I was in HCMC this weekend, just went for 3D/2N for some righteous Vietnamese food. I like pho but the thing I crave for the most is bahn mi – I ate it three (3) times during my trip, at 3 different stalls and bakeries! The first one was the best – the bread was crusty, soft, yet fulfilling at the same time. Some places have an overly soft baguette which I don’t personally like – I prefer the bread to have a bit of bite to it. I also had pho, com ga (chicken rice) and Vietnamese coffee! There was an unusual dish consisting of pork blood porridge with random pig organs on the side but I didn’t include it here coz it’s a mukbang – stay tuned, I’m editing it now.
The thing I like about Japan is that most of their shops, regardless of whether they sell ramen or omurice, have a running popularity board. This allows the shops to display which item is #1 selling on their menu and the customers to know what the place is known for. We saw this Ice Cream Factory in Sapporo after buying toys for the kids and since my better half loves the ice cream in Hokkaido, we got a couple of cones to eat.
Ice Cream Factory is one of those cold plate/stone places e.g. your ice cream and condiments is mixed in sub zero temperatures before being served to you, in this case -30 Celsius. My dear wanted to get a simple swirl ice cream and I did pause to wonder why she’s ordering something that’s not their specialty but I know she just wants to save money. I did order their #1 bestseller though. Haha. I thought it’ll be nice to order an ice cream that’s mixed on the cold slab instead of just served.
Come to think of it, the wait staff have to put up with a lot nowadays. There are a lot of people taking photos of them working, and expecting them to serve up a picture perfect dish to boot. I can’t imagine being a waiter nowadays, although fun fact, I was one for a few months when I first went to Melbourne for my college.
My order is their Sweet Berries which came with an assorted local cranberries, blackberries, strawberries, redcurrants and blueberries mixed together with strawberry and vanilla ice cream. I love the use of winter berries and the cold stone places do it well coz the ice cream doesn’t melt on the super chilled slab, but incorporate tighter instead. It’s as if a machine made it in factory with the berries intact.
Sweet Berries is 750 yen (about RM 30) which is what you’ll expect to pay locally for an ice cream of this size and magnitude too. I love the creamy ice cream and the best part is that it’s not very sweet. The berries contrast nicely by giving off an acidic burst too. The crunchy cone is also fresh and nice and there’s a spoon to eat everything with.
My dear got the more pedestrian Mix Ice Cream (chocolate and vanilla swirl) for 230 JPY (about RM 10) which came out of a machine instead of being mixed like mine. Good stuff! We also bought a lot of random stuff in addition to toys for the kids. I went to the gachapon machines a few times and devoured the Love Live merchandise they had at Japan Post and my dear got some Doreamon stuff too since the movie came out at the time we were in Hokkaido.
Oden at the airport? Yeah, that doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. We arrived at New Chitose Airport very early and was hoping to get something to eat before we boarded our flight. Unfortunately, all the shops are still closed. We’re too used to 24 hour service in our (relatively) large, bustling airports but a lot of the airports around the world aren’t open all the time. This one at Hokkaido only had a stall open but they serve oden, which I was keen to try.
Oden (おでん) is a winter food in Japan. It’s made with a whole bunch of stuff in a flavored clear dashi broth. The usual ingredients are daikon, boiled eggs, konjac, and processed fishcakes. I love the texture of the shirataki (白滝) which is a noodle made from konjac – the transparent bunch you see in the photo. There’s also a nice chunk of konjac and despite not containing regular sources of carbohydrates, the konjac elements tricks you into thinking you’re consuming starch.
I also got a Snow Miku 2016 (translated from Hatsune Miku) drink made in partnership with Pokka Sapporo. The oden was 600 JPY (about RM 25). My better half got herself a box of noodles with some karaage to go with it. The oden was surprisingly decent. I would have thought it’ll taste pretty bad since it’s airport food but it’s actually rather good. I’ve seen oden being sold in konbini like 7-Eleven but there are so many things to eat that I’ve put it quite low on the priority list.
Ekiben (駅弁) is a special type of bento which is only available at long-distance train stations like the famous Shinkansen (bullet train). It’s a bento that’s meant to be eaten on the train while traveling and it features local delicacies in the area you’re at. It’s not just a bento, but a really cool Japanese boxed lunch with different local specialties. I really wanted to eat one during our trip to Otaru so I told my better half to save some stomach space for it.
