Nagasaki is a bit of a culinary crossroads. As one of the only cities to remain open to trade during the Edo Era (1603-1868), it played host to Chinese, Dutch and the very occasional British trader. Thanks to those influences, the food scene in Nagasaki is pretty varied and incredibly tasty.
One of Nagasaki’s most famous creations is champon, a noodle dish that was inspired by cuisine from China’s Fujian Province. I’m a bit sorry I looked up exactly what was in it but despite the damage to my cholesterol levels, I gotta say it’s pretty delicious. Take pork, vegetables and a few types of seafood (shrimp and octopus, notably), fry them in lard (yup, lard) and then add it all to a broth made of pork and chicken bones (a bit reminiscent of tonkotsu ramen from nearby Fukuoka). Special ramen-like noodles are added and the whole thing is topped with shredded cabbage and bean sprouts and occasionally strips of egg or fish cake.
Shikairo, a massive restaurant sitting at the base of the hill up to Nagasaki’s Glover Park, was the first eatery to serve champon in Japan. It was actually created by owner Chin Heijun in 1899, who was looking for something cheap and tasty to feed to the growing numbers of Chinese students who were flocking to Nagasaki. The word champon supposedly comes from shapon, a word from the Fujian dialect meaning “to eat a meal”.
Despite its fame – and yes, it is in ALL the Japanese and Chinese guidebooks, as well as some English language ones – a meal at Shikairo is a fun experience. The dining room sits up on the 5th floor and offers stellar views of Nagasaki Bay from the picture windows. Lines form at peak hours but service is speedy. Our party of five was seated within minutes (we showed up right around noon on a weekday) and tea and water were on the table immediately. There is a fair-sized menu but all of us were won over by the set lunch, a bowl of champon served with sides of gyoza (pork dumplings), rice and pickles. For only ¥1600, it’s a good deal.
Food came quickly and the champon, while artery clogging, was absolutely delicious. To me, the pork was a bit tough and I am not a fan of octopus in any guise but the broth was intensely flavorful and the noodles were unique. Not quite ramen, not as thick as udon, not as thin as somen. I’m always up for gyoza, so that side dish was appreciated but the bowl of rice was a bit much for me on top of the noodles.
Despite the numbers waiting in the wings, no one rushed us through our meal and we weren’t made to feel as if lingering was unappreciated. If you have time afterwards, you might want to check out the little champon museum down on the second floor.
You can’t really miss Shikairo at the base of the walk up to Oura Church and Glover Garden. Look for the tall building with the stone lions and dragon motif outside. The elevator to the 5th floor is on the second floor on the right.