Hokkaido food review part 1

Part of many traveller’s motivation of travelling to Japan is to sample Japanese food. For me, you could say it’s half the reason I’m there. I know exactly what I want to eat and plan for each meal of my trip.

Hokkaido is choke full of food offerings. Here are the food I sampled in Hokkaido and what I thought of them.

Ramen

The first thing i have to say about Ramen is, it’s almost impossible to get Ramen of the same kind of quality outside of Japan. For one thing, it’s consistently served piping hot in Japan, whereas i often get Ramen with lukewarm soup in Singapore. To be honest though, i don’t eat Ramen much outside of Japan, because the price and quality is not justifiable. And i have even less reasons to now, the more i visit Japan.

There are so many Ramen outlets in Japan that it is hard to shortlist which ones to try, but you should at least go for the popular ones. If you didn’t do prior research, you could use Google Maps to search on the spot. If it appears on Google Maps and has some decent reviews, it is probably good. I did this once during my trip to Hokkaido. I was looking for a Ramen outlet near my hotel, and Google Maps landed me at Menya Yukikaze.

Menya Yukikaze
Shio Ramen. I don’t remember much about this one, but it was probably one of the better Shio Ramen around. We added an additional half boiled egg because half a piece is just too little.
Miso Ramen. The soup was thick and silky smooth with a very balanced taste. It was the best Miso soup of all those i have tried. MUST TRY.
The tiny shop seats only 10 at most, and there is almost always a queue outside.

Verdict for Menya Yumikaze: Ramen with the Best Miso Soup.

You’re probably interested to know which was the best Ramen i had while in Hokkaido. I’ll go straight to the point: Yosiyama Shouten (吉山商店). They had the best Chashu and overall best soup.

Limited edition white pork broth Ramen. A little oily, but the broth was super thick and super tasty.
Roasted Miso and Sesame Ramen, with add-on Chashu. Make sure you get extra Chashu (for 250 Yen only)! The Chashu was melt-in-the-mouth tender, the best! There is nice Wok Hei in the soup, a nice alternative to the regular Miso Ramen.
Boild gyoza in vinegar gravy. Tasty complement to the Ramen.
Roasted Miso and Sesame Ramen on the top right, and the limited edition white pork broth Ramen on the bottom left.

Ebisoba (shrimp flavoured) Ramen originates from Sapporo, and is worth a try. Just once. Nothing can take the place of regular pork-based Ramen in my opinion. Enishiya, the shop that invented Ebisoba, was closed on the day i visited, so i opted for Ichigen instead. Ichigen is more popular for sure, and more accessible.

Looks deceptively empty a 10+pm, and i managed to get a seat immediately upon arriving. A queue formed though within 10 minutes of my arrival.
I chose the strong version, which is a combination of thick pork and shrimp broth. Might as well have it full-on if you’re going to try it only once. Note that the noodles shown here is the thin version, and it’s thicker than the usual curly noodles. Just the right thickness for me.

It has the typical Japanese dried shrimp taste which I think appeals more to the Japanese. If i must make a comparison, it is like the Pork and Prawn noodles (排骨虾面) of Singapore. My preference is definitely for the Singapore version, which tastes more natural. By the way, Ichigen has an outlet at New Chitose Airport.

The Ramen i have described above are all next-gen Ramen, which i must concur are better. They use modern equipment to produce the creamy soup that everyone loves these days. It is a good idea to also try old-school Ramen, and i did so at Nihomuran.

Nihomuran is run single-handedly by a kindly old lady, and it retains the same decor from probably 30 years ago. While Japanese are known to be innovators, they are even better at preservation!

Old school through and through
Well.. almost. There’s this funky arcade-game-machine-turned-dining-table.
The classic Miso Ramen with more spiciness than present day ones. The soup is not creamy but is actually thick enough. Chashu missing.. probably missed out. Forgiven.
Shio Ramen, with decent soup too.
Very tasty fried rice. Huge portion.

We managed to devour all the food, and the old lady was worried the kids didn’t have enough to eat. If you’re around Asahikawa, i suggest you pay a visit.

