Whenever you turn on the TV in Japan, chances are there’s going to be some segment about food on any given channel. This was the case as I was channel-surfing trying to watch some late night TV from my hotel room in Fukuoka (with only 10 stations). Interestingly, there happened to be a feature on the 2006 Vendy Awards (for the best street vendor in NYC), with the announcer calling street vendors “yatais”, but that translation doesn’t quite work, especially in light of the culture of yatais in Fukuoka. I was also kind of mystified that the interviews with judges made it seem as if these street vendors were teetering on poverty, and this is the best they can do (as opposed to getting “real jobs” or something, I’m guessing), so let’s give them a pat on the back. Anyway (forgive the long tangent), the very next segment (or maybe it was a segment on another channel) was about this shop in Fukuoka that specializes in Chinese style meat buns (nikuman), except this shop has become famous for their neo-Fukuoka style bun: the steamed mentaiko-cheese bun. This caught my attention, as I was trying to conjure up what that would taste like. It’s an odd combination, but once you understand the obsession with cheese in Japan (perhaps cheese is the new mayonnaise), it might not seem so odd after all.
As we were making our way to the Yanagibashi market, I noticed a sign for “mentaiko cheese” buns, and lo and behold, there was that shop that was featured on TV the night before. I had to try it out, so I split one with my traveling companion. It’s quite cheesy, with about as much cheese as there would be on a slice of pizza, and while I wished for a little more mentaiko, I was really pleased with it. And then I remembered that I’ve been eating this combination of mentaiko and cheese on things like pastries or pizzas from places like Café Zaiya in NYC. I guess I wouldn’t be surprised if this combination was already available at the steamed buns you get at the 7-11s or other konbinis (convenience stores) in Japan. I’m just glad I got it at a place that takes buns seriously.