One of Japan’s best-known delicacies is the tiny karaage, a delicate and complex variation of fried chicken. But why is the small village of Nakatsu regarded as having the best-fried chicken in Japan, and perhaps the entire world?

The origins of karaage can be traced to a Chinese restaurant called Rairaiken in Usa City, a neighboring city to Nakatsu City. The restaurant started offering deep-fried chicken karaage as a set meal in the late 1950s. From there, it ran across the street to a little izakaya that had acquired Rairaiken’s frying techniques. Today, Usa is one of the centers for this wonderfully crisped fried treat and has more than 40 karaage establishments. However, it was the relocation to the nearby Nakatsu that gave this fried chicken its renown on a national and later an international level. In Nakatsu, two cooks established their own karaage business, where they improved the marinating procedure by including apple chunks and brining the chicken for a longer amount of time to enhance the flavor of the chicken. The stores gained popularity quickly and spawned a plethora of imitators, establishing Nakatsu’s position as the origin of karaage. Today, chefs in Nakatsu have taken their karaage to the next level. A healthy competition between the nearly 50 shops has inspired chefs to tinker with everything from cooking times and batters to a variety of soy- and salt-based marinades. Nearly every shop in Nakatsu has a secret ingredient that they’re not willing to share, and that separates their karaage from the rest.

Karaage serves as Japan’s symbol of tenacity and innovation. And the cuisine is what makes Nakatsu’s citizens feel most at home.