This is the selection we saw at JR Otaru station. You’ll usually find the ekiben at a specialty shop only selling ekiben or a konbini/department store closest to the train entrance. There will always be one “featured” ekiben – this is the bento that is most representative of the region you’re currently in. Otaru is well known for its fresh seafood (especially uni) and the flagship ekiben is a beautiful uni and ikura ekiben.
The ekiben boxes are really nice lacquer boxes too. Some of them can even be reheated instantly using the same technology in military MREs (Meal, Ready-to-eat). There were a wide variety in a refrigerated corner of the shop and my dear wondered if anyone actually bought them. Well, her question was answered when we were about to go back to Sapporo – there were only a few ekiben left! I picked up the featured ekiben while she chose one that caught her eye to eat on the train.
This is my ekiben. It’s the signature ekiben of Otaru, grandly named 海 の 輝き or “Sparkle of the Sea“. This 1,580 JPY (about RM 65) bento totally deserved the hyperbolic designation though. It was the most delicious bento I’ve ever had in my life! I’m a little embarrassed to say that it was actually one of the best things I’ve eaten in Hokkaido. Haha!
It’s filled to the brim with uni (sea urchin), ikura (salmon roe), Shiitake mushrooms, flying fish roe and Japanese rolled egg. I used chopsticks to grab a mouthful and was surprised to taste just how well the creamy uni goes with the popping, salty ikura. The savory umami mushroom slices and crunchy flying fish roe is offset by the sweet Japanese egg and blends the multitude textures and flavors together into one orgasmic experience.
I hesitantly said “Dear, do you want some?” hoping she’ll say no. I’m kidding (or am I? ). I’m always happy to share with my better half. I cleaned every single morsel from the wappameshi (わっぱ飯 – thin, bent wooden box) and regretted not getting two.
My dear went for the 1,080 JPY (around RM 45) Otaru oyster ekiben. I had just eaten Otaru oysters at the 1 Michelin Isezushi and I loved the freshness of their local oysters. This was a full complement of five (5) pieces of oysters on top of a bed of rice with some tsukemono (pickles) on the side. The juicy oysters were really flavorful – all the braising liquid seeped into the oysters so they pack a flavorful punch!
The best part about her ekiben is the rice. The rice has been cooked with Shiitake mushrooms, scallops and oysters and resulted in a beautiful golden brown that tasted wonderful! It’s really very good.
You won’t find ekiben at train stations with only regional commuter lines or subway lines. Ekiben are only sold at stations with long-distance trains going in and out. I really enjoy this cultural quirk of Japan and I hope to try more ekiben when we go back next year. There are so many special ones like Yamagata domannaka featuring local beef to Ibaraki raised Rose Pork ekibens. I’m really looking forward to eating one while traveling by Shinkansen in Japan again.
“Look dear!” my better half exclaimed while tugging at my arm. We were at Nijo Fish Market in Sapporo and there was a stall selling a trio of crab delicacies. We just ate at the Michelin rated Nanabe but I could tell she was intrigued by the crab bonanza so I ordered a set for us to try. You can get a Crab Steamed Bun + Crab Gratin + Crab Miso Soup for 1,200 JPY (about RM 50) or individually for 500 yen each.
Hokkaido is famous for their fresh and local crabs. Red King Crabs and Snow Crabs are the most well known ones but they have other delicious and more obscure species that only foodies would know, like the Horsehair Crab and Spiny King Crab which we ate the day before. Otaru also has a variety called the Sand Crab. They’re all really good and if you want to have a crab feast, you’ll do no wrong in coming to Sapporo.
The friendly owner did the Crab Gratin right it front of us. There is a makeshift bench and chairs in the open where 3-4 people can sit down while eating. The crab in the shell was brought out and torched on the table. It was quite cold in Hokkaido and he suggested moving inside (to opposite the road) where they had a restaurant to get out of the wind and snow and so we did.
It was about time for lunch and although I was still full from the Bib Gourmand ramen, I thought I should eat local Hokkaido crabs while I still can. The place specializes in donburi – a rice bowl with regular hot rice topped with fresh sashimi. I went for the Fresh King Crab Sashimi Donburi (2,700 JPY or RM 110) and it was glorious!
The donburi was topped with beautiful thick slices of raw Red King Crab. It was slightly more than a leg’s worth of crab meat. If you’ve never eaten King Crab before, the legs are super meaty. It’s not like mud crabs or flower crabs at all. The size of the meat from the King Crab leg is the same dimension as those highlighter pens you used in high school.
