Japan and KLM – the food of Kyushu – Mizutaki Nabe

An Introduction to the Food of Kyushu, Japan with KLM and Atsuko’s Kitchen

In my early twenties I had something of an obsession with Japan.  Not with the food, rather with other aspects of the culture, in particular with Japanese gardens and the Tea Ceremony.  Of course as with many things in my life it might just have been linked with the man of the moment, who landscaped the garden of his small terraced house ‘Japanese Style’ using some of the principles of Japanese garden design to create a unique and tranquil space in the heart of London.  We spent hours in the Japanese Garden in Holland Park contemplating the features there…and replicating some of them in (not so) sunny Earlsfield.  I’m not entirely sure what the neighbours though, but we loved it.

More recently I’ve been learning a bit about Sake, which unfortunately for my liver I seem to love in all its variations (if you thought it was just a warm alcoholic wine, think again).

Atsuko demonstrating the fundamentals of Japanese cookery

But, Japanese food is something I knew very little  about and so I was delighted to be invited by KLM to join a select group of travel writers to celebrate their newest destination to Japan, Fukuoka and to learn about the island that is home to Japan’s sixth largest city, Kyushu by exploring some of the food.  Atsuko, our charming and enthusiastic teacher runs classes in Japanese home style cooking.  Not dishes where you need a lot of special equipment or a new store cupboard of ingredients but wonderful food that I can actually see myself making again.

Edame At Atsuko's Kitchen

Atsuko told us that Japanese food has five basic ingredients: Mirin, Sake, Soy, Rice Wine Vinegar and Miso Paste.  And explained that the Kyushu has food with slightly stronger flavours and a little more salt than Northern Japan.  Before we started cooking we were treated to some delicious canapes that she’d already prepared, before moving on to make three dishes ourselves and to enjoy a couple more.

Canapes at Atsukos kitchen

Sushi, in my head, involved elaborate preparations of fresh fish, careful rolling and shaping and immaculate styling.  I have tried.  I seem to remember making an inordinate amount of mess with some dried seaweed and a bamboo mat. This version, Suko Zuzhi is altogether easier and I can see it being very adaptable depending on what ingredients you have available, although that may be a little sacriligious given the dish is over 500 years old!

Atsuko's kitchen - rice base for sushi

Prepared sushi rice is pressed into a lined deep baking tray to make a thin (about 1.5cm deep layer) and then lifted out, cut into neat squares then topped with a variety of pre-prepared ingredients.

making Egg topping for sushi

We made egg ‘strings’ using a very thin omelette with a little sake and sugar which was rolled and sliced into ribbons.

Making sushi topping

Tuna flakes were a mixture of tuna, sake, sugar and shoyu (dark soy) all beaten up with chopsticks to create tiny soft fishy morsels.  And, we added steamed prawns and blanched mangetout, with a little garnish of dill.

Assembling the Sushi -and tweeting!

Simpler still was the garnish of spring onion with miso mustard sauce .  Blanched spring onions were trimmed and then knotted into a pretty shape and topped just before serving with a mixture of white miso, rice vinegar, agave and karashi mustard.

Spring onions at atsukos kitchen

This was a dish apparently created for a competition.  A food loving Japanese shogun, the 6th Hosokawa, Lord of Kumamoto. asked local cooks to compete to create a dish that would be special but needed just a few ingredients.  And the result was ‘higomoji no guruguru’, an economical and tasty side dish that can be enjoyed with just a glass of sake.

sushi served atsukos kitchen

The most complicated of the dishes we cooked was Mizutaki Nabe.  The nabe is hot pot which is generally cooked at the table and shared by the whole family.  The Fukuoka version is made with chicken stock, chicken and vegetables and is served with Ponzu, a special citrus soy.

