SAPPORO, Oct 11 — You’ll need a hearty appetite if you’re going to explore Sapporo. The capital of Hokkaido benefits from the region’s bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy and seafood, making it a dream come true for chefs and gourmands alike.
Begin your day by visiting the market. Not just any market but the more-than-a-century-old Nijo Market that receives the cream of the fishermen’s catch daily. There are hotate (scallops) and ikura (salmon roe), kani (crab) according to the season, fresh and dried fish — it’s a veritable seafood lover’s paradise.
Beyond the exterior of shops selling produce is an inner corridor called Noren Yokocho where tiny restaurants offer an opportunity to enjoy a breakfast of — what else — fresh seafood. You’ll notice most diners tucking into donburi (rice bowl dishes).
Enjoy ikura on rice or a donburi of sweet king crab meat with melting Hokkaido butter saucing rice and crab alike. For something truly decadent, go for a luxurious kaisendon topped with all manner of seafood — sea urchin, king crab, hairy crab and botan ebi (sweet shrimp). That’s an ocean in a bowl for you!
For lunch, head to Susukino, where you’ll still see women crossing the streets in traditional kimonos. Jam-packed with restaurants and bars, pachinko parlours and karaoke clubs, Susukino is also where you’ll find the Sapporo Ramen Alley. Known locally as Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho, this cramped alley is lined on both sides with shops serving Sapporo’s famous ramen.
Founded in 1951 with only eight shops, the Ramen Alley was first known as Koraku Ramen Meitengai. Today there are 17 shops here; popular shops include Aji No Karyu, Kiryu and Higuma (famed for their signature scallop ramen). There’s bound to be one that suits your palate, if you don’t mind the ever-present lunchtime queues, that is.
Noodle lovers may be familiar with shoyu (soy sauce), shio (salt) and even tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen, but what is Sapporo-style ramen? The rich soup, made from chicken, fish or pork broth, is further enhanced with miso (fermented soybean paste). The noodles are thick and robust.
Another feature is the addition of stir-fried bean sprouts as a topping so expect to see some fiery wok antics in the kitchen. Given Hokkaido’s celebrated dairy and agricultural produce, no true Sapporo ramen is complete without a generous pat of creamy butter and kernels of sweet corn.
If you’re feeling a bit peckish by teatime, why not drop by a local convenience store such as Lawson or FamilyMart and grab an onigiri (rice ball) or two to go? Enjoy a leisurely picnic with a bottle of cold green tea at the gardens of the Former Hokkaido Government Office Building.
Also known as the Red Brick Office due to the colour of its walls, the gardens here teem with flowers, shady gingko trees and wildlife. Ducks paddle past blooming lily pads. Every season has different flowers. There’s no better accompaniment for your afternoon tea than Mother Nature herself.
Which leaves us dinner. Nearly every restaurant in town serves uni or sea urchin, the jewel of Hokkaido seafood. These spiky creatures hide within them a golden treasure — their soft, silken and sweet innards, considered the foie gras of the ocean.
But perhaps no restaurant is as mad about uni as Hakodate Uni Murakami. Located at the basement of Sapporo Building, it offers a uni-zukushi dinner where every course features this delicacy.
Begin with the sashimi course; the closest you’d get to eating sea urchin straight from the shell. Nuggets of raw uni are served on ice, with a pat of wasabi as the only accompaniment. This is uni at its freshest: sweet with a clear taste of metallic, ocean brine.
Course after course follows: Stewed uni with lily bulb and sea urchin sauce; uni tsukudani (sea urchin simmered in soy sauce) and scallop dressed in miso; dashi-flavoured omelette and uni roll; even a salad tossed with cooked sea urchin! The possibilities seem endless.
Half a spiked sea urchin shell carries some grilled uni within, nutty and slightly smoky. The tempura assortment is a medley of uni wrapped in nori seaweed, snow crab wrapped in tofu skin and vegetable tempura. Light and airy, enjoy this with some homemade sea urchin salt instead of soy sauce.
End the meal with a nourishing uni rice porridge simmered in dashi broth. There is even some pickled uni and seasonal vegetables on the side to add savour and crunch. Wash it all down with some cold Sapporo beer, the local brew of choice.
On your way back to your hotel, watch out for the iconic Sapporo TV Tower in the distance. Illuminated at night, the 150-metre structure at the eastern end of Odori Park watches over the city like a sentinel. Rest well with a full belly and delicious dreams. Good night, Sapporo, good night.
Minami 3-jo Higashi 1-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
Open daily 7am-6pm
Sapporo Ramen Alley
Minami 5-jo Nishi 3-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
17 shops with different opening days and hours
Former Hokkaido Government Office Building (Red Brick Office)
Kita 3-jo Nishi 6-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
Open daily 8:45am – 6pm
Hakodate Uni Murakami
Sapporo Building B1, Kita 3-jo Nishi 4-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
Open daily 5:30pm - 9:30pm