Japanese breakfast at ryokan

Ryokan Japanese Breakfast

Ryokan stays are fully catered affairs. All your meals are taken care of (except lunch, since you arrive at around 3-4 pm) and everything is included in the price. We woke up bright and early during a winter morning’s day in Hokkaido and went for their elaborate and filling Japanese breakfast. It was truly a feast of epic proportions!

Japanese Breakfast

The personalized menu was printed on a sheet of slick paper and the tables were all set and ready for us when the kimono clad girl led us to our seats. This is a very nice touch, they had asked yesterday during check-in what we wanted for our drinks (choice of various local fruit juices) so it was freshly squeezed and waiting when we walked in at the stipulated time.

Salmon

This is a Japanese style breakfast, which is centered around rice, grilled fish, pickles (tsukemono), tofu, eggs, salad, vegetables, natto and miso soup. It had all the components of a traditional breakfast and more!

Japanese Salad

The salad has become a fixture in breakfast tables around Japan and they’ve adopted it as their own now. This is the seasonal salad (旬のさらだ) which has daikon as its base, supplemented by vegetables tossed in a very Japanese style ginger and sesame dressing. I like it, it’s a nice and refreshing way to start off this heavy meal.

Tofu

Next up is the homemade tofu (自家製豆腐) which comes in a beautifully creamy white custard. It was nestled in a lidded container and the staff told us to eat it with a special mirin based sauce they had provided in a tiny miniature jar. I’m not a huge fan of tofu but I understand it’s an important protein source in Japan.

Ume

The pickled ume (梅干し) is another traditional Japanese side. I love eating plum with rice! It’s so tangy and the sour plum goes very well with the sticky Hokkaido rice they provided. There are bento boxes called Hinomaru bento (日の丸弁当) which is just rice with one (1) Japanese salt plum in the middle, made to look like the Japanese flag. I can’t imagine eating rice with just ume before I came to Japan but I know it’s delicious now. My better half doesn’t like it though. No worries, more plum for me! smirk

Onsen Egg

There is a special hot spring egg (温泉卵) that’s still in its shell, which is very apt, considering we were staying at Jozankei Onsen. The onsen egg has been softly boiled so just the whites are semi-solid. The yolk is still perfectly liquid and this makes it an ideal partner for your rice. You can crack the egg on top of your rice and mix it up like tamago kake gohan.

Tamago Kake Gohan

Japanese eggs are so good, you can even get a raw one from 7-Eleven and crack it onto hot rice. It’s lovely stuff. This egg has a soy based sauce to go with it too. Yum!

Fish

The grilled fish (焼き魚) and rolled egg (玉子焼き) are the main components of breakfast. We had Japanese salmon and there is a personal mini hot plate on top of your table where you can grill the fish to reheat it.

Personal Grill

It’s ingenious! The surface has been oiled so you just need to put your fish on top for a few seconds before it warms up.

Grilling Salmon

They even provide a short length of spring onion so you can put it at the bottom to impart a bit of flavor to the salmon. It was lovely and I enjoyed eating every bit of fish.

Rolled Egg

You can heat up the rolled egg too, it’s slightly sweet and very fluffy.

Breakfast Sashimi

There is also a dish in a box (箱物) which has several sides and appetizers to go with your breakfast. The sashimi platter (お造り) is filled with fish and squid. The squid was slightly tough to eat raw but had tons of flavor. There are also containers filled with boiled spinach (法蓮草のおひたし), kelp (昆布), nine grains and beans (九穀豆) and salted cod roe (たらこ) as sides for your rice. The tarako (salted egg roe) was particularly delicious – the umami goodness can’t be beat!

Japanese Breakfast Sides

The Hokkaido style natto (なっとう) is one of the highlights – you’re supposed to mix it with rice. I ate it on its own though and it was delicious! I like the sticky gooey texture of fermented soybeans. I don’t see what the fuss is all about.

Miso

There are also two sheets of nori still in their paper packaging for you to use as you see fit (it’s good in rice or miso soup). The miso soup was really good as well, as to be expected in Japan.

