Kids Web Japan

Oita: Japanese Fried Chicken

Freshly made karaage

Hot Food from the Hot Spring Prefecture

Oita Prefecture is known as the hot spring prefecture of Japan. It has the largest volume of natural hot springs in the whole of the country. There are more than 4,000 natural springs in Oita, as well as many famous hot spring resorts like Beppu and Yufuin.

Oita is also famous for its chicken dishes. Toriten (tempura chicken) and torimeshi (chicken and rice) are two Oita dishes known throughout Japan, but when it comes to global fame, nothing beats karaage, Japan’s equivalent to fried chicken.

The popular Jigoku tour takes tourists around some of Oita’s wilder hot springs. Hot springs with steam over 100℃, or spring water the color of blood, it’s not for the feint hearted!

Crispy on the outside, soft and juicy on the inside, karaage will put a smile on anyone’s face. Karaage is loved by adults and children alike, and pretty much everyone in Japan agrees that the best tasting karaage can be found at one of the many karaage restaurants in Oita.

Karaage Paradise in Oita

There are many poultry farms in Oita, and easy access to this fresh and cheap ingredient is thought to be one of the reasons why Oita has so many chicken-based dishes. Oita is also where the first ever restaurant in Japan to specialize in karaage opened, in Usa City. Limiting the menu to one dish meant the chef could spend more time perfecting the flavor, and it wasn’t long before the restaurant became a hit. Soon specialist restaurants began popping up in the neighboring city of Nakatsu too.

While the restaurants competed against each other, outside of Oita, the two cities began to get a name for themselves. Usa became known as the birthplace of karaage restaurants, and Nakatsu as the karaage capital of Japan.

Restaurants like to stamp their identity on the karaage, tweaking the recipe to add their own twist on the dish. The secret to delicious karaage lies in the marinade used to flavor the chicken before frying. The marinade ingredients are a closely guarded secret, and differ from restaurant to restaurant. Some use locally made Oita soy sauce as a base, adding spices and seasoning with ginger, onions, and apples for more flavor. Others prefer to keep the marinade simple, with salt and some homegrown garlic. The method for making the marinade is also important, with some restaurants letting the marinade mature for a month or more before using it.

Some restaurants specialize in takeout cuisine, offering only karaage, and many customers visit them every day to enjoy the taste.

There are also specialty restaurants where you can enjoy freshly fried karaage in the restaurant. The juicy, garlic-seasoned karaage is accompanied perfectly with white rice.

Karaage Fans Flock to Oita

The Karaage Grand Prix has been held in Japan every year since 2010. Karaage fans vote for the tastiest karaage and participating restaurants are awarded prizes. Although over 900 restaurants from all over Japan compete in this contest, restaurants from Oita are often among the top winners, with some taking the Premium Gold Award, the highest prize, year after year.

Children happily eating karaage

Every autumn, karaage restaurants come from Nakatsu and Usa to set up stalls in Nakatsu for the Karaage Festival. It’s a rare chance to taste a variety of karaage in one place and compare the different flavors. The Karaage Festival has become so popular, it’s now hosted in cities throughout Japan.