One of the greatest pleasures of travel is trying local food. But, when you travel abroad and order from a menu written in a foreign language, you will often be left in suspense as to what will actually arrive at the table. However, that’s not going to be a problem if you are travelling to Japan. Before even going inside the restaurant to take a seat, diners can feast their eyes on realistic 3-D replicas of the food, beautifully showcased in the window. Food replica making is a practical art that originated in Japan in 1917 and has flourished after the war with the culture of eating out.
Food replica making studio, Sample Riki Co., Ltd., is the fun-filled place in Fukuoka where kids and kids at heart can gain hands-on experience in this uniquely Japanese craft and bring home their own, one of the kind creation that they would not see anywhere else. Founded in 1949 by Rikio Hashimoto, the studio has perfected its art from wax in the early stage to resin in more recent years. Today, the company not only offers top quality food replicas to department stores and diners throughout the Kyushu region but also entertains families and groups by teaching them how to create parfait, macarons, tempura, lettuce, and how to decorate items such as cell phones, mirrors, or other knickknacks.
Where else in the world can you fry tempura in a bowl of water and bake ice cream in an oven? At Sample Riki, you can make your own parfait and decorate them with hundreds of intricately made, life-like food mix-ins and sprinkles. You will get started by picking the sauce from six flavors: (1) strawberry, (2) blueberry, (3) melon, (4) chocolate, (5) mango, or (6) blue Hawaii. Then, squeeze the soft serve out of the big press machine, add cereals, and finish it off by adding a big dollop of whip cream. Choosing which mix-ins to include in your parfait is a big challenge because you see countless numbers of adorable bear cookies, jelly beans, berries, nuts, etc. you will be tempted to add them all! But, be very careful... you have to pay for each mix-in you choose.
If you are the kind of person who wants to really get into the action and not worry about paying for the decoration pieces, then you should go for the “Tempura and Lettuce” workshop and try tossing the tempura batter to coat shrimp, Shiitake mushrooms, pumpkin, and Shiso leaves and create lettuce layer by layer all in a bowl of warm water.
You might be happy to learn that Sample Riki is not just the place for tourists but it is an immensely popular place for local kids. All of my neighbor’s children are talking about it and begging their parents to take them there. During the summer when kids are out of school Sample Riki offers a workshop in which kids can paint their steak or hamburger, create three flavors of ice cream, and make a cell phone strap. So, chances are, you will meet local children and their families at Sample Riki, and this will be part of the fun in your travel experience.
All of the instructors and staff are very friendly and patient and understand some English. They will help you each step of the way to perfect your one-of-a kind creation. The only thing they ask is that you do not smoke in their studio. Besides your own creation, you can bring home a cell-phone strap, a key chain, a magnet, or a Sushi clock as souvenirs. I recommend a cell phone strap with a pig bathing in Hakata Ramen noodle. No matter what you choose, you will have something unique to surprise your friends and start a conversation about your trip to Japan. If you are travelling anywhere around in Kyushu, Sample Riki is definitely the place you don’t want to miss.
Tea too good to go to waste: Gyokuro “Dew Drop” Tea 美味しすぎて捨てるにはもったいないお茶：星野伝統本玉露しずく茶®
Did your tea taste too good to throw away? Then, why not eat your leftover tea leaves with vinegar and soy sauce? That is exactly what the Hoshino Tea Museum in Fukuoka suggests you do after you have enjoyed the delicate taste of Shizuku-cha®Gyokuro “Dew Drop” Tea. This tea develops in four stages, as water of different temperatures is added after each sip. Shizuku-cha® (しずく茶) is a special method of drinking Gyokuro (玉露-fine green tea) that is a registered trademark product of the Hoshino Tea Museum. This is a tea drinking experience like no other – you must try it if you visit Fukuoka.
