Good Eats: Gallery Arita (Arita)

I find I have a strange fascination as of late with the pottery town of Arita.

It’s not that I am even all that into porcelain, which is what Saga Prefecture’s Arita has been producing – to perfection, some might say – for the past 399 years. But when a town takes as much pride in its heritage and cultural products as Arita does, and endeavors to share that in multiple foreign languages with its visitors, I admit I sit up and take notice. From welcoming kilns to hands-on experiences to porcelain information panels scattered about the carefully preserved main street, I am blown away by the efforts this small town has made.

Efforts that extend to the food, of course. 🙂

Like many towns, Arita has a food “gimmick” but it’s one I can get behind. The dish is called Arita-yaki gozen and is a five-course meal served in Arita porcelain. Each dish features a specific cooking technique – grilled, boiled, steamed, vinegared and fried. Only five restaurants in Arita (that I know of, at least) serve this specialty and each of them prepares their dish with different ingredients, which is fine so long as it falls within the required cooking method.

Arita-yaki gozen set
Arita-yaki gozen set

I first had Arita-yaki gozen at the Gallery Arita, a spacious cafe that sits on the bypass that skirts the town’s more historic main street. On first entry, I knew I was in a unique space. The entire cafe is ringed with shelves lined with around 2000 porcelain coffee and tea cups. Not just for show, you can actually choose the cup that you want your beverage to come in straight off the shelf. Or, leave it up to the staff and they will select one from behind the bar.

Check out all the cups lining the walls
Check out all the cups lining the walls

Arita-yaki gozen is my dish of choice here but I have also tasted their other two local specialties – go-dofu and Saga beef. Go-dofu is a handmade local tofu drizzled with a sesame sauce not unlike a cross between unsweetened peanut butter and tahini. And Saga beef is one of the unsung meats of Japan, ranking right up there in my humble opinion with Kobe beef. It’s not a “cheap” meat but the marbling provides a delicious bite every time. It’s worth springing for, if you’re a meat lover.

The go-dofu set meal, also delicious
The go-dofu set meal, also delicious

On the other side of the building from the cafe, you can browse the craft and porcelain shop. Most of the pottery is from local kilns, though I did notice one or two from abroad. The staff doesn’t seem to mind if you pop over here to browse while you wait for your food. And be sure to use the toilet. Never have I been more impressed with a public restroom!

For me, this gives new meaning to the term "porcelain throne"
For me, this gives new meaning to the term “porcelain throne”

Gallery Arita is open every day and you can find out more from this Saga Prefecture tourism page. I stopped in during the recent Arita pottery fair that takes place during Golden Week, only to find they weren’t serving the Arita-yaki gozen sets. But that has recommenced now that the holiday is behind us.

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