, salted squid hangs everywhere to dry overnight, which is also a tasty snack!
2. Saga Gyu (Wagyu Beef)
Amazing local beef from Saga is recognized globally for its impeccable meat quality, rated at 4 out of 5. Native to the Saga region, this high-quality black-haired beef comes from designated farms that use a unique technology for breeding. This creates ultra-juicy meat that is both lean and soft (and totally delicious). Saga gyu has a characteristically fine marbling of fat through the meat (called shimofuri) and its minimum marking for the globally-recognized Beef Marbling Standard is always at least 7 out of 12. If you’re prepared to pay the hefty price tag for wagyu beef, Saga gyu is definitely one of the best dishes if you’re planning out what to eat in Saga. Prepare for the ultimate mouthwatering steak and try a slab of grilled Saga gyu, or enjoy it finely sliced and dipped in a shabu-shabu hot pot as a warming treat.
3. Ureshinocha (Saga Tea)
Ureshinocha, or local tea from the famous hot spring town of Ureshino, makes for a natural and refreshing drink made from pure local waters. Grown along the hillside of the Ureshino Basin for over 550 years, the rich minerals bubbling in the spring waters give ultra-fertile soils that are perfect for high-quality tea production. Green tea from Ureshino is the most popular drink, although locally-produced black tea also tastes delicious with tea or lemon (and not to forget a traditional sweet on the side). On the other hand, the special formula of "steam curled green tea" makes for a delicious addition to the regional dish of hizen chayagu, which is rice porridge made with green tea (a popular dish if you're wondering what to eat in Saga for breakfast). Ureshinocha is definitely the perfect refreshment after a long soak in an onsen. Plus, the onsen waters are said to have beautifying properties, as an added bonus!
4. Onsen Yudofu (Hot Spring Tofu)
Continuing on the topic of onsen waters, onsen yudofu is a delicious hot spring delicacy dish. Literally translating to “hot spring water tofu,” this local style of tofu uses the secret ingredient of Saga spring waters from the local Ureshino onsen region. Enriched with sodium bicarbonate and other beautifying minerals, the hot spring waters that onsen yudofu is cooked in makes this dish a next level local specialty. This extra-soft textured tofu is milky and silky smooth, oozing in your mouth, with a subtle sweetness to its flavor. The tofu for this dish is solely made from soybeans produced in the Ureshino onsen area, making it a unique local delicacy. Variations of tofu cooked in a basket is also known as zaru tofu.
5. Shishirian Rice (Sicilian Rice)
Shishirian Rice (or “Sicilian rice”) is a yoshoku dish (read more about it in Yoshoku: Western-Style Cuisine with a Japanese Twist) that originated in the Saga region. It started off as a kind of mankai dish, which are meals made for staff members of restaurants by using leftover ingredients at the end of a day’s trade. Essentially, shishirian rice is a bed of Japanese rice is topped with warm meat and salad vegetables, then finished with a generous drizzle of mayonnaise. This Japanese-style western food meal is served up at different restaurants in Saga city, each with their own unique variations of this salad-over-rice specialty. This surprising dish is loved by locals, and is now known as a regional dish in Saga.
6. Dagojiru (Local Miso Soup)
Dagojiru is a local stew-style of miso soup featuring regional wheat flour dumplings. This dish originated as a home-cooked meal in Saga, but it has since evolved to become a popular meal served in restaurants, too. A typical bowl of dagojiru generally consists of noodles and chicken mixed with a variety of vegetables, plus the sumptuous local dumplings. It’s hearty, tasty, and healthy, making it a delicious and steaming pick-me-up come winter time. Some versions also include konnyaku noodles as well. It’s the perfect treat after a hike in Saga’s beautiful scenery, following a long soak in a gorgeous onsen.
7. Yude Takezaki Gani (Boiled Blue Crab)
Freshly boiled “blue crab” from the coastal Takezaki area makes for an exceptional regional dish in Saga. Takezaki crabs are a popular dish, caught in the oceans surrounding the Tara region of the Ariake Sea, located along the coastline not far from Nagasaki in the neighboring prefecture. In Japan, crab is often seen as a winter food (for example the snow crabs in Hokkaido are simple unbelievable!) but in Saga, you can enjoy them all year round. In fact, yude Takezaki gani is best enjoyed in summer or during the fall. But, beware of the price tag! This Saga region speciality is expensive but certainly worth trying. These guys can grow over a foot long and have a unique flavor that’s both concentrated and sweet.
8. Kankoi (Koi Fish)
Another spectacular seafood dish from Saga is kankoi, otherwise known as carp from Ogi City. Ogi is located around the middle of Saga Prefecture, where the Kiyomizugawa River runs through the center of the city. The water flowing through is considered to be in the top 100 best waters of Japan, according to the Ministry of the Environment. Local dishes that use carp from Ogi are a specialty dish that’s best served during the winter months. Not only is it a fresh local delicacy, this gourmet fish is said to be good for your health, with beneficial medicinal properties!
9. Saga Sake (Nihonshu)
Sake from Saga is truly almost unmatched in quality. Due to the fertile soils of the Saga Plains, the prefecture is one of Japan’s top rice producing areas. And, of course, where there is rice, there is sake! Saga is full of approximately 30 sake breweries, with the greater Kyushu region once considered to be the “sake prefecture” for its impressive, thriving industry. The taste and quality of Saga sake is guaranteed by being Saga-region certified. Under biannual testing, “SAGA certified sake” is designated to brews that use local ingredients and high-quality brewing methods for a distinct flavor and aroma.
Every heard of “eel goby”? If you’re wondering about what to eat in Saga that’s a very unusual local “delicacy,” warasubo (or eel goby) should be your go-to dish! Warasubo kind of looks like a little alien so it’s no surprise it’s often referred to as “the Ariake Alien.” But, it’s certainly a local snack you won’t get anywhere else. These funny guys are like an eel-meets-fish, long and skinny with gnarly teeth, and can grow longer than a foot. It’s quite versatile as you can eat it dried out as a snack, served in your glass of local sake, or even as sashimi (you can eat them live, if you dare!) If you’re not-so game to try it, Saga is also a big producer of seaweed. That’s definitely not going to be wriggling when you eat it.
Yokan is a traditional sweet in Japan that has a long history going back hundreds of years. It is a vegan sweet made from sugar, agar, and red beans, processed into a dense jelly-like consistency. Although it is not strictly a sweet from Saga, yokan in fact came from China and was originally made from sheep gelatin. The Chinese character used to mean “sheep” is where the “yo” in its name originates. When yokan came to Japan, Buddhists created an animal-friendly version using plant-based substitutes, and has since been registered as one of Japan’s Tangible Cultural Properties in 1997. This special version of yokan that’s made in Ogi city is in high demand, making Saga famous for being the prefecture with the most yokan purchases. Shaped into blocks of different sizes, the texture of yokan is thick , and it’s intensely sugary, meaning that it preserves well. It makes a good emergency snack!
An incredible region literally sandwiched between Nagasaki and Fukuoka, Saga Prefecture is a lesser traveled beauty of Japan. Finding out what to eat in Saga can be overwhelming for its extensive range of local delicacies, but here's a hot tip: you simply can’t go wrong with local seafood! It’s not surprising, considering that it’s sandwiched between the Sea of Japan and the quality waters of the Ariake Sea, where some of the most unique seafood grows. Japanese tiger prawns, oysters, mudskippers, crabs, and more. Overall, Saga’s charming atmosphere is perfectly complemented by the breathtaking scenery and delicious local produce.
For more information about Saga Prefecture, check out Doganshitado Saga Travel Support!