I was born in Japan and grew up drinking quality Japanese tea throughout my life, but drinking Shizuku-cha® Gyokuro “Dew Drop” Tea was an eye-opening experience. So, imagine how transformative an experience this will be for non-Japanese people. To start with, I was amazed by the mild and sweet, yet full-bodied flavor that filled my mouth in the first stage, when the first draw of water (heated to 45°C or 113°F) was added. In the second and third stages, when water heated to 60°C (140°F) was added, I noticed this full-bodied flavor develop and deepen into a somewhat smoother, refreshing taste with an aroma of umami (pleasant, savory taste). In the fourth and final stage, when the cup was filled with 80°C (176°F) water, I enjoyed a lighter taste. Finally, when the waiter hurriedly poured vinegar and soy sauce into my cup and told me to eat the leaves with a little fork, I was completely blown away. I ate the tea leaves just like salad, and they were deliciously bittersweet. The tea leaves tasted somewhat like fine baby spinach, but not exactly. You must try it for yourself to know exactly what fine Gyokuro tea leaves truly taste like.
This gourmet tea drinking and eating experience is so unique that it is difficult to compare to anything, and it is even harder to describe in words. The best comparison I can give you is that the whole experience is like listening to an exquisite musical performance. You will enjoy a here and now harmony of taste and aroma that starts in piano, crescendos into forte, becomes pianissimo and ends with the big “bang” of the tea-leaf-eating experience. After trying Gyokuro “Dew Drop” Tea, you are likely to say, “I’ve had something that was called green tea before, but I don’t think I have ever really tasted green tea until this moment!”
What’s more, this experience is not only pleasurable, but it is also very good for you. Gyokuro tea leaves are rich in fiber as well as in Vitamin C and Catechin, which help prevent various unwanted health outcomes such as the common cold, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis or even cancer. Theanine, a constituent responsible for sweetness and umami is said to increase alpha waves in your brain to help you relax. Finally, fluorine prevents tooth decay.
After hearing all these wonderful benefits of Gyokuro tea leaves, you probably would not object to the idea of eating tea leaves. But you might be asking, “How did anyone come up with this mind-boggling idea in the first place?” Well, it all started with the visit of a local gourmet scholar shortly after the grand opening of the museum in 1994. Back then, the museum was experimenting with various ways to present the flavor of the best Gyokuro from the village and found this special serving method practiced by the tea school called Kofu Sencha Reishiki (皇風煎茶禮式) in Kyoto.
In this special method, one enjoys tea in dribs and drabs by sipping the tea drop that comes out from a small opening between the lid and the tea cup when the lid is slightly slanted. It is worth mentioning that the teacup and lid used for Gyokuro “Dew Drop” Tea is also unique. It is called Kaiwan (蓋碗), and it is usually not used for serving Japanese tea. This teacup originated in China and was brought to Japan sometime after 1600. When the museum representatives first experimented with this Gyokuro serving method using Kaiwan, they were captivated by the way the delicate flavor of Hoshino Gyokuro developed throughout the four stages and decided to adopt it right away.
When this serving method was first introduced at the Hoshino Tea Museum, it was simply called Susuri-cha (すすり茶) or “Sip” tea, and the tea leaves were thrown away after each round of brewing. However, after being highly impressed by this extraordinary experience, the local gourmet scholar exclaimed, “Tea this good deserves a better name!” She also suggested eating the tea leaves with vinegar and soy sauce. Since then, this special method of drinking and eating Hoshino Gyokuro has been called Shizuku-cha® (しずく茶) or “Dew Drop” Tea and became the registered trademark product of the Hoshino Tea Museum in 1998.
Your admission to the museum pays for one serving of tea, and you will be given the choice of picking either Gyokuro “Dew Drop” Tea or Matcha (powdered green tea). You should definitely go for Gyokuro “Dew Drop” Tea because you can try Matcha anywhere, but you can only try Gyokuro “Dew Drop” Tea at the Hoshino Tea Museum. Take a local’s word for it. You will be glad you did.