Cooking in Hell – Jigoku Mushi Kobo

When the earthquake hit Kyushu I was sleeping. The first week of school already left me exhausted, and I decided to go to bed early that evening after returning home from work. At 1:25am I jolted awake to the sirens of my phone going off, and before my sleepy brain could thaw everything began to tremble in the dark. Deafening thunders overwhelmed all my senses, and it felt as if the walls around me were about to implode.

Fortunately, my whole building stood strong that night. The aftershocks did not stop there, though, and for many nights I found myself unable to sleep, my brain on the alert for the slightest quivers under my feet. On social media my friends reported their shelves toppling over, broken glassware and chaotic kitchens. Nothing shattered in my apartment, and it came as a relief to me to see my bottle of wine (red) still sitting on my bookshelves. Beppu did not suffer much damage, but I wish I could say the same for Kumamoto and Yufu where the aftermath of the earthquakes is still putting lives at stake.

Nevertheless, it had been an emotionally taxing week. We’d had several minor earthquakes over the past few years with even closer epicenters, but never any that big. All classes were canceled at school. Some students had sought shelter at evacuation centers; some had flown out of Beppu and even Japan for fear of a bigger shock to come. I did neither, but at one point I was contemplating escaping to Taiwan for a few nights of quality sleep. Physical damage is one thing, but for many of us it was the unknown-unknown nature of earthquakes that made them psychologically unnerving.

But it’s a food blog, so please excuse my earthquake rambles. During the past few days I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands, and there was no better way to ease our anxiety than to eat a lot of good food. Even better when you are in good company, so on Saturday my friends and I went out for the Beppu gourmet experience.

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Most people know of Beppu as the famous city for hot springs, but did you know that aside from bathing, you could also cook edible food with hot spring steam? There are several locations where you could enjoy this specialty in the city, but the most well-known to tourists is Jigoku Mushi Kobo in Kannawa.

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Be careful! These steams can be very hot.

Before heading there, we stopped by at a nearby supermarket to stock up on ingredients. You could also buy the prepared sets of ingredients on the premise, but bringing your own gives you the freedom to choose your favorite vegetables and meat. It can be a lot cheaper too, unless you’re hoarding the more luxurious options at the seafood counter.

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Either way, you’d have to pay for steaming the food and using the utensils. Hand over your ingredients and the staff will plate them on bamboo racks for you. I’m not sure if there are rules as to which veggie should go with which meat, but the results look incredibly appetizing. I guess they know their stuff. We were given timers to keep track on our cooking. Eggs took about 7 minutes to reach a soft-boiled consistency, seafood, meat and vegetables took 15, and thick sweet potato rounds took up to 30 minutes.

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A part of our feast – before going through “hell”.

Since everything is steamed the ingredients retain their original taste. There are only three condiments available: soy sauce, salt and ponzu. Of the three I should think that ponzu alone is enough: its distinct tartness greatly enhances the flavors of the food. I highly recommend getting the freshest ingredients, and for vegetables get those that are in season.

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We were a party of five people and each paid about 2500yen for everything. We started eating at 2:30pm, and were full until late evening. It was the kind of hearty, filling meal that warms the heart on a chilly rainy day, and in our case it fought away the negative vibes the earthquakes had left in their wake.

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BeppuEats’ partner-in-crime kindly peeling a Kuruma Ebi – Japanese Imperial Prawn for me. By the way, this post was made possible thanks to his camera.
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Cleaning up. Customers have to wash their used utensils after they finish eating since it’s a self-service venue.

Location: 5-Kumi Furomoto. From Kannawa bus station, walk down the slope and it should be on your right. For information on how to get there, this page has detailed instructions in English.

Time: 9:00 ~ 21:00. Closes every 3rd Wednesday of the month.

Kyushu has got a long road to recovery after this especially in terms of tourism – hotels have been receiving many cancellations since then. I’ve also heard that Kumamoto castle will take some time to be repaired. Since tourism is a big part of the economy, if you love Kyushu and would like to contribute some support, use the hashtag #九州が大好き when posting Kyushu photos on social media. Show people the beauty of this island!

 

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