Gastronomic Destinations: Hokkaido
PART 1: Shiretoko Peninsula, Shari Cho
Every year, preferably end of August and beginning of September I embark on a gatsronomic tour away from Shizuoka Prefecture. Last year I went home in Bogurgogne, France and immersed myself in my birth place wine and home-made food.
This year, travelling abroad having momentarily become too an expensive proposition, we (the Missus and I) decided to visit a favourite destination of ours, namely Hokkaido.
Having disembarked at Memanbetsu Airport (leaving from Haneda) near Shiretoko Peninsula, one the three Japanese World Natural Heritage, we rallied Abashiri City by rented car and stayed ther overnight in an unremarkable hotel.
The next day, we boarded a ferry on a three-hour trip till the very tip of Shiretoko Peninsula. This is a rare place of Japan where you can admire a pristine untouched nature and would recommend anyone to visit it if you come to Japan!
Some of the best Japanese sea salmon is caught there by local fishermen who actually unload their catch onto our ferry every day for quick delivery to Abashiri, the nearest harbour and market of note. You can be assured that it comes fresh onto your plate!
By the time we were back in Abashiri we were starving. We just had time to admire the local scenery before we (after some driving around) found one of our destinations, Ikyuya, located in a small city called Shari (some of the place names in Hokkaido can become a real puzzle as they are mostly very local names written in Kanji that fit the pronunciation instead of the meaning!).
We (the Missus) had chosen this establishment as a representative of the local cuisine favoured by local people.
THe Missus oredered the “Oyako Don”/”Father-Mother and Son-Daughter Bowl”.
In Shizuoka it means chicken omelette (the Hen and the Egg!) spread on a bowl of rice. In Hokkaido, it stands for Shake sahimi”/salmon sashimi and “Ikura”/salmon roe spread over a bowl of rice. It must have been good as for once silence reigns around the table!
Our two friends (which included our gracious driver) opted for “Uni don”/sea urchin spread over a bowl of rice,
“Uni to Ikura Don”/sea urchin and salmon roe spread over a bowl of rice.
Extravagance at a very reasonable rice, absolutely fresh and sweet seafood away from metropolises, what more can you ask?
As for myself, I chose the “Ebi Frai Teishoku”/fried prawns set lunch as I felt in need of hot food on a rainy day. The Missus could not stop ogling at the enormous prawns! LOL.
We certainly felt revived for the rest of our trip!
Hokkaido, Shari Cho, Utoro Higashi, 13 (2 minutes walk from Utoro Hotsprings Bus Terminal)
Opening hours: 11:00~18:00 (might get closed in the afternoon on busy days. Come early!)
PART 2) Abashiri
After our remarkable cruise along the World Natural Heritage of Shiretoko Peninsula, we leisurely drove away from the centre of Abashiri into the neighbouring forested hills in search of the Hotsprings Auberge/Inn called “Auberge Kita no Dandan”/”Warmth of the North Inn”.
It is surrounded with a pristine forest of white birches and fir trees (I was told there are plenty of wild mushrooms to pick inside!). It was built about two years ago with the view to offer guests a traditional glimpse of Japan. It is replete with antiques and local crafts of every possible kind.
The bedrooms are quaint and delightful combination of tradition and state-of-the-art equipment.
The place itself is worth hours of exploration. They even leave cold snack and food all night in the “lounge” for hungry night owls!
Each room has its own individual bathroom, but you may also use a private hotspring bath. or even better take a dip 24 hours a day in the “Rotenburo/Open air bath”! This alone is worth the visit!
Now, you might have wondered why it bears the French appelation of “Auberge”?
Fairly simple: all the food is of French concept with whenever possible local Japanese ingredients accompanied by a short but well-balanced French wine list! (and local sake, and so on!)
We had reserved our dinner and breakfast on the Internet. In any case the deal includes them and eating out would have been a bit problematic. We certainly did not regret it!
The four of us opted for local sake as aperitif to accompany the amuse-bouches/starters (see above pics): Taitetsu no Kura, honjozo, and Kita no Katsu, futsuhu, both sake from Hokkaido.
