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Sunday, August 30, 2015

Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido king crab and Kinotoya Bake cheese tarts

Crab and seafood feast at Kani Honke, Sapporo, Hokkaido

Fat sweet scallops. Giant king crabs. Buttery sea urchin. If these words commanded your attention, you need to make your way to Hokkaido as soon as you can. This island oasis of crisp clean air and spectacular scenery is what I like to call the Tasmania of Japan, a haven for lovers of nature and good food.

My first trip to Hokkaido was five years ago for the Sapporo Snow Festival, a frostbitten spectacular of larger-than-life scenes made from snow and crystal clear ice carvings. This time we wold arrive in early spring, although unseasonably warm weather across Japan had sparked an unprecedented early blooming of cherry blossoms. We'd hope we find the last of the blooms on Hokkaido, but even if we didn't, we had days of seafood gluttony ahead.

Our map of travels around Japan from Tokyo to Sapporo
Our Japan travels that started in Tokyo

Hokkaido's distance from the major cities in Honshu mean that the majority of visitors make the journey to the main city of Sapporo by plane. Access will improve significantly once the Hokkaido Shinkansen railway line is complete, a project that commenced in 2005. Although there are normal trains that run between Honshu and Hokkaido, the shinkansen bullet train requires special tracks that need to be built. The first section between Shin-Aomoro and Shin-Hakodate is scheduled to open on 26 March 2016. The extension to Sapporo to scheduled to open in 2030.

Until then, planes are the fastest and most convenient way of getting to Hokkaido. This was why we mapped our itinerary to travel southward from Tokyo. We then caught a domestic flight from Fukuoka to Sapporo, a journey of 40 minutes.


Anago saltwater eel box sushi and maki sushi with salmon roe
Anago saltwater eel box sushi and maki sushi with salmon roe 

Plane meals are super easy in Japan if you make a pit stop at a department store food hall beforehand. I was set with a two course feast of anago saltwater eel box sushi and a box of maki sushi rolled with omelette, cucumber and plump pearls of bright orange salmon roe.

Dark chocolate and vanilla swirl soft serve at Fukuoka Domestic Airport, Japan
Dark chocolate and vanilla swirl soft serve at Fukuoka Domestic Airport 308 yen / AU$3.40

And we checked in early enough to enjoy a dark chocolate and vanilla swirl soft serve before the flight. We were pleasantly surprised by the modest pricing at the airport - everything was about the same price. No exorbitant mark-ups in sight!


Sapporo Ramen Alley

Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley

Our first stop in Sapporo was Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, a collection of eight ramen houses from across Hokkaido in one convenient location. Hardcore adventurers will dismiss this is as being too touristy but when you weigh up the hassles and drama of travel time, you can't beat this for convenience, especially given its proximity to JR Sapporo station.

Each ramen house has its own vending machine out the front. Select and pay for your dishes from the machine and then a friendly staff member will lead you to a table and pass your meal tickets to the kitchen.


Misono

Misono ramen at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Misono Ramen at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku

We start at Misono, lured by its promise of pork back rib meat char siu.

Chilli garlic chives at Misono at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Chilli garlic chives


Pots of chilli garlic chives and pickled bamboo shoots kept us entertained while we wait for our ramen to arrive.

Misono miso ramen with pork rib char siu at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Miso ramen with pork rib char siu and grated ginger 900 yen / AU$10

It doesn't take long, however, for our orders to hit the table.

Misono pork rib char siu at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Pork rib char siu

The pork rib char siu is just what we're craving - a hefty slab of juicy pork ribboned with lush layers of fat.

Misono soft boiled egg at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Soil boiled egg

The soft boiled egg has the rich and sticky yolk we relish and we can't help noticing that this egg has an intriguing smokiness that lingers on the palate.

Misono miso ramen noodles at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Thick and crinkly ramen noodles

The noodles are the ideal carriage for the soup, thick and crinkly to soak up the richness, and sturdy enough to feel satisfyingly chewy. There are occasional bursts of finely grated yuzu rind, providing a welcome palate cleanser against the hearty soup.

Misono ramen customer at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Even locals aren't afraid to wear bibs 

I love that even locals are happy to don bibs. Slurping ramen is always an activity fraught with danger for your best outfit.


Yoshiyama Shouten

Yoshiyama Shouten ramen stall at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Yoshiyama Shouten ramen stall

Our second stop is Yoshiyama Shouten, famous for its goma (sesame) miso ramen.

Yoshiyama Shouten sesame miso ramen at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Baisen goma miso ramen 780 yen / AU$8.50

The miso ramen is noticeably darker in colour than our previous bowl, with a deluge of sesame seeds gently bobbing across its surface.