Another old-school Ramen place that i stumbled upon was Manji Shoyuya Hoten. As the name suggests, they specialize in Shoyu Ramen. The taste was very interesting, and you really couldn’t tell how the soup was prepared besides the use of Shoyu. They also serve interesting looking poached eggs.

The original version from 1956
Looks very enticing. This has to be added on and is not included in the Ramen.

If you happen to be around Shin-Sapporo station, this place is worth a try.

Ippontei is a Ramen shop at Lake Toya, and i came here because they were featured in the Michelin guide. Their claim to fame is the black Shoyu Ramen.

Black Shoyu Ramen
Shio Ramen

The Ramen served here are the classic Ramen type with light broth. I feel compelled to make a comparison again, and the counterpart is Bak Kut Teh! The black Shoyu soup will remind you of BKT. It is quite nice, with very obvious taste of pork broth. The Shio Ramen on the other hand was very bland. Avoid. Ippontei didn’t quite wow me, but the Izakaya just next to it did. Read on in the section below to find out more.

Another Ramen place i managed to try, out of convenience, at the Mitsui Outlet Park, was Teshikaga Ramen. They are also found in New Chitose Airport.

I ordered the featured Ramen but i don’t actually know which one it is. Probably the Shoyu with Seafood.

I thought the soup was quite interesting, because it was pork broth blended with seafood and a rich assortment of aromatics. The Chashu was pretty good too, if i remember correctly. Perhaps it is worthwhile going to their flagship outlet at Teshikaga if you’re around there.

Wrapping up my Hokkaido trip was Menya Kaiko, the first Ramen place to begin operation in the morning at New Chitose Airport, at 830.

White Miso Ramen, as opposed to the typical red. The soup is quite tasty but the Chashu tasted like it’s been kept in the fridge for a long time.
Butadon that is paired with the Miso Ramen in a bundle deal. It was Just ok in comparison to the other two Butadon we have tried.
Seafood Ramen. The soup was quite refreshing, and the Hotategai were the largest i have ever eaten. Well, because it’s not so common outside of Japan.

If you have an early flight like i did, you may not have much of a choice, and Kaiko would satisfy your Ramen craving just fine. Otherwise, you’re actually quite spoilt with choice at the Ramen Dojo of New Chitose Airport.

Izakaya

We fell in love with the Izakaya type of eatery when we first tried one in Yakushima last year. It’s a bit daunting for a firstimer, because it’s almost certain that the menu will only be in Japanese, perhaps handwritten. More often than not, there will not be any English speaking host.

After trying out the second or third time though, you should develop enough confidence. The menu is generally divided into sections listing drinks, dishes, perhaps Yakitori, fried items etc., but there are no hard and fast rules. You just need to be a little adventurous and willing to leave to chance when ordering. It’s all part of the fun.

An Izakaya is a family run business, though nowadays there are also commercial restaurant ones. We prefer the family run ones, because they feel so much more intimate. The best part of dining in an Izakaya is being served personally by the chefs themselves, who take care to cook the dishes. They do so by limiting the number of customers they serve at a time, usually no more than 10. If you think about it, it is no different from a Michelin starred restaurant, where quality comes before quantity, except, an Izakaya is a really cheap place to dine. It is the diametrical opposite of fast food, with almost equally cheap food. Dishes cost between 200 and 800 Yen, and drinks typically up to 500 Yen. You should expect to pay about half the price for a meal as compared to dining in a restaurant in Japan.

The atmosphere in an Izakaya is also very appealing, with old school counter seating where the cooks do the cooking right in front of you, or cozy tatami seating where friends chat over drinks. It is a place where strangers become friends. You could sip your sake or beer while snacking for an extended time. No, there is no such thing as seat or table turnover in an Izakaya, unlike in a Ramen place or a fast food restaurant. The only other type of restaurant i can think of that comes close to the utopian status of an Izakaya (to me at least), is the Spanish Tapas restaurant.

We went to the Izakaya ひろ next to Ippontei in Lake Toya based on the favourable reviews in Google Maps. I can’t read Japanese, but the restaurant name looks like a smiley face to me 🙂

Pork yakitori – succulent and tender, and only 250 Yen!
Stir fried Eggplant. We were not quite sure what we were going to get. This was a tad too sweet, but otherwise, it was a good vege dish to complement the meat dishes.
Again, without knowing what 角煮 (kakuni) means, we took a chance and ordered this rice bowl. Drove me to tears eating this. The pork is melt-in-the-mouth, with lots of delicious fatty parts. And there’s the onsen egg in the middle. The best rice bowl i have eaten ever.

