Monday, March 13, 2006

Yaki Kaki - arguably the best dining experience in Kyushu

When I first went to a Yaki Kaki place (literally Barbecued Oysters) I was a little apprehensive. After all, oysters are those slimy things that are supposed to be aphrodisiacs. To eat oysters, you need to either be French or James Bond, preferably reclined on a ridiculously plush fur rug in a Swiss chalet with a beautiful femme fatale, or something along those lines.

My apprehension was compounded by the fact that it was the morning after the Kirin Beer Drink-off, and I was just a little queasy. But, when in Japan... I decided to bite the bullet, and to my surprise, the oysters were actually just like large mussels. Armed with a builder's glove and a twisty nail, I gladly polished off a great many of the kaki, and vowed to visit again.

An opportunity arose in February, so my wife and I decided to go. We were on the way to the same place, when we happened to pass another one. With it being closer, and tiredness on both our parts, we decided to give it a go. The format was essentially the same - you give your money to one of the staff, who goes and grabs whatever you ordered (usually plastic baskets of oysters, squids, crabs etc.) In the meantime your barbecue has been lit, and then you can start to put your oysters on. "My uncle says that the oysters naturally open when they are ready," my wife cheerily informed me. Which was only a part truth. Some oysters do indeed part slowly with a gentle bubbling of juice, but most - and this is why this is the best dining experience in Kyushu - explode violently, sending red-hot fishquid squirting in random directions with a rifle-like crack!

Utterly random spatially and temporally - I was hit on the shoulder, the ear and the thigh, and but for a few inches the biggest squirt of them all would have gone straight into my left eye. Yoko was fairly lucky, although she did get hit on the hand whilst picking another one up, which gave her a chance to practice her newly-acquired English swear words. Actually, thinking about it she wasn't that lucky really, as she did burn her lip rather badly and had to hold a can of beer against it for a few minutes to recoup.

No matter how many times the explosions happened, we never quite got used to them and each one made us jump a little. With the kaki almost down to the last few, I had a bit of a hankering for some squid, so we grabbed one from the staff and cooked it up, and it was utterly delicious. Rather than the tasteless variety found in sushi shops, this version was crisp and succulent and the process of barbecueing brought out all the flavour.

Two hours and two baskets of oysters later, it was time to go. We'd eaten our fill, been hit by burning juice jets and jumped at the sound of exploding shells, and we couldn't have had a better time. At the Yaki Kaki place there had been no talk of work, no unnecessary politenesses and no cries of "oishiiiii!", just families champing down on seafood and having a break from the real world. There really should be more times like that.


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