Japanese Fruits

Desserts consisted of seasonal fruits (季節のふるーつ). There is a local grapefruit which was surprisingly sweet (always thought grapefruit was more sour than this) and a piece of pineapple. Yup, I didn’t know Japan grew pineapples but they do! It’s not as good as back home though (obviously) but that’s the only thing that missed the mark.

Ryokan Breakfast

The Japanese style breakfast was very filling and the ryokan really subscribes to the “Eat breakfast like a king” mantra. It’s way too much food for two people and I must have missed quite a few items that they thoughtfully provided as sides or appetizers. The service was excellent too and this delicious local breakfast was the perfect way to send us off. Our ryokan experience with onsen and kaiseki dinner was truly amazing and we loved every moment of it! :)

Full course kaiseki-ryoki dinner at Japanese ryokan

Kaiseki

The kaiseki-ryori (懐石料理) dinner is a very important part of a ryokan (Japanese inn) stay. It’s included in the price and the dishes are chance to showcase a wide range of cooking techniques meant to highlight the seasonal and regional aspect of each ingredient. Kaiseki is the name for a traditional multi-course formal Japanese dinner.

Botan Ebi

Our ryokan is in Chitose, Sapporo so all the dishes would be local to Hokkaido and seasonal as well. It’s winter right now so we wondered if we should wear the yukata that was provided in the room to dinner. I asked the owner and she smiled and said it was up to us. We saw some people wearing it and some people in regular wear during dinner.

Kaiseki-Ryori

This is the first course that came out. The kaiseki dinner was presented on a high quality piece of paper and we were seated in a room with the dishes brought in and explained one by one to us. You’re supposed to drink the plum liquor (梅酒) first together with the topmost dish which is kinda like an amuse-bouche. The bottom dishes are (from left) yam with pickled sea cucumber (山芋海鼠), two-taste tofu (二味豆腐), grilled Shiretoko chicken with leaf bud of bamboo shoot (知床鶏と筍の木の芽焼き), golden herring roe (黄金数の子), nanohana with sea bream and flower kelp (鯛菜の花昆布〆).

Anglerfish Liver

The 先附 (appetizer) is tossed anglerfish white flesh and liver (鮟鱇共和え). It’s delicious! I particularly liked the anglerfish liver. I’ve come to love raw liver since my visit to Japan. It’s meant to be savored with the alcohol. My better half didn’t like the ume liquor though so I drank her portion as well.

Pickled Sea Cucumber

The bottom dish is the proper first course. I really enjoyed the yam with sea cucumber. The sea cucumber is raw, so it’s very hard and chewy. It’s perfect in the pickling juice and I had a good time chewing and munching on the sea cucumber. It’s so different from a cooked version, it’s almost impossible to swallow without a lot of mastication. It ended up being my favorite appetizer. The two-taste tofu with a goji berry on top was decent too.

Kaiseki Course

Shiretoko is a town at the northernmost tip of Hokkaido and the chicken there is apparently quite good. It’s grilled simply and speared with a very thin slice of bamboo shoot. The golden herring roe was very nice, they thoughtfully served it on a bit of decorative plastic. The last item is nanohana (rapeseed – closely related to brocollini) wrapped with raw sea bream and topped with a piece of kelp.

Interesting fact: Did you know that brocollini was invented in Japan?

Sekihan

The chef gave us another dish while we were eating. It’s the famous sekihan! Sekihan with egg sauce (赤飯卵餡掛け) is a warm dish that is a mixture of sticky rice steamed with adzuki beans. This is eaten during celebrations in Japan and tastes totally unlike regular rice. This is a very interesting dish, even the egg sauce is sticky and starchy so it gives off a different texture to anything before and after.

Sashimi Course

The next course is mukozuke (向付/sliced seasonal sashimi). Our sashimi plate (お造り) is a showcase of Hokkaido catch, there is everything from scallops to shrimp. This is the same jumbo Japanese Botan shrimp we’ve eaten at the 1 Michelin Star Isezushi in Otaru. I liked the sashimi selections – it’s served with a side of real wasabi (not the fake horseradish substitute you get back home) and shiso.

Kaiseki Fried Course

The next course was for fried items and the presentation was beautiful. There is a whole jumbo Japanese Botan shrimp with salt and old sake (酒塩牡丹海老) in a cute basket together with half a wedge of lemon. Deep fried tofu (とろ湯葉揚げ) coated with tempura batter, crispy green pepper (青唐) and half a sweet potato rounded up the dish. I love how everything was put on top of absorbent paper to soak up excess oil.

