Locals cheerfully gather for delicious gyoza and more in Kurume, Japan

We were so excited to be back in Kurume, Japan and eager to head back to a local izakaya called Hitokuchi Gyoza Tenya. This place is normally packed with locals cheerfully drinking and devouring the speciality of the house, gyozas.  No frozen gyoza served here, everyday they make around seven hundred gyozas. They are smaller than the average size with a well seasoned filling of pork and cabbage wrapped with a thin layer of pastry that’s gently browned and left to crisp at the bottom.

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Tenya has been open for almost ten years, it is owned by chef Norichika and wife Mai, they met in Tokyo where Norichika was a renowned saxophone player in a local band and Mai a popular actress and model rising to the top. They soon gave up their aspiring artistic careers to pursue Norichika’s passion for food in his beloved home town Kurume. Tenya became an instant hit with the locals, as soon as you walk in you realise you are in the right place.

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Clockwise: Sunagimo Sashimi (gizzard sashimi), Beef Tongue, Gyozas, Tonsoku (pork knuckle)

This izakaya resonates with cheerful laughter, food orders, glasses clinking before a toast (campaii!) and all tables are covered with little plates of delicious food. If this doesn’t make you hungry then the smells from the kitchen will tantalize your senses, have you ordering every dish and ultimately leave you contemplating whether to do another round.

Gyoza pan

The gyozas are obviously a hit, there were no tables without a generous serving of gyozas. You get ten gyozas per serving but you are encouraged to double this if you are hungry.  They have started to sell their gyozas online where they are now receiving orders from all over Japan, and as far as Hokkaido. They make many other dishes with local fresh ingredients that are sourced daily from the markets by the chef. One of my favourites is the bitter melon salad inspired by visits to Okinawa. I also enjoyed the gizzard sashimi with ginger, sweet soy and spring onions. One other dish that is popular here is the baby pork knuckle, it’s lightly seared leaving a slight crisp on the skin with a gelatinous moerish interior. I tell the chef this is similar to a dish I had in Zaragoza, Spain where instead of pork they use baby goat knuckles. Two different cultures far apart united by memories of a single food experience, at that moment I ordered another beer! The tripe salad is another tasty dish with a hint of chilli that’s best had with cold beer or shochu. The Japansese celery tsukemono (pickle) is aslo delicious, a crunchy bite with a refreshing flavour that’s perfect after the pork, it awakens the palate for another doze of delicious food.

Clockwise: Shirasu (baby anchovies), Horumon (pan-fried pork intestines), Shochu and local rum

They have a good selection of drinks, cold Kirin beer is available on tap and bottle. Mai has also selected easy to drink wines from Chile and Spain that I’m told are a good match for all the chef’s dishes. But if you are like me and prefer what the locals drink in Kyushu, you will find plenty of shochu, a spirit made from sweet potato, rice or barley. You have it with plenty of ice and regular pours of water, that’s if you want to last the night. Here they also mix it with green tea, it’s surprisingly good too.

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The genuine friendly spirit from the owners and staff is also what makes this place a joyous food experience. It is hard to leave Tenya, an izakaya that portrays the essence of Kurume, a smaller innovative city best known as the birthplace of Tonkotsu ramen and Bridgestone Tyres, is rich in culture with an abundance of delicious foods.

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Mai and Chef Norichika

Hitokuchi Gyoza Tenya

22-36 Mutsumon machi, Kurume, Fukuoka 830-0031

Ph: 0942328099

www.10ya.net

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