Yoshiyama Shouten slight crinkly ramen noodles at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Slightly crinkly ramen noodles

The soup is significantly heavier in this one, taking on a tongue-coating nutty richness from the use of sesame seeds. We notice that the noodles aren't as crinkly in this version either.

Ramen eaters at Yoshiyama Shouten at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Ramen fans


Ajisai

Ajisai ramen stall at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Ajisai

The next day we check out a third stall, Ajisai, specialist in a salt-based ramen that is known for its extremely clear soup.

Hokkaido butter at Ajisai ramen stall at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Hokkaido butter 

We notice the button for Hokkaido butter on the vending machine and select it immediately. We also appreciate it being served separately on a mini plate, saving the butter from melting into oblivion before you've even taken your photo (the outrage).

Ajisai salt ramen with Hokkaido butter at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Aijsai shio ramen 780 yen / AU$8.50 
with soft boiled egg 100 yen / AU$1.10
and Hokkaido butter 100 yen / AU$1.10

I love that the clear colour of the soup is enhanced by the choice of bowl, which is much more colourful compared to the prior stalls. The salt-based stock is noticeably lighter on the palate.

Ajisai straight ramen noodles at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Straight ramen noodles

We notice that the ramen noodles are thinner and straighter, ideal for this gentle nuanced soup. There is no detail spared when it comes to ramen in Hokkaido.

Thankfully the pork is still beautifully fatty and our pats of butter dissolve into puddles of dairy goodness.

Ajisai ramen chefs in the kitchen at Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku or Sapporo Ramen Alley, Hokkaido
Ramen chefs in the kitchen


Nijo Market

Hokkaido hairy crabs at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Hokkaido hairy crabs

A stop at Nijo Market in Sapporo is mandatory, giving you the chance to ogle at all kinds of incredible seafood. It's also the ideal spot to pick up edible souvenirs, especially dried Hokkaido scallops. I picked up a bag that was so incredibly fragrant, I had to double-bag to stop the smell permeating my clothes in my luggage!

Stall holders at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Stallholders at Nijo Fish Market

The stall holders can get a little eager when they spot a tourist, but generally they lean more to being overly friendly than unpleasantly aggressive.

White, purple and green asparagus at Nijo Market, Sapporo
White, purple and green asparagus

The thick stalks of asparagus in Japan were such a wondrous thing of beauty.

Hokkaido hairy crabs and king crab at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Hokkaido hairy crabs and king crab


Kondounoboru

Kondounoboru seafood shop and restaurant at Nijo Market, Sapporo

Our early morning visit meant we could feast on superb sashimi for a late breakfast. We stopped at the large seafood shop and sushi bar Kondounoboru.

Tuna and salmon sashimi mini rice bowl at Kondounoboru at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Kaisendon mini sashimi rice bowl with half fatty tuna and half salmon 1300yen / AU$14.30

Kaisendon or rice bowls tend to offer the best value at seafood markets, a simple meal of sashimi rice topped with thick slices of sashimi. You can choose all kinds of sashimi combinations. One of our group exercised moderation with a mini rice bowl that came with ribbons of raw salmon and hunks of fatty tuna.

Sushi gozen rice bowl set at Kondounoboru at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Sushi gozen rice bowl set 2500 yen / AU$27.50
with sea urchin, raw scallops, salmon roe, sushi (tuna, salmon and crab) and crab miso soup

I had no intentions of maintaining self-control and went all-out with one of the most expensive items on the menu, the sushi gozen rice bowl set.

Ikura salmon roe at Kondounoboru at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Ikura salmon roe

The set includes all my favourite things, starting with a bowl of rice covered in a deep forest of ikura salmon roe, so fresh that you could feel the resistance as you popped each briny pearl between your teeth.

Uni sea urchin roe at Kondounoboru at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Uni sea urchin roe

Petals of uni sea urchin roe are so buttery soft, delicate and sweet.

Tuna sushi at Kondounoboru at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Tuna sushi

And I'm mesmerised by the deep red hue of the sashimi tuna on my nigiri sushi.

Sushi gozen rice bowl set with sea urchin, scallop, salmon roe, sashimi and crab miso soup at Kondounoboru at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Sushi gozen rice bowl set from above

I luxuriate in the quivering pillows of raw scallop and savour the crab leg in my miso soup. It's a whopping good breakfast that still comes in at less than AU$30.

Tanuki raccoon dog toothpick holder at Kondounoboru at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Tanuki raccoon dog toothpick holder

Sushi diners at Kondounoboru at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Diners at the sushi counter

Hokkaido Yamakawa Farm jersey milk soft serve at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Hokkaido Yamakawa Farm jersey milk soft serve stall

Our wanderings through the market lead us to a jersey milk soft serve stall. Although the lights are all on, we can't find any staff and it takes about twenty minutes and lots of walking past before the women in the noodle restaurant across the corridor runs across and serves us, bowing constantly in apology for having us wait so long.

