Why is this interesting? The Yatai Edition

On Hakata, outdoor eating, and creating a cozy experience

Colin here. One of my best culinary trips was down to Hakata, a city in Fukuoka in the south of Japan. Even among Japanese, all of whom have particular culinary allegiances to a region, this spot got near-universal head nods in terms of the quality of the food. The region is particularly well known for a homegrown variety of ramen (Hakata, a heavy and delicious pork-based version), but there was a wide range of incredible dishes including super-soft Udon noodles and delectable styles of late-night food that pairs well with a night on the town. 

Also noticeable were the Yatai, a particular type of small, DIY food stall. 

Boutique Japan explains

When compared to other Asian countries, Japan is notable for its lack of street food. Thankfully, yatai in Fukuoka continue to hold up the fort with their hearty, no-nonsense fare. Yatai are food carts which seat around 6 – 8 people, 10 if you’re sitting shoulder to shoulder with other diners...Depending on the yatai you visit, you could eat anything from stewed beef cartilage to mentaiko omelette. A particularly interesting local invention you should try, however, is yaki-ramen. It’s exactly as it sounds: ramen noodles are stir-fried with vegetables, pork, red-pickled ginger and egg, tossed together in a viscous, tangy brown sauce and a small serving of broth. Yaki-ramen isn’t pretty, but we’re not concerned with appearances here. It’s a hearty dish, and a perfect way to cap a night of drinking at the yatai with your new Fukuokan friends.

Why is this interesting? 

As cities around the world search for outdoor dining solutions, my mind jumped back to my time in Hakata. The Yatai stay open in the wintertime, and as I was wandering around in mid to late December several years ago, there was no shortage of options that managed to stay warm inside and serve up hearty, delicious food. It was like a combination of a portable food truck, and a pop-up mini-tent that managed to be both convivial and cozy, with each one feeling unique, like a tiny jewel box. 

According to a Japan-based food blogger, Yatai are increasingly rare in Japan, but can still be found in Hakata. She describes the vibe perfectly: “The place was heated, free of rain, and smelled like warm, home-cooked meals.  I could hear the patter of the rain hitting the metallic roof above us.” Indeed the intimacy and ambiance are super nice and leave feeling like you are sitting in the home kitchen of a Japanese friend. 

In New York and elsewhere, outdoor seating is going to be an essential way for restaurants to survive. We’ve seen no shortage of improvised spaces popping up for outdoor seating. But it isn’t just the big restaurants, it is also food trucks and smaller entrepreneurs not operating from a physical space. Though the Yatai is inherently cozy and meant to be cheek-to-cheek in non-pandemic times, there could be some lessons in vibe that restaurants and hospitality brands can take from the humble dwelling as they think about how to serve outdoors and weather the storm over the winter. (CJN)

Life improvement of the Day:

There are fewer things better than a roaring, wood-burning fire. Friend and WITI contributor Jann invited us to his roof, lit up his Solo Stove with some nice firewood, and it was just perfect. For those that have outdoor space or those who like camping, Solo makes a beautiful and portable unit that makes open fires easy. (CJN

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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