We were in Sapporo and Otaru with W and M, and thanks to W’s superior research skills and M’s talents as a human GPS, we managed to find and try quite a number of places that eluded us on our previous trip here.
Aji No Karyu
We managed to find Ramen Alley in Susukino this time, and the Anthony Bourdain trail continues. Aji No Karyu is at one end of Ramen Alley, and we managed to recognize it from the Chinese characters as well as the chef behind the counter.
We had the kaisen (seafood) ramen – they sauté the crab leg and scallop with the miso broth, and it’s still topped with a slice of tender char siew and some sweet corn.
The fact that the seafood is cooked in the soup, rather than being cooked separately and just placed in the bowl before serving, really makes the difference. The broth takes on all the flavours of the seafood, transforming it from a normal miso to something quite complex and, quite simply, outstanding.
Just round the corner from Ramen Alley was Kikuzushi, an amazing sushi restaurant that W led us to.
We ordered one mixed sashimi plate, and one sushi plate. Everything was outstanding – I had some of the best sashimi that I’ve ever had. The scallop, uni and chutoro were amazing, and the sushi was very refined, with a good rice-to-fish ratio.
Yaki hotate at Odori Park
Besides spectacular snow and ice sculptures, part of the appeal of the Sapporo Snow Festival are the various food stalls all over Odori Park, offering everything from grilled corn, roasted chestnuts and even ramen and Brazilian churrascaria.
There was a guy grilling fat, juicy scallops on the shell, with butter and a sweet soy sauce. We made a beeline for it, and suffice to say that it was one of the best mouthfuls of the trip. The juices from the scallop mixed with the butter and soy sauce, creating an amazingly sweet liquor, and the scallops were just barely cooked so they weren’t at all rubbery. Just sweet, tender and perfect.
Sapporo Beer Garden
No trip to Hokkaido is complete without a meal of Genghis Khan – slices of mutton grilled on top of a dome-shaped hot plate greased with lamb fat, and a hearty serving of beansprouts to add some much-needed crunch and freshness.
Last time we went to a hole-in-the-wall joint called Daruma. This time, we made a trip to the Sapporo Beer Garden and had their Genghis Khan buffet – unlimited helpings of fresh and frozen lamb, and if you’re so inclined, you can add an all-you-can-drink aspect too.
The smell of the restaurant was something else. They considerately gave us plastic bags to keep our coats and bags so at least we managed to spare them from smelling like lamb for the next few days. This was delicious, but like all good things, after a while it got a bit too much for us. We’ll probably stick to Daruma next time, and bring our own plastic bags to store our coats and bags.
Sapporo’s known for its crab. The cream of the crop is apparently king crab, prized for its sweet yet firm meat. Snow crab, being smaller, is less meaty but still tasty.
This was my first time trying crab sashimi. It was definitely interesting – it was very fresh so no fishy or pungent aroma at all. What was a bit challenging for me was the texture. It was a bit slimy, and after trying a few pieces as sashimi, when the server wasn’t looking we lightly blanched the rest in the nabe broth…
Taking centrestage was in fact the kani nabe – crab hotpot. Needless to say, the dashi stock was intensely flavoured with essence of crab by the time we were done. Big faux pas – we greedily slurped up almost all of the soup, and when the server came in she looked horrified and said “No! Porridge!”.
Apparently you’re not actually supposed to drink the broth. Towards the end of the meal they come in with rice, eggs, and whip up a crab porridge that’s to die for. We had to compromise a bit with some regular dashi instead, which was still delicious but would’ve been mind blowing if we’d used the crab stock.
The crab “steak”, which was a massive crab leg cooked with butter on a hot plate, was also amazingly meaty and sweet, and the crab “miso” deserves a special mention as well. They told us to use the crab miso as a dip for the shabu shabu. I think it’s made with the essence of crab brains – that amazingly flavourful substance that’s tucked away in the crab heads. I ended up just eating it neat because anything else would’ve diluted the flavour.
Oh soup curry, where have you been all my life…
I’m generally not a fan of Japanese curry. I prefer my curries savoury and spicy, i.e. everything that a thick, sweet Japanese curry isn’t.
That’s why, whenever I read about Sapporo soup curry I just assumed it would be similar to Japanese curry, and dismissed it without a second thought. It was only on this trip, thanks to some egging on by W, that I tried soup curry and was forever changed…
As the name suggests, it’s actually a very thin soup, and ingredients vary. The most common and traditional would be chicken, vegetables like eggplant and okra, and some root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes or lotus root. The flavours are surprisingly un-Japanese, with a flavour and aroma distinctly reminiscent of Indian curries. The chilli levels are customizable, which is right up my alley. Most places offer a basic scale of levels 1 to 50, and anything above that incurs a surcharge.
Most of the really famous soup curry joints in Sapporo are near the university area, and a bit out of the way for us, so we went to one at Stellar department store – Soup Curry Lavi. I went with level 30, which had heat but comfortably so. Note to self: I think I can manage 40+ next time.
That’s it for Sapporo. We took an overnight side trip to Otaru, where we had such amazing food that it warrants its own entry.
Sapporo is great, but Otaru is better. Although the Marion Crepe (along the covered shopping street just south of the radio tower) and Queen’s Ice Cream café in the ESTA Mall (outside Ramen Republic) were awesome. 3 rounds of ice cream in one sitting. RAWK!