Muzutaki Nabe

Serves 4
Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 15 minutes
Total time 30 minutes
Allergy Egg
Meal type Main Dish
Misc Serve Hot
Region Asian
By author atsuko


Chicken meat balls (tuskune)

  • 400g Chicken thigh fillet (minced or finely chopped by hand)
  • 10g Chives
  • 1 teaspoon Seasalt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons Ginger (grated)
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 tablespoon Katakuriko (potato starch)


  • 150g Firm tofu (cut into 8 pieces)
  • 1/2 Chinese cabbage (cut into 5cm lengths)
  • 2 Leeks (cut diagonally into 2cm lengths)
  • 1 Carrot (sliced very thinly)
  • 4 Mushrooms (stems removed)
  • 1 bunch Wild rocket

Base Soup

  • 1l Chicken Stock

Ponzu dipping sauce

  • 60ml Shoyu (dark soy)
  • 60ml Mirin
  • 60ml Rice vinegar
  • 1 Ponzu (I believe this is a recipe error and is actually 60ml of lemon or lime juice)
  • 1/2 Daikon
  • Yuzu gosho (to taste - this is a green chilli pepper paste with yuzu citrus)


Chicken meat balls (tuskune)
Step 1 chicken meatballs
Combine all the ingredients for the chicken meatballs in a bowl, mix well and set aside
Step 2 Place the ingredients for the Nabe in a bowl on one side
Ponzu dipping sauce
Step 3 Mix the shoyu, mirin, rice vinegar and citrus together. Peel and grate the daikon and strain any excess water. Put to one side
Step 4 Bring the stock to a boil in a pot
Step 5 adding ingredients - atsukos kitchen
Add the chicken meat balls, shaping them using two spoons to create a quenelle. Then add in the remaining ingredients.
Step 6 Serving - atsukos kitchen
When the chicken meatballs and vegetables are cooked through (about 10-15 minutes), serve by adding mixture from the cooking pot to a bowl containing a little ponzu sauce, daikon and yuzu goshho.
Step 7 Once the chicken and vegetables are eaten, the remaining stock can be mixed with cooked rice and a beaten egg to create a second dish.

Yes it was delicious.  But somehow quite healthy and light. I loved the idea of a table top meal for sharing although I suspect if and when I try this at home it will be using my tagine on the stove-top in the kitchen, at least until I am a little more confident with the ingredients!

chicken Dish Atsukos kitchenEven the Buto no kakuni, the ‘square pork’ was wonderful, tender, melting and delicately spiced.  I am not a fan of pork belly or any other fatty meat cut, but slow cooked this way the meat is very tender and the fat just falls away if you don’t want to eat it.  But no kakuni is a braised pork dish which Atsuko prepared for us and which probably has origins in China.    One of the key features of the food from Kyushu is the influence of it’s role as an international trading route for many centuries.  The food is a fusion of Eastern and Western cultures from as far back as the 16th century.

Pork - atsukos kitchen

We finished the evening with green tea and cake.  And I am intrigued; the cuisine of ‘this’ Japan is so different to the westernised sushi and sashimi we eat in the UK and the base ingredients seem accessible.  The historic and cultural influences are strong – For example Atsuko told us that many dishes had a Portuguese influence, from the 16th and 17th centuries when the Portuguese dominated the spice routes.  Perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to visit now that KLM offers three flights a  week from the UK to Fukuoko via Amsterdam.

cake and green tea - atsukos kitchen

With many thanks to KLM and Atsuko’s Kitchen for the invitation to learn a little about the cuisine of Kyushu.





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  1. says

    One of your best posts Fiona and I love the photos. So clear and enticing. I too, have always had a fascination with Japanese food but everyone seems to focus on Chinese or Thai for some reason.

  2. says

    A great and very interesting post. If I ever get the chance, I would like to visit Japan, although my Japanese is not that good. At least, it’s possible to enjoy the food at home. For sure you had a lovely evening.

  3. says

    What a fab cooking lesson. Love to learn more about Japanese cooking and have been experimenting on my own. That belly pork dish is very similar to one that I cook a lot for the supperclub, a slow braised belly pork in soya sauce with ginger star anise. Everyone loves it.

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