Jersey milk soft serve by Hokkaido Yamakawa Farm at Nijo Market, Sapporo
Jersey milk soft serve 350 yen / AU$3.90

We're glad she found us. This jersey milk soft serve is gloriously good. The milk comes from Yamakawa Farm and the intensity of butterfat is toe-curling.


Kani Honke

Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido

Eager to indulge in a banquet of crab, we headed to Kani Honke, a successful restaurant chain that can be found across Japan.

Live snow crabs at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Live snow crabs

On the ground floor of the Sapporo outlet we marvel at the giant rock pool holding a swarm of live snow crabs. Staff dressed in kimonos motion for to us to remove our shoes before taking us upstairs in a lift to the main dining area, a maze of rooms resplendent with dark cedar and cypress. She quietly slides open the bamboo door of our private dining room to reveal a sunken dining table in a timber-lined dug-out.

Crab banquet at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
The start of our crab banquet

Dining at lunchtime is cheaper than dinner, with a range of banquets available during the day only. These start at 2600 yen / AU$29 for a seven-course kaiseki hamanaka set and top out at the 10-course kaiseku taisetsu set costing 5050 yen / $AU56.

Crab banquet appetisers at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Course 1: Appetisers of grilled fish, gingko nuts and fish cake

I'm happy to go straight to the most expensive offering. Staff happily accommodate our mixed order of banquets so we end up having three different sets that covers practically every dish on offer.

King crab tofu at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Course 2: King crab tofu

Each course arrives separately, our chatter ceasing every time the door quietly slides open. Each dish arrives on a different shaped bowl or platter, placed in a specific area of the table as our server kneels demurely.

King crab dressed with sauce at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Course 3: King crab dressed with sauce

We start with snacks of grilled fish and gingko nuts before sinking our spoons into soft mounds of silken tofu sweetened with crab. The third course of king crab celebrates its delicate flesh with a simple vinegar dressing and a tumble of seaweed.

Crab sashimi on dry ice at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Course 4: Crab sashimi on dry ice

Crab sashimi is our next treat, its crystal flesh shimmering tantalisingly. The raw crab allows you to taste all the nuances of the sea. We prise every last morsel from its shell.

Fried king crab with shell at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Course 5:  Fried king crab with shell

Golden panko crumbs provide a armour of protection over fried king crab served in its shell.

Crab with salad at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Course 6: Crab with salad

The fan shaped plate of various pickles and salad vegetables provides palate cleansing, although the cute crab-shaped saucer with morsels of picked crab is still the highlight.

Kanisuki crab hot pot at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Course 7: Kanisuki crab hotpot

Lighting the candle beneath our crab hot pot creates fragrant wafts of its clear soup.

Kanisuki crab hot pot at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Crab set to simmer in soup

The crab legs have all been cut open to allow us to claim the flesh easily, and the vegetable stock is light yet nourishing.

Congee rice porridge with crab at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Course 8: Congee rice porridge with crab meat 
Course 9: Tsukemono pickles (not pictured)

We finish with pickles and congee rice porridge, spoonfuls of comfort that we cannot resist even though we are so full already.

Fruit yoghurt at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Course 10: Fruit yoghurt

The finale is fruit yoghurt, its tangy refreshment just what we need after such a decadent meal.

Crab banquet sets at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Our table spread of different banquet sets

Because the food arrived in waves, we were never able to capture the sheer magnitude of dishes served in one single photo.

King crab gratin at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
King crab gratin from the kaiseki hidaka set 40,000 yen or AU$44 for 9 courses

We share a couple of dishes around the table. One of the favourites from one of the other sets is the king crab gratin that is wondrously creamy.

Hokkaido crab banquet at Kani Honke in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Hokkaido deliciousness

Definitely worth the visit although do make sure you allocate a couple of hours to get through all the food.

Inside a Sapporo train carriage
Sapporo train carriage

We caught the local train a couple of times to explore Sapporo.

Musk melon at Daimaru, Sapporo
Musk melon at Daimaru, Sapporo 10,800 yen / AU$120 each

Most of the time we hovered in the department store food halls, lusting after the beautifully packaged musk melons or staring at the endless displays of mouthwatering food.

Yakitori skewers at Daimaru, Sapporo
Yakitori skewers 

Perfect sponge rolls with fruit and cream at Daimaru, Sapporo
Perfect sponge rolls with fruit and cream

Croquette stall at Daimaru, Sapporo
All smiles at the croquette stall

Mon Blanc chestnut cakes from LeTAO, Sapporo
Mont Blanc chestnut cakes from LeTAO

Of course we found room for another contender in our search for Japan's Next Top Mont Blanc. This one from LeTAO was a classic version, generously piped with chestnut squiggles and topped with a whole candied chestnut.