Rolled Shrimp Pear

The chef slid another different dish as the su-zakana (酢肴) or palate cleanser after the intensity of the fried items. This is rolled shrimp with grated pear in vinegar (おぼろ海老絹田巻 梨酢掛け). I love the bright acidic flavors of the vinegar base and the fresh pear did the perfect job of neutralizing all the flavors in my mouth before the next course (which was quite delicate). There are two pieces filled with raw shrimp and a cherry tomato to go with it.

Japanese Beef

Shabu-shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) was next. The hot pot had already been sitting on our table since the beginning and we were wondering what it was for. A plate of beautifully marbled sliced Japanese wagyu beef (びえい和牛) on top of several different types of vegetables and enokitake (enoki mushrooms) came and the chef lit up the heat source at the bottom of the personal hot pot.

Hot Pot

You’re supposed to put the vegetables in first to make the broth (the water is just that, there’s no salt even) and then swish the thin slices of beef in the boiling hot water before dumping it into the sauce. There’s actually a good amount of beef here and since my dear isn’t big on beef, I ended up eating most of hers. This is a delightfully bland dish meant to ready your palate for the next course in the kaiseki dinner.

Ohitsu

Hokkaido grown rice came in a ohitsu (traditional wooden container for storing cooked rice) along with several side dishes as the previous course was cleared away.

Japanese Amberjack

The main dish is deep fried winter Japanese amberjack (寒鰤揚げ出し 霙餡) and it goes really well with the fluffy local rice.

Kaiseki Rice

It’s flanked to the right by sweet boiled kelp with sesame (胡麻昆布佃煮) and to the left by three pickles (三種盛り). The ko no mono (香の物) or seasonal pickled vegetables is actually a course by itself and it’s something of an acquired taste. I don’t know how many tsukemono (pickled stuff) I’ve eaten in Japan, they’re really big on them in winter. There’s a bowl of miso soup to go with the rice course. BTW, this picture is upside down coz it’s taken from my dear’s perspective so left is right and vice versa.

Japanese Mikan

The last course is the mizumono (水物) – a seasonal dessert (季節の果実). It’s a wedge of chilled Japanese mikan that’s cut into easy to manage bite-sized pieces. This is brilliant! They have four (4) deep cuts and one (1) long one beneath, so the orange segment can be speared out with a fork in three (3) pieces. How thoughtful. I liked the sprig of microgreen mint that came with it too but the delicious ice cream was the highlight.

Daifuku Ice Cream

It’s salty daifuku ice cream (塩大福アイス)! My better half has written about the daifuku we ate at the aptly named Daifukudo – it’s a Japanese sweet made with mochi and a filling. The ice cream we had was a little salty (!!!) which as a pleasant contrast to the sweet adzuki beans inside. It’s only mildly sweet from the red beans so that was a very interesting experience. The Japanese don’t usually eat excessively sugary stuff.

Shabu-shabu

The kaiseki-ryori dinner was one of the highlights of our ryokan stay at Jozankei Onsen. It’s nice to eat seasonal produce which has been prepared in many different ways (raw, fried, pickled etc) to highlight the freshness and locality of the ingredients. The light and delicate seasoning is a testament to Japanese cuisine and the kaiseki full course meal is something you can’t miss when you’re in Japan. We loved it!

A traditional Japanese ryokan with onsen

Shikotsuko Daiichi Hotel Suizantei

We wanted to experience a traditional ryokan (Japanese inn) complete with onsen hot springs and a full kaiseki ryori dinner and Shikotsuko Daiichi Hotel Suizantei (支笏湖第一寶亭留 翠山亭) fit the bill perfectly. My better half had researched the 3 ryokans in this area and I booked it several months before we flew over to Hokkaido. This was the one we went for since it had all the features we wanted (and more).

Hokkaido Snow

It was snowing very heavily when we got to Sapporo, which added to the charm. The ryokan will send a shuttle to pick you up from JR Chitose station. The driver didn’t speak a word of English but that didn’t matter, he was very polite and managed to identify us without much problems.

