Ciao Bob’s 2018 Japan Trip 2/? - Hokkaido: Sapporo, Otaru, Yoishi (Nikka Distillery), Noboribetsu and Ichigen Shrimp Ramen at New Chitose Airport

Sapporo - we had a wonderful time in Saporro, but 3 nights might have been too much (would have preferred an extra day in Noboribetsu or Hakodate). This time of year there was a lot of matsutake, sanma, ginko and kinki on most menus.
– Sushizen (or Sushi Zen) in Susukino - this place was suggested by a guide we had in Otaru and served wonderful sushi and sashimi - about 60% of the price for a similar meal in Tokyo. It is a chainlet with a few other branches in Sapporo. We were kind of shuttled off/segregated from the main room to an otherwise empty sushi bar. But the chef spoke English well enough and the seafood was divine.

Ika and Uni

Hairy Crab (one of the best bites of the trip)

Kinki (notice that it is seared on a grill - NOT with propane. So much better)

Hokkaido Uni

Anago (“grilled not blow torched” should become James Bond’s new motto)


Tamgoyaki - incredible

– Suage Soup Curry and Dining - Soup Curry is a big Sapporo dish. Definitely something to try there - like many ramen shops there are quite a few decisions to make (spice level, added protein [fried chicken vs pork vs grilled chicken neck]). WE LOVED SOUP CURRY.

Soup Curry with Fried Chicken and Vegetables

Soup Curry with Chicken Neck and Vegetables

– Bird Watching - this place is a hip little wine bar from a Japanese Chef who is quite famous for a French place in Sapporo (Akihiro Nagao of Aki Nagao). They have some excellent takes on traditional yakitori and “French” Yakitori (foie gras) as well as oden and lots of other izakaya dishes. The wine program left my wine loving fiance scratching her head “Japan’s wine palette is growing but not there yet.” She ditched wine for Whiskey quickly at Bird Watching. Bird Watching was the only place we went on the trip that felt like it was trying to branch out from traditional Japanese food (not because there aren’t a lot of others doing similar things but because we weren’t looking for that kind of experience) and was a nice change of pace after 10 days in country. It was a little like Aburiya Raku in some ways. We did not take many pictures but loved the place.

Pork Maki wrapped around a green (whose name I don’t recall) was fantastic.

Oden (and “disappointing” wines). The Oden was fine but not particularly distinguished in any way.

After looking all around for the perfect Miso-Corn-Butter Ramen we found it after a morning tour of the herring fishing town of Otaru (20 minute train from Sapporo station). The town is fairly touristy but has quite a lot to see. This is some VERY, VERY rich and buttery ramen. Hokkaido butter is a really big deal.

And they don’t skimp on it in the ramen as you can see. The miso also makes this bowl a very heavy lunch. Glad we shared one. The Char Shu was home made and was divine. I don’t have any English name for the place but those who can speak Japanese may be able to hunt it down from the photo - I can’t imagine a more authentic version of this dish. A taxi driver told our guide about the place.

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Nikka Whiskey Factory in Yoishi
A great place to visit - 1/2 hr train ride from Otaru. Wonderful history (easy to follow in English) of the Japanese brewmaster (scion of a sake brewing family who went to Scotland to learn the Whiskey biz) and his Scottish wife. Huge tasting room with ton’s of Japanese and other Whiskeys.

This was one of the - actually THE - highlight of our trip. Hokkaido’s famous sulfur hot-spring/spa town.
The Ryokan Takinoya is magnificent. The most amazing dinners and breakfasts in our own tatami room with a wonderful private onsen on the deck with incredible fall foliage. HEAVEN.

The only meal we had “off-campus” was at a fabulous Soba - Tempura shop called Fukuan

The hot duck soba was absolutely amazing, and the zaru soba with tempura was pitch perfect.

New Chitose Airport
Maybe the best eating and shopping place in all of Japan.
The shrimp ramen phenom of Ebisoba Ichigen had about a 1/2 hour line. I jumped right on it and it was my final taste of Japan. It did not disappoint. Lot’s of shrimp bits floating in the combo shrimp-pork broth

Funny “map” of ramen available at the airport - only Ichigen had a serious line.

It was really hard to leave Hokkaido. Magical place. Would love to go skiing there someday.