The raw crab was slippery, clean and sweet tasting. Wonderful stuff. There’s nothing quite like eating king crab with shiso (perilla) leaves and a dab of real, freshly grated wasabi. They serve a mean bowl of crab miso soup too. It’s complimentary with my order of donburi so naturally it wasn’t as good as my dear’s 500 yen bowl.
I present to you, the 1,200 yen trio of crab! This was taken in the cold outdoor seating before we came inside.
The thing that actually caught her eye was the Crab Gratin. The kind proprietor actually helped us to take the dishes into his other shop across the street. There is a generous amount of King Crab meat in addition to the melted cheese, breadcrumbs, and butter. Good heartwarming stuff.
The Crab Steamed Bun was decent too. I knew my dear liked it so I didn’t eat too much (and besides, I had my own donburi) but the tiny bite I had tasted delicious. There are only two items inside – vegetables and crab. They really stuff a lot of real Red King Crab meat inside.
Check out my better half’s 500 JPY bowl of Crab Miso Soup from the “Crab 3 Ways” set. It’s truly a luxurious bowl of soup. They use Horsehair Crab, Red King Crab, and Spiny King Crab inside – all three are wonderful in soup, especially miso soup.
The stall at Nijo Fish Market actually sells all varieties of local Hokkaido crabs so the dishes are made from fresh crab meat. There is a lot of said crab meat too, I guess what they don’t sell in time gets turned into food. The Japanese are really serious about freshness – even a day is considered “old” so you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you eat crab in Sapporo. There are also many “crab buffets” in town but I would personally avoid them. The locals don’t go anywhere near crab buffets coz the quality is nowhere near as good as the stuff you pay for in the markets. I don’t mind paying extra for awesome quality crab and this was the best!
I read about a ramen shop called Nanabe (菜々兵衛) which was awarded with the Bib Gourmand in the Hokkaido Michelin Guide during our trip to Sapporo. I really wanted to go there so we poured over the transportation maps before trekking out to this secluded neighborhood in Shiroishi-ku. This ramen restaurant is located in a residential area quite far from the usual places tourists go so it was challenging to find.
We trudged through the crunching snow and slippery ice for about 30 minutes after a 1 1/2 hour train ride involving 3 different lines to Heiwa. No one here spoke English and they only have a Japanese menu so ordering involved deciphering the menu with Google Translate app and a lot of gesturing. The crowd consisted almost entirely of salarymen and OL (office ladies) from small businesses nearby and there is usually a bit of a queue to get in.
You need to take off your shoes at the door. I have seen this arrangement in the ryokan we stayed in but it was really unusual to have to do this in the city. However, this isn’t the city center of Sapporo per se, it’s more like a friendly rural neighborhood joint. I took off my soaking wet shoes and lined them up with the row of other customer’s shoes beside the entrance. The tables are shared tables and we were seated beside two friendly lady office workers (who took a photo of us).
I ordered the flagship Salt Ramen with White Chicken Broth (鶏白湯 塩) for 750 yen (about RM 30). The broth is rich and almost creamy. I practically inhaled the ramen and slurped down the soup with satisfaction. The chashu was perfectly done – a beautiful pinkish brown slice of pork perfection. The generous scattering of menma and spring onions added a lot of flavor to the broth. It’s strange that I find tofu offensive but I’m happy to scarf down menma. The homemade ramen noodles are springy and texturally pleasing. This is ramen done right.
The signature ramen served here is not the usual miso soup base which Hokkaido is famous for but a white chicken based broth. They also have a “Nagoya Cochin” style. The noodles they use are not Sapporo egg noodles too, which my better half dislikes, but a more neutral and less rich wheat variant. They also give you a lot of menma (fermented bamboo shoots). Nanabe uses hosaki menma, which is thinner than regular bamboo shoots and more absorbent. There are even menu options for extra menma which my dear looked upon with horror. Haha.
She went for the Nagoya Cochin Shoyu Ramen (名古屋コーチン 醤油) for 750 yen (around RM 30) and it tasted completely different from mine. It has a lot of chopped leeks. I ended up eating all her menma. I enjoyed the shoyu broth her ramen was made of, both the original tori sayu shio (my order) and Nagoya Cochin shoyu are good options since they taste equally good but Nanabe is famous for the white chicken stock. You can also add condiments (red pepper flakes, sesame seeds, etc) to your broth to change its character – it’s provided free of charge, together with complimentary ice water.
The ramen here is really delicious! It was very rewarding to enter a warm, bustling neighborhood restaurant after walking in the snow to eat a piping hot bowl of ramen. The service here is friendly and personal despite the language barrier – it reflects the country vibe of the place. The bill came up to just 1,500 yen (RM 60), which was a lot cheaper than the Hokkaido style ramen we had earlier. I would highly recommend this place if you’re willing to hunt for your food.