Mount Eniwa

The drive to Shikotsuko Daiichi Ryokan took about an hour. It went through perilous mountain roads where road crews were constantly shoveling away snow and we saw an accident on the way up. A car managed to plow off the icy roads and into the snow bank, but I don’t think anyone was seriously hurt.

Ryokan

The ryokan itself is beautiful! The staff all lined up and bowed to us as the shuttle pulled up.

Japanese Sweets

We were seated by the warm lounge as soon as we arrived and the owner served us traditional Japanese sweets with steaming hot tea. The check-in service was very personalized and very relaxed, everything was brought to us and we were made to feel very welcome with the hot towel and the staff ushering us to our rooms.

Ryokan Snow

I wanted to have a private onsen session, which costs JPY 3,480 (about RM 150) for 40 minutes. There are public onsen hot springs but (I read) that people with tattoos are generally discouraged from visiting. It’s some yakuza thing, even if you’re not one, apparently your ink makes people uncomfortable.

Onsen Tattoos

I didn’t test it out though, coz the public onsens are separated by sex e.g. guys are at one area and females at another different one.

Ryokan Rooms

We wanted to soak in the onsen together so the only way to do that was to book a private onsen session. We made ours at 3 pm and after changing, we put on our yukatas and slipped on the hotel slippers before making our way to the private hot spring.

Ryokan Lounge

There is a wooden block you’re supposed to hang at the door to signal “Occupied” but since we had booked the entire place, no one would come in anyway. There’s a shower area with a small stool where you’re supposed to clean yourself before going in.

Onsen Shower

We took turns showering and washing our hair before slipping into the hot onsen. It was an amazing experience!

Onsen

I must say, visiting Hokkaido in winter was the best decision ever! The snow was falling very heavily at the time so it was very cold. I think the temperature was -11 Celsius for the day. However, the onsen hot spring is SUPER HOT so it’s quite hard to soak in (at first).

Onsen Hot Springs

I had to slowly lower my body and my legs (and balls) were screaming NOOOOOO. Haha. It takes a while for your skin to get used to the scalding temperature in the onsen but we both did it.

Onsen Naked

I have to say, the cold really does a number on some of your appendages. smirk

Onsen Snow

I enjoyed periodically jumping out of the onsen and lazing at the chair naked while the snow fell on my head and my superheated body slowly radiated out heat until I felt cold again. The process actually takes about 3 minutes, that’s how hot the water was! It felt good to cool off before climbing into the hot onsen again, not just for the extreme temperature difference but also coz I wouldn’t be able to sit in the hot water so long otherwise.

Onsen Us

We both enjoyed the onsen experience. I still have a lot of fond memories of soaking in the water with my dear while it snowed heavily beside us. This ryokan is part of Jozankei Onsen and uses the area’s natural, mineral-rich hot springs. The view was mesmerizing!

Zen…

Kaiseki Dinner

The ryokan also provided all meals. Dinner was scheduled at 7:30 pm. You can choose the time and we opted for this slot. This is a traditional Japanese full course dinner known as kaiseki ryori. The chef will come up with lots of different plates of food – from raw, to steamed, to fried etc and there are multiple courses. I’ll write a full post about the kaiseki soon!

Sapporo Morning

We also walked out to see Mount Eniwa and Lake Shikotsu the next morning after our (huge) Japanese breakfast. It was a trek through (knee deep) snow but we managed to take an awesome winter photo together.

Lake Shikotsu

Shikotsuko Daiichi Hotel Suizantei is actually one of three ryokans (Shikotsuko Daiichi Hotel Suizantei and Jyozankei Daiichi Hotel Suizantei are owned by the same company with similar rates) in the area so it was just a matter of finding the one that suited us the most. This is the most “Japanese” one so I wanted my better half to experience this. We had an awesome time here. It was truly memorable, especially the onsen and the kaiseki dinner.

Mount Eniwa Us

A visit to Japan without staying at a ryokan would be truly a waste for this is one of the classic Japanese hospitality experiences which you should not miss. It’s quite expensive (around RM 2,000 for a night) but well worth the price.

Ryokan Me

The entire ryokan experience was truly unforgettable. I highly recommend you stay at one for at least a night if you’re ever in Japan.

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