Hirado, when it comes to getting out and about for a bite to eat, is about the same as most places in rural Japan. There are the izakaya and snack bars frequented by the fellas, the usual compliment of kissaten and cafes, and the usual ramen shops and whatnot. That is to say, it’s not Shinjuku, but there’s plenty to eat and no reason to run back to the mainland without having a good night out at an izakaya or picking up some sweet souvenirs to bring home.
Here are five spots to get you started...
At Akebono, a small bar in a stretch of drinking establishments along the canal in Kihikidacho, the owner serves up izakaya favorites, as well as truly impressive spreads of sashimi cut from fish pulled mostly from local waters. Like most spots in Hirado, Akebono doesn’t see many outsiders, but once the crowd and the owner warm up to you, it’s a great spot to spend an evening. The shochu will help with that! Sample a bottle from Fukuda Shuzo, based in Hirado, like the Capitan, a barley-brewed shochu draws its name from the Nanban trade.
After getting a start at Akebono, there’s a fine shop right across the alley: Izakaya Shunraku. This is a recent addition to the izakaya scene in town. Pull in for a draft beer to chase the shochu from Akebono, and make sure to order the karaage, tender marinated chicken breaded in a shell of potato starch and flour and plunged into a kettle of oil.
Centuries on from the arrival of the Portuguese in the waters around Hirado, not much remains of their presence—stone bridges, a few fine churches, a reconstructed trading post—but in Hirado and across Japan, the most beloved legacy of the Nanban traders are desserts. The rich, sweet desserts of the Portuguese blew the minds of locals and they still make them in Hirado today. At Hirado Tsutaya, founded in 1502, the specialty is casdoce, a supercharged take on the fluffy castella that sees the spongy dessert soaked in egg yolk and then boiled in syrup. The ancestors of the proprietors of this shop were the official suppliers of sweets to the ruling Matsura clan and took part in compiling the Book of 100 Sweets, a centuries-old recipe book that the shop still works from.
Your friendly neighborhood kissaten while you’re in town, Rokuyokan Cafe is the place to go for buttered toast and a latte in the morning, a cafe lunch set at noon, a fluffy cheesecake to accompany a glass of iced coffee, or an afternoon beer. The jovial owner keeps the mellow vibes going with a playlist stocked with Happy End, the Beatles and plenty of cool jazz.
Mameruku Cafe, up the hill from town, a short walk from St. Francis Xavier Memorial Church, is a magnet for the admittedly small coterie of Hirado youngsters. The couple that owns that shop roast their own beans in a wing of the shop and run a small cafe in the other wing. The coffee is, of course, excellent, roasted a few feet away and then brewed on imported Italian gear, but the sandwiches and pastries are just as good. There's a mixed sandwich and egg sandwich on the regular menu, but the pastries and a daily special change, so it should be different each time you visit.