From the wine list we started with a refreshing Kuentz Riesling 2005 from Bas Alsace.
Only then could we seriously commence the feast:
“Ao Soi to Mizutako no Arai, O Tsukuri Fuu”: a sashimi salad consisting of “blue soi”, a fish caught off Hokkaido island and mizutako octopus, a small variety with vegetables grown in the Auuberge garden.
“Ke gani no reisei kappriini/Cold Cappellini with spider Crab”. Alright this is not French, but Italian in concept and taste. Absolutely succulent crab legs (enormous!).
“Taihei no nama Ham maki/Braised Raw Ham Roll”. Someone will say it’s Italian again! And I don’t mind as long as I can get my hands on that morsel again!
“Yaki Nasu to Masu Yamato Mushi/Grilled Aubergine/Egg plnt and Trout Steamed in Tradtional Japanese manner/: this both Japanese and Italian in concept. After peeling off its skin the grilled aubergine is rolled into a paste of trout before being steamed and served hot with a slightly sweet translucent sauce.
“Hotate no Poare/sauteed scallops”: I won a little contest on that one. I was the only one to understand that fresh cream and sieved seaweed has been included in the sauce!
I don’t have to explain that the wine had disappeared by then! We contued with a Cote du Rhone, 2006, Parallele 45 distributed by Paul Jaboulet. Just what we needed for the meat!
“Shari Machi, Tamura san ga sodateta Sanrokuton/Sanroku pork from pig raised by Mr. Tamura in Shari Village (nearby village)”. It almost looked like a big sushi on a ball of vegetables. It melted inside the mouth!
“Kasupe Hoppe Moromi Yaki/Kasupe Fish Cheek grilled with a moromi coating”. Kasupe is a local fish big enough to have its cheeks grilled. A discovery!
“Gohan.Kaori no Mono.Shirumono/mixed rice, soba buckwheat noodles in light soup with a piece of grilled herring”. No need to say this was a turn around to Japanese cuisine! Surprisingly good herring with soba. A common dish in Kyoto, this is the first time I really appreciated it!
Now I defy Rowena, Bentoist and Tom to describe our dessert:
Wild Wasabi Sherbet and Creme Brulee accented with String Beans (first boiled and and sieved!)
Alright, we also had coffee, mignardises and a nightcap!
The next morning, the breakfast was served on plates course by course. But I forgot to bring the camera (mobile phone)! Sorry guys as this was the best-ever hotel breakfast!
Auberge Kita No Dandan
093-0045 Hokkaido, Abashiri Shi, Oomagari, 39-17 (3 minutes by car from Abashiri JR Station)
Credit Cards OK
After that great night at Kita DanDan Auberge in Abashiri City, we drove all day to Wakkanai City at the northenest tip of Japan and took a ferry to spend two days and nights in Rishiri Island. Unfortunately, the weather did not greet us and the constant rain limited our activities. A pity as this island has a lot to offer. Consult these Pages 1, 2 for references!
So, on the fourth, day, we took the ferry back to wakkanai and boarded on a local train to Sapporo City, six hours away. Hokkaido is a big island and travelling the slow way by train will allow you to admire some great views and intriguing sites!
We had in mind the place to help us forget the msfortune of the last two days:
HIRAKU, a Japanese style Oyster and Seafood Bar! A bit of a misnomer as it is a full-fledged Izakaya! They specialize in oyster cuisines and offer no less than 32 preparations!
Looking at the menu was a bit of headache as obviously even the four of us would not have been able to taste everything!
Anyway, we did manage to sample a lot and will describe them succintly in the order we ate them!
-See picture at top: Cold steamed oysters served in Japanese fahion with grated daikon and ponzu dressing.
-“Steak-style Kaki”. The oysters are sauteed like a steak with mushrooms and veg with a steak sauce.
-“Fry-Kaki”. The oysters are dipped in batter and breadcrumbs before deep-fried. They must be served at once to be truly appreciated and they were!
