The world’s unexpected fried chicken capital

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Why is the small town of Nakatsu, with its nearly 50 “karaage” shops, regarded as having the best fried chicken in Japan, if not the world?

One of Japan’s most popular snacks, the little karaage, is a delicate and intricate version of fried chicken that is a national favourite. This delectably crunchy treat is so popular that hundreds of thousands of people vote in a nationwide competition to determine which karaage shop serves the best. While shops in massive metropolises like Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka should dominate any large-scale competition, shops in one small town, Nakatsu City, located in the Oita prefecture on the southern island of Kyushu, consistently win the most awards.

The Karaage Grand Prix is an annual competition in Japan, with the winner claiming to have the crispiest, juiciest, and most flavorful fried chicken. and nearly 1,000 businesses compete. Until 2022, this contest was entirely based on popularity, with ordinary citizens voting on their favourite locations. However, the rules are changing in 2023, judges are being brought in to taste test, and the true crown for the best karaage will be awarded.

What is the point of all of this? And why is this small town of Nakatsu regarded as having the best fried chicken in Japan, if not the world?–Get-Success-With-Best-Results/wiki

With increased scrutiny and official tasters, Nakatsu City karaage shops have more to lose and prove than the average shop across the country. The city’s entire reputation as Japan’s karaage capital is now on the line, along with hundreds of years of cultural culinary history.

First, a definition of karaage (pronounced similarly to “karate,” but with a hard “g” instead of a “t”): It’s a type of fried chicken popular in Japan for its simplicity of preparation as well as the complexity of its flavours. It’s a lightly beaten bird. primarily using potato starch as a coating that crisply covers nugget-sized pieces of marinated chicken thighs, breasts, necks, and wings that have been marinated in mixtures of soy sauce, ginger, salt, garlic, fruits, and other highly secretive ingredients that give off a taste explosion that dribbles down your chin with every bite.

People queue around the block for their favourites, and even the late Anthony Bourdain was a fan: “I’m hooked on these deep-fried chicken cutlets… It’s a sinful pleasure. I know exactly where to find a Lawson at Narita International Airport, and I never board a plane without stocking up on these delectable treats.” There’s even a karaage movie produced by the Japan Karaage Association dubbing the savoury snack as the “ultimate national food”.

However, karaage is the culmination of a multi-generational history that spans continents, the age of exploration, cross-cultural pollination, famine, and world wars. It’s fried chicken unlike any other, and it’s considered Nakatsu’s soul food.

Karaage can be traced back to the 16th century, when Portuguese missionaries arrived on the Japanese shores of Kyushu Island via the port of Nagasaki, bringing their fried cooking methods with them. Slowly, Japanese residents began to incorporate some of these Western practises into what is now known as tempura. However, the Japanese diet at the time was primarily pescatarian, which could be attributed to their Buddhist beliefs.

Eating chicken did not enter the picture until the island nation was devastated by tragedy. During the Kyh era (1716-1736), a widespread famine nearly wiped out the rice crop on Kyushu and killed tens of thousands of people. To restore finances, according to Livestock Production in Kyushu (in Japanese), Farmers were encouraged to increase their poultry farming in order to sell more eggs, and people eventually began to eat chicken after their egg-laying birds had passed their prime.

The new Emperor of Japan embarked on a drastic reformation of society in 1868, adopting a cavalcade of Western ideas when it came to industrialisation, military technology, and even people’s diets. Emperor Meiji opened the country’s borders, allowing more Chinese and Western culinary influences to permeate the culture – and that meant eating more meat.

But it wasn’t until after WWII that fried chicken, particularly karaage, became the cultural touchstone that it is today. After the war, Japan was devastated, food shortages were common, and the Japanese diet drastically changed due to a lack of rice. The United States was in charge of food imports and brought in wheat, which resulted in more noodle-based dishes (like ramen) and broiler chickens, which are chickens raised for their meat and are easier and faster to raise than cows or pigs. The island of Kyushu was already known as a poultry centre (today, more than half of all broiler chickens are produced on Kyushu), and new methods of cooking meat quickly took off, helping to feed a starving country.

Karaage can be traced back to a Chinese restaurant called Rairaiken in Nakatsu City’s neighbour, Usa City. In the late 1950s, the restaurant began serving deep-fried chicken karaage as part of a set menu. It then ran across the street to a small izakaya (tavern) called Shosuke, which had learned the frying techniques from Rairaiken. Shosuke’s owner began by purchasing chickens from local farmers and selling them to butchers, while his wife served karaage and sake to eager customers. But he had a problem: the majority of his karaage customers were rice farmers who could only pay for his food and drinks when the rice harvest arrived. As a result, he was constantly scrambling for money and barely making ends meet as a business. At the same time, larger farms began industrialising broiler chickens, making his chicken-peddling business less profitable.–Right-Preparation-Material/wiki

“Shosuke left the izakaya to open the first karaage take-out restaurant. He also shifted his focus to housewives who paid in cash rather than husbands who paid late and drank [too much] sake “Yuko Yoshitake, Usa Karaage’s US president, stated.

This switch to only serving karaage was a huge success, as residents of the United States embraced this cheap, quick, and delicious source of protein. Usa now has over 40 karaage shops and is one of the epicentres of this perfectly crisped fried delight. However, its relocation to neighbouring Nakatsu is what gave this fried chicken a national and later international reputation.

Arata Hosokawa and Shoji Moriyama were both obsessed with karaage and believed they could enhance the flavour of the fried food. According to Yoshitake, each man opened his own karaage shop in Nakatsu in 1970, where they refined the marinating process by adding apple slices. and brining the bird for an extended period of time to bring out more flavour in the chicken itself. The shops were an instant success, inspiring a slew of imitators who helped establish Nakatsu as the heart and soul of karaage.

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