The last time we were in Otaru, we didn't have enough time to visit all the stores and restaurants that we wanted before they closed/sold out. We learned our lesson this time, and planned our itinerary to make sure that we had plenty of time to hit all the pastry shops, sometimes more than once.
Kitakaro eluded us on our first visit. It wasn't really on our radar because they’re most known for their baumkuchen, which we’re not really keen on, but tucked away at the back of the store are some of the most amazing cream/custard puffs. They’d sold out by the time we discovered them the last time, so this time it was at the top of our list.
They have 3 kinds of cream puffs – one with a hard shell and a custard filling, the middle one has a softer choux pastry and a mixture of custard and fresh cream, and the bottom one is meant to be ripped and dipped.
The middle one is by far the best. The pastry is really soft so it’s easy to bite into without the cream squirting out the sides, and the filling is the best of both worlds – a tasty custard lightened with freshly whipped cream.
We missed Masazushi the last time because we simply couldn't find it. It was our first trip to Japan, and we didn't realise that we needed to be able to recognise the Japanese characters of restaurants because more often than not, their English transliterations are not on their signage. Our friend M led us to Masazushi this time, and they’ve definitely redone their exterior because it now clearly says “Masazushi Otaru”.
Their signature dish is ribbons of raw squid, meant to be dunked in a sauce of ponzu, a raw egg yolk and uni. So simple, yet an amazing use of all the ingredients. Their sushi platters were also outstanding, though I’m hard pressed to decide which was better – Masazushi, or Kikuzushi in Sapporo.
Yabuhan soba is a little out of the way, closer to the JR train station than the main food streets in Otaru. You can choose between soba made from two types of buckwheat flour – one sourced entirely from Niseko, and another mixed with imported buckwheat from China and Mongol. The one made from pure Niseko flour is more expensive, but not by much, so we all chose the pure one.
Because we were deprived of our cold soba at Rakuichi, we made a beeline for the cold soba. It was amazing, and when we added the soba-yu to the remaining dipping sauce to turn it into a broth, we all thought we’d died and gone to heaven.
We were thrilled to see that the hole-in-the-wall sushi joint along the Sushiyadori that we mistook for Masazushi on our last trip was still there. Thanks to our friend W once again, this time we managed to find out that it’s called Sushi Gen.
There may be a bit more rice in the guy’s nigiri sushi compared to, say, Kikuzushi, but it’s still really good and I have a soft spot for independent one-man shows like this. Not flashy or over-commercialised, just honest about serving good food.
I don’t think we’ve ever had a bad meal in Otaru (except for the hotel breakfast the last time we were here). Some things may be over-rated, like the LeTao café which is good but not worth queuing up for, but even the giant tourist trappy restaurant along the Sakaimachi was great.