Kougn Amann pastry from Paul Bocuse Bakery at Daimaru, Sapporo
Kouign Amann pastry from Paul Bocuse Bakery at Daimaru Sapporo

And I savoured every last crumb of this kouign amann pastry from Paul Bocuse Bakery at Daimaru. It was more like a caramelised palmier but those toffeed shards of buttery pastry were still ridiculously good.

Taste-testing different brands of Hokkaido milk
Taste-testing different brands of Hokkaido milk

We began our usual obsession with Hokkaido milk too. I don't normally drink a lot of milk at home but Hokkaido jersey milk is so creamy it tastes completely different. The carton on the left was 213 yen / AU$2.35 and left a distinctly sweet aftertaste. The premium bottle of Machimura Farm milk on the right was 486 yen / $5.35 which I thought tastes richer with cream. I preferred the one on the right, and yes, we took the milk bottle home to Australia as a souvenir!

Bocca white pudding made from fresh Hokkaido milk
Bocca white pudding 883 yen / AU$9.70 for four

I also couldn't resist buying these Bocca white puddings to try, made from fresh Hokkaido milk.

Bocca white pudding balloon packaging
Bocca white pudding balloon packaging

Their balloon packaging looks rather suspicious but like most things in Japan, make perfect sense once you work it out. You use a pin to prick the balloon and the deflated rubber easily lifts off the pudding that eventually settles into a sphere on your plate. Pour over the sachet of bitter caramel syrup and be amazed by the silkiest and creamiest pannacotta you will ever eat. It was amazing.


Kinotoya Bake

Kinotoya Bake at JR Sapporo Station
Kinotoya Bake at JR Sapporo station

And you can't leave Sapporo without trying one of Kinotoya Bake's famous baked cheese tarts. There are a couple of outlets in Sapporo (including one at Sapporo's Chitose airport) but we found the most convenient one was at JR Sapporo station.

Kinotoya Bake's famous baked cheese tarts
Kinotoya Bake's famous baked cheese tarts

The queue here in constant, and it's no wonder. The smell of butter, eggs and sugar from the non-stop baking schedule is irresistible to even the most hardened health nut.

Segregated packaging for Kinotoya Bake's famous baked cheese tarts
Clever segregated packaging for six cheese tarts 1,080 yen / AU$12

You can get these as a single tart but almost everyone orders at least half a dozen, packed in ingenious packaging that means they don't rattle around or get squashed.

Japanese bowing traditions at Kinotoya Bake
Traditional bows and humility by Japanese service staff

And like all of the patisseries we visited across Japan, the staff are always so neatly attired, polite and gentle in manner.

Fluffy cheesecake inside the Kinotoya Bake cheese tart
Inside the Kinotoya Bake cheese tart

And the tart? Whoah. The pastry base is sweet and buttery, its crunchy shell providing a contrast to the cloud-like baked cheese filling in the middle. They're not too sweet or too heavy which means that stopping yourself at just one is a herculean feat. We revisited this shop several times during our stay, stealing away into the night with yet another carry bag of treats.

School kids skipping at Odori Park in Sapporo
School kids skipping at Odori Park

Sapporo is a busy city but there's still a great sense of space, especially with the sprawling green space of Odori Park through the middle. On a Sunday afternoon drenched with sunshine we were entranced by a gaggle of school kids skipping with two ropes to a ghetto blaster of music.

Big kids skipping at Odori Park in Sapporo
Big kids skipping at Odori Park

The kids were mentored by a group of young men who weren't afraid to show off their own range of tricks.

We stopped and watched them for about fifteen minutes, admiring their skill as well as their congenial nature. Sometimes people would get tangled in ropes, but they would laugh, shrug it off and just keep on going. Their wordless communication was impressive too. Check the instavid below for a glimpse of their awesomeness.



<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid

Kani Honke
1-18 2-chome Kitasanjyo-Nishi Chuouku Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan 060-0003
Tel: +61 (11) 222 0018
Open 7 days 11.30am-10pm

Kinotoya Bake
JR Sapporo Station, ground floor
Sapporo, Kita Ward, Kita 6 Jonishi, 3 Chome, Hokkaido, Japan
Tel: +61 (11) 804 7770
Open daily 9am-10pm

Kondounoboru (Facebook)
2 Chome Minami 3 Johigashi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan 060-0053
Tel: +81 (11) 241 3377
Open daily 8am-4.30pm

Nijo Market
1 Chome Minami 3 Johigashi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan 060-0053
Open daily 7am-6pm (individual stalls may vary)

Sapporo Ramen Kyowakoku
JR Tower ESTA, Level 10
2 Chome-1 Kita 5 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan 060-0005
Open 7 days 11am-10pm

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/30/2015 05:51:00 p.m.



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