Nanabe was awarded a Bib Michelin for good reason – the food is spectacular and they’re rated as the #1 ramen in Hokkaido!
LeTAO (ルタオ) is a famous bakery, café and sweet shop with branches all over Hokkaido. We saw one in New Chitose Airport when we landed in Sapporo and again when we went shopping in Daimaru but my better half wanted to eat at their head store in Otaru. Otaru is a quaint little town where they have a huge presence – it’s where their HQ is, as well as their chocolate shop (called LeTao le chocolat) and lab (LeTAO Cheese CakeLab).
There are at least six (6) different LeTAO shops in Otaru, all selling something unique. We saw one in Otaru Station when we arrived which is called Ekimo LeTAO and they sell roll cakes in addition to their regular product lines. My dear wanted to check out their sit-down café though so we walked over 30 minutes in search for LeTAO PATHOS – their largest store and café in Hokkaido.
LeTAO actually pioneered the “Japanese Cotton Cheesecake” craze. This is a soufflé-like cheese cake with a distinctive look. However, LeTAO doesn’t call it that themselves (no one in Japan does). It’s called the Double Fromage by LeTAO and it’s one of their most famous products. LeTAO also has a presence in Thailand but if you want to eat the real thing made with Hokkaido dairy, you better get your ass down to Otaru…and that’s what we did.
The café at LeTAO PATHOS is huge and you’ll be escorted to your seat by a nice Japanese girl who’ll take your order while kneeling down (!!!). This really surprised me and made me a little uncomfortable. However, it’s part of the renowned Japanese approach to service and they even make a point of stating that their tea is not ready made – it’s only brewed each time there’s an order so it’ll take a while for drinks to arrive.
Double Plate with a drink (1,404 JPY or RM 58)
This is all of LeTAO’s favorites on a plate! It contains two of their most popular cheese cakes – Double Fromage and Chocolate Double together with a crème brulee tart called Venezia Rendezvous. I have no idea why this is called a “Double Plate” when it contains 3 items but I suspect the Japanese words mean something entirely different.
I really enjoyed LeTAO’s Double Fromage. It’s made with three (3) different cheeses – Italian mascarpone, Camembert and cream cheese. All the cheeses used here are produced in Hokkaido from a local dairy. The upper layer is a creamy and smooth no-bake cheesecake and the lower layer is rich and tasty baked cheesecake. Insanely good stuff…
The Venezia Rendezvous is a mascarpone crème brulee made using mascarpone from Lombardy, Italy. The cheese is added to LeTao’s original fresh cream in Hokkaido and flavored with natural vanilla beans from Madagascar. The light and crispy tart provides a nice texture to the 42% milk fat cream used in the filling and the natural sugar beets grown in Hokkaido. The dessert is not sweet at all, the only sugar used is from the locally grown sugar beets.
The Chocolat Double is the chocolate version of their bestselling Double Fromage. They combined the cheese cake with a chocolate cake to produce a two-layered chocolate cheesecake. The cocoa is from Europe but all other items are local and the bitterness of the cocoa makes the cheesecake more suitable for adults. It cuts down the mildly sweet Double Fromage with some bitterness to produce a slightly bitter dessert.
Strawberry Mille-feuille with a drink (1,816 JPY or around RM 72)
This beautiful dessert can only be ordered in LeTAO’s café. It’s made with LeTAO’s original custard and Hokkaido grown strawberries for a towering treat that looks almost too good to eat. My dear saw this highlighted in their menu and didn’t want to order it coz it was over RM 70 for a plate of pastry. We had just eaten sushi at the 1 Michelin Star Isezushi so this was primarily a dessert run but I insisted on ordering it coz I knew she wanted to try it.
The custard was very good – it was speckled with real vanilla beans from Madagascar and there are superbly tart red currants strewn throughout the plate. However, I thought the crispy sheets of pastry was slightly over-done and bitter. Granted, desserts in Japan are an order of magnitude less sweet than Western or local counterparts but we’ve had really good mille-feuille from 2 Michelin Star Le Relais LOUIS VIII in Paris, France so it can’t really measure up to that (especially when the mille-feuille was the star dessert that got them their two Michelin stars in the first place).
