The Japanese are a proud bunch, especially when it comes to food.
Every single time I leave Tokyo, it seems like roles are reversed and I get set homework by my students in the form of food I simply must try in my destination of choice. Sometimes, like Hiroshima, it lives up to the hype and sometimes – I’m looking at you, Nagano – it doesn’t.
When I told my students that I’d be visiting Hokkaido, I was promptly informed by many that the ramen on Japan’s north island was some of the best in the country, and the seafood was also to die for. If only I had ¥100 for every time I’ve been told that!
Ever the optimist though, I arrived in Hakodate – my first port of call – with high hopes and an empty stomach. Before seeing to this though, there was the small issue of my pettiness to sort out.
I’ve always been a believer that things would be much smoother when getting off a plane if, like normal civilised human beings, people simply waited for those in front of them to get off before making their own way down the aisle. Unfortunately, many don’t think like me and one guy on my plane to Hakodate certainly didn’t.
As I got up from my seat and reached into the overhead compartment for my bag, a rather rotund fella behind me decided that a man of his stature and importance shouldn’t have to wait and decided to practically shoulder me out of the way so that he could get off the plane that all important 5 seconds earlier. Game on.
I took advantage of my gaijin pass and called him a “fat shit” and then rushed off the plane to get back in front of him. It’s the little things in life. In a beautiful twist of fate, we both happened to be getting on the same bus to the city centre; guess who got on first? He didn’t know it, but I just won the battle he didn’t know he was involved in. Fat shit.
Ramen at Daimon Yokocho
Having basked in the glory of beating the fat guy to the bus and checked into my hostel, it was time to head into the city and commence my culinary tour.
I settled on the Daimon Yokocho area near the station, as I’d heard it was a popular place for food and drinks with locals and tourists alike. Imagine my surprise then when I entered my ramen shop of choice and was greeted by the single moodiest man in all of Japan.
The man looked irritated by my very presence, as I ordered a soy ramen and interrupted him sitting around not making any money. How inconsiderate of me!
I attempted a little bit of small talk in Japanese, and my compliment of ‘ii nioi” (smells good!) was met with a grunt twice. Not to be deterred, I attempted to gesticulate a bit to get my point across, to which he responded with a frown and a “shiranai” which I believe translates to “I haven’t got a f*cking clue what you’re on about mate.” Point taken.
The ramen itself was alright. Nothing to write home about. I thought about getting a beer but decided it was best to put him out of the misery of actually having customers and leave as quickly as possible.
Katsu ika odori don (dancing squid!) at Hakodate Asaichi
Yet another of Hakodate’s famous foods, I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to try the dancing squid at the morning market!
Having seen the video on the internet, I just had to
get a video for my own blog and Facebook likes try it for myself. After a short walk around the market I opted for a place called Tabiji, as they had a video of it outside. I’m a marketer’s dream.
For those of you who aren’t aware, the dancing squid is essentially a squid that is so fresh (killed about 30 seconds beforehand!) that some of the nerves still work. I think. It’s served on a bed of rice with other delicacies from the sea.
Anyway, when you pour soy on it, the squid moves about a bit in the bowl. Not quite as crazy as some of the other videos you’ll see on the internet, but still bloody creepy. I’ll let the video do the talking.
The following video contains footage that some viewers may find disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.
I’ve always wanted to say that. Anyway, here’s the vid.
As for the taste, it was never going to live up to the novelty but it wasn’t bad. If you like raw squid you’ll probably like it, although i have to say I wasn’t a fan of when it latched on to my lip and I had to remove it with my fingers. Worth a try but probably never again!
Ramen at Kamome
Within about an hour of the dancing squid my belly started rumbling again. It’s amazing what walking through a market full of food will do for you.
I’d earmarked Kamome as a ramen shop I was keen to try, and was certainly looking for better luck than my last ramen experience. As it happened, the stars aligned and Kamome was a few steps across the road from my current location so I decided to take advantage.
To my surprise I was greeted with a smile by the chef and plonked myself in between two salarymen enjoying their lunch. Usually a good sign.
I opted for the signature Kamome ramen, which contained a massive crab leg, the famously divisive uni (sea urchin!), of course squid, and a lot more. It was bloody huge.
I came in at the right time as the lunchtime rush arrived about 10 minutes after I took my seat! I’ve no doubt the hungry locals were getting frustrated with this tourist taking his time, scolding his hands and making an absolute mess of the crab leg!
Final verdict: worth every burn on my fingers. World class ramen.
Jingisukan burger at Lucky Pierrot
Ok ok. Now I know a burger isn’t traditional Hokkaido food but hear me out on this one.
When looking at places and things to eat in Hakodate one name kept popping up time as time again. Lucky Pierrot burger is a chain of burger shops that can only be found in Hakodate, so technically it’s Hakodate soul food, right?
As there was a branch directly next to my hostel I decided to check it out on my final night. There’s only so much seafood and ramen you can eat in a day. With its colourful yellow exterior, there’s no way you can miss this shop and they appear to be on every corner in Hakodate! If you somehow miss the big yellow building with a clown on it, then you’ll probably trip over the line snaking out of the door at peak hours!
In an attempt to make my meal more Hokkaido-centric, I opted for the Jingisukan burger – barbecued lamb to you and I – which is yet another local speciality! The side order of cheese fries and a can of Budweiser (disappointingly not Sapporo!) ensured a tasty, if not incredibly unhealthy end to a cracking two days in Hakodate.