If you’re at Lake Toya, please, do yourself a favour. Eat where the locals eat, not in the tourist oriented restaurants that you may think are your only options. Please, go to ひろ. Seats probably only 8 at a time though, so be early or be sorry.

Our second attempt at dining in an Izakaya was in Kushiro, and there was only one Izakaya within the vicinity of our hotel. It did not disappoint. Of the six dishes we tried, i would like to highlight two.

Ochazuke. First time trying. We ordered so that the kids had something more filling. Offered with either Umeya or Salmon topping, and we chose Umeya since we wanted to see how they can actually make a rice dish tasty even with Umeya. Doesn’t look very promising but the broth was woah! So tasty! Kids downed this quickly.
Agedashi Tofu. Very common even in Singapore. But dipped in broth? Never seen before. The broth was gingery and very good. Agedashi Tofu like you never knew before.

We went around Abashiri town looking for a place where we could try the Japanese long legged crab, since this was a major producing region. Sadly, the Izakayas were all full, and we were shown the “Ultraman” crossed arms (which means no go) and told “Sorlee”. On the verge of giving up, we came to Ishizawa. We already passed by them earlier on but i guess they were not quite attention grabbing.

Boxes strewn across the entrance, makes you wonder if they’re open at all. I guess it was a cheap way to keep the chilled food cool, as the temperature outside was under 10 degrees.

Upon entering, the sight of a customer eating crab made us go like “Yes!” within. The very gentleman who was eating crab moved to the seat beside to make way for the 4 of us. The seats were literally Godsent, after almost an hour of searching for a place to eat.

We were handed this menu in Chinese. I guess they do actually attract quite a few Taiwanese customers.

They had the Ibara crab that night. We were actually concerned about the price, because earlier on in the day, we enquired in a restaurant that sold live crabs, and one crab was in excess of 24000 Yen! We were stunned when we were told the crab cost only 2640 Yen. The gentleman next to us said “very cheap”. Indeed, it was even cheaper than Sri Lankan crabs. To be fair, these were chilled cooked crabs, but for the price, i would choose this over eating live crabs. It was sweet and delicious.

The crab filled two plates. It was not King Crab, but the size really didn’t matter to us. I doubt the taste would have been much different also.
Every bit of the crab was cut open such that you can just pick out the flesh, and it took more than 5 minutes to do so. The labour of love makes the already low price even more worthwhile.
Plate of Sashimi that was just over 1000 Yen. So fresh, so good.
Champon noodles. We lapped up the soup.
Tamagoyaki finale to the meal
Typical decor of an Izakaya from 20 years ago
Photo by the gentleman next to us who was eager to help in everyway
He even bothered to hand me the name card with the English name of the restaurant written

All in, the meal, including two drinks, cost only 6050 Yen. I think it’s not uncommon to pay more than triple the amount just for the crab alone, if you ate in a restaurant in say Sapporo. Ishizawa is your best bet for cheap crab even in Abashiri town itself.

There is this street in Asahikawa that is lined with Izakayas – 5・7小路ふらりーと. We came here based on the good reviews for Hatag.

5・7小路ふらりーと is within Asahikawa town centre
Star dish from Hatag – grilled wagyu. The exterior was crispy like bread crumbs while the interior remains medium rare tender
Asparagus seems to be offered at every restaurant in Asahikawa. Delicious.
Eggplant fritters and Kareage
Izakaya food is best enjoyed with beer and sake.

We already decided before hand that a single round of Izakaya dining was not going to be enough, especially since Hatag was a little pricey. After a bit of looking around, we managed to find another Izakaya, one of the regular priced ones.

Pork steak. It’s the half lean half fats pork that we have come to love since the Izakaya ひろ at Lake Toya. Can’t get enough of this.
Mentaiko Fried Rice
Luncheon Meat Katsu. Perfect complement for sake and beer.

 

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