LeTAO is a great place to visit if you want to have a luxurious and warm sit-down dessert in Otaru. The café in LeTAO PATHOS also serves savory food like pasta – it’s the only one that does that so it’s something to think about if you’re heading here instead of the main store. It’s also larger than the head store or LeTAO Plus. The bill came up to 3,220 JPY (about RM 130) for the two of us, including drinks and the service was excellent. I would highly recommend eating at LeTAO if you’re ever in Otaru – after all, this was where LeTAO was born.
Hokkaido milk is loaded with one of the highest butterfat content numbers I’ve ever seen. The 4.8% milk fat from local cows is higher than any “whole milk” product in the US and Australia. It tastes more like half and half or cream. I was truly impressed by the extraordinarily creamy milk they have. Thus, when we passed by this little mom-and-pop ice cream parlor in Otaru, we immediately went in and got one…even though it’s the middle of winter.
They even have a little sign out front which tells you to be careful with your cone should you take photos of it, lest it tip over. I found that hilarious, the lengths to which the Japanese go to be considerate is quite amazing. Of course, I’ve had Hokkaido milk before, but it’s the inferior 3.8% stuff they sell in Bangkok, Thailand. I’ve also had mind-blowingly delicious Channel Island milk while I was backpacking in the United Kingdom.
However, the ice cream made from Hokkaido milk in Sapporo is peerless. The best specimen we had was near Chitose when we just arrived, and the 8-flavor ice cream cone is pretty decent too. This one was slightly disappointing compared to those but at 300 JPY (about RM 12) you can’t really complain. It was still better than any ice cream I’ve had in Malaysia. The high milk fat in Hokkaido milk makes the ice cream taste so creamy and rich we had to eat it, despite the cold weather. :)
This is the biggest ice cream cone I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating! Hokkaido is the dairy capital of Japan and they produce extraordinarily creamy milk. There are many ice cream parlors in Otaru and this is our second or third one of the day. My better half told me about this ridiculously luxurious creation and we went searching for it.
It’s located at a really obscure heated inner pathway so it took us a while to find it. I had to ask a couple of restaurants before I saw the signs.
The 8-flavor ice cream is their best-seller and costs 580 JPY (about RM 23).
They even have instructions on how to hold it. This is probably so little children (and the young-at-heart) won’t attempt to hold the bottom of a cone (like how you’ll hold a regular ice cream) coz the top is way too heavy. You have to wrap your fingers around the base of the cone so it won’t topple over from sheer inertia.
The 8 flavors are (from bottom) matcha green tea, Yubari King melon, lavender, strawberry, milk, chocolate, grape, and Ramune. Ramune is a popular drink in Japan. I like the refreshing Yubari melon and grape too, they work very well with the sweeter chocolate and milk (one of the best flavors). The cone itself is quite salty, something unique that we noticed in Japan. All the ice cream cones in Hokkaido are slightly salty, which balances the mildly sweet ice cream well.
The best part is that Japanese soft serve ice cream isn’t shockingly sweet, it’s just mildly appealing. It was winter when we were in Otaru and the snow covered paths didn’t make it conducive towards eating ice cream. However, despite the fact that we were actually quite cold and the weather was around -11 Celsius, the 8-flavor ice cream was really good! :)
Yubari King melons are dubbed the most expensive fruit in the world. One of them sold for 2,000,000 yen (which is about RM 80,000)! They come from a town called Yubari (thus the name) in Hokkaido, Japan. The melons are grown in greenhouses and given “hats” to prevent sunburn.
We’ve heard so much about these fruits that when we saw them in Sapporo, we immediately jumped on the chance to check them out. You can get them by the slice for 300 JPY (about RM 13) or 800 JPY (around RM 35) for a few chunks. This is a very small and thin slice but it was one of the sweetest fruits that has ever passed my lips!
The juicy orange colored Yubari King melon is so sweet that it surprised me! It was the sweetest fruit I’ve ever tasted, no exaggeration. It’s hard to describe just how sweet it actually is, but it’s not the sugary kind of sweet that puts you off, but a mild, yet intense fruity sweetness that’s very satisfying.
Yubari (the town that grows Yubari King Melons) is located close to Sapporo so you can’t actually get such good quality for such low prices elsewhere. There are several grades of melons too – these eating ones are relatively reasonable priced from 4,000 JPY to 10,000 JPY (or about RM 300 average) per melon.
However, the ones for gifts are priced from 22,000 JPY (about RM 900) onwards since the highest grades are completely free from blemishes. It’s customary to give 2 of them at once too! I’m glad we got a chance to try out these melons, I would highly recommend eating a Yubari King melon if you’re in Hokkaido.