-“Shyoyaki yamame”. We kept our eyes open for other morsels naturally. Yamamame is a small Japanese trout variety. You eat it all, head and tail!
-“Escargot fuu Kaki”. French snail-style oyster oysters. Need I explain? Quite tasty, actually!
-Kaki Haru maki”. Deep-fried oyster Imperial rolls. Both crunchy and juicy. A great snack!
They are also very good at preparing meat as demonstrated by this suteed duck breast!
-Kaki Chiizu”. Oysters steamed inside cheese. Frankly speaking, I don’t have a clue how they make them. I know they do use processed cheese. A great snack again!
-“Kimuchi Nabe”. Oysters cooked on a hot plate with kimchee. We are not so far from Korea after all!
-Some sushi rolls to satisfy our need for carbohydrates! LOL,
-“Kaki Tenpura”. This is the first time ever I ate oysters as tenpura! Not easy to make, I’m sure! Delicious!
-“O soba”. As the place is also renown for its buckwheat noodles, we had a serving to end the meal. A complimentary dessert was served at the end of the meal.
Staff at Hiraku are particularly attentive, friendly and fast. A plus in this kind of big izakaya.
Another plus is their drinks memu, with all the items to satisfy evey taste, including some local sake and French wines. A great place for small groups!
060-0061 Sapporo City, Chuo Ku, Dai Ichi Jyo Nishi, 5 Chome, 17-2, President Matsui Bldg. 100-1202
Reservations telelephone: (011)241-6165
Opening hours: 17:00~23:00
Closed on Sundays & National Holidays
4) OTARU CITY
In spite of all those oysters in Sapporo devoured in Sapporo, our next destination on the following day was Otaru City and its fish market. The latter is located just left of the JR Station exit. Small in scale, itis still a must-see in that citiy as it will offer sights of seafood consumed all over Japan!
OTARU SANKAKU FISH MARKET
Go down the steep narrow alley between the various booths.
Bear in mind that Hokkaido is also famed for its summer vegetables, especially tomatoes, and wild mushrooms!
Fresh and dried fish are ready for consumption or will be sent all over Japan as every stand benefits from a home-delivery system!
Even the numerous Russian tourists buy those crabs!
Salmon, the King of fish!
An Otaru delicacy: “Sankaku/Sand Borer Fish”. A beauty, raw, dried or cooked!
We arrived pretty early in the morning and for once, to get a break from all that fish, looked around for some meat.
Although Hokkaido is celebrated for its beef and mutton, we decided to try chicken instead:
New Naruto is a minuscule place seating less than 20 people.
It is constantly crowded. Either you come early or wait, knowing they might run out of meat, in which case they momentarily close the place!
The prices are simply ridiculous low by any standards. The portions are Gargantuan (thanks to the Russian tourists?) like the above half chicken,
or fried pieces of chicken. We had ordered two of each for the four of us with a couple of beers. We could not finish them all and gave the leftovers to some happy youngsters next door who were waiting for their orders!
Otaru City, Hanaen 1 Chome, 10-10
There is one more in town just in case at
Otaru City, Ironai 1 chome, 1
That particular night, which was our last one in Hokkaido, we decided to have a last try at the local fish.
We found a very reasonable, if a bit modest, sushi restaurant we can safely recommend to all:
Not only their fish is of good and reasonable, but they also have the merit to serve a couple of local sake.
I found Onikoroshi (Kill the Devil) by Tanaka Brewery (Otaru City) quite amenable with the sushi offering.
If you are not sure what to order, just ask for the Special Set/”Moriawase”.
It comes first with ika somen/thin strips of raw cuttle fish you eat with a sauce you prepare yourself with soy sauce, one raw egg yolk and raw urchin. Just challenge it!
The second dish consists of a plate of sushi (the uni gunkan is not featured as I was no patient enough to wait for it for the pic!) and Japanese soup and pickles!
Otaru City, Hanaen, 1-1-1 (Sushi Toori/Sushi Street)
Closed on Wednesdays
I sincerely hope you will find this small series of articles useful if you the chance to visit Hokkaido!