Hakodate, Hokkaido eating plan
In a few weeks I’ll be making my fourth trip to Hokkaido and my first to the city of Hakodate. The island’s third largest city, Hakodate is on a peninsula of a peninsula of a peninsula gently sticking out into the icy cold Tsugaru Strait, which separates Hokkaido and Honshu. It’s famous for the attractive view atop a small mountain that over looks the city and harbor, local hot springs, a star shaped fort, a red-bricked historical district, history as one of Japan’s only open ports, and let me see what else??? What else?....Hmmm….Oh, yeah! Only maybe perhaps the world’s greatest seafood!
In doing my web research, English material has been very limited, so I’ve been really stretching my Japanese ability hunting down the city’s great chow destinations. I’m going to post a lot of links here and most will be in Japanese.
Before diving into those bountiful icy seafood waters, it’s necessary to cover two of Hakodate’s most well-known establishments. The first is “Lucky Pierrot” which is an eccentric local chain of burger shops. The other is “Hasegawa Store”, a local convenience store chain.
Lucky Pierrot (ラッキーピエロ)
Each franchise is decked out in its’ own unique kitsch including one in art deco and another in year round Santa themes. They made international news last year when they began offering a “whale burger”, which one blogger called more poetically a “whale whopper”. LaPi, as called by locals, does indeed have a menu as eccentric as its’ décor. Click here- http://www.luckypierrot.jp/new/umaistory.html . The #1 most popular item is called “Chinese Chicken”. #2 is the “whale burger” which is actually fried whale with a miso sauce. I’m intrigued by two of the others- the “Hokkaido Genghis Khan Burger” and the local scallops burger, which was a sandwich idea determined from a customer contest. The main LaPi website is a trip. The menu link is called “Umai monogatari” which means “Tasty Tales”. They also provide sightseeing suggestions for Hakodate, as well as a page called “Love Letter” which seems to be a signbook/forum for folks to pay tribute to their food. Omoshiroi. Here is the website- http://www.luckypierrot.jp/ .
Multiple locations around the city.
Hasagawa Store (ハセガワストア
They are well-known for their “yakitori bento”, which is a couple of skewers of meat on top of a layer of nori and some rice, along with a skewer of vegetables and maybe some pickles. Interestingly, the most renowned version is the pork. Seeing as yakitori means grilled chicken, this one too is “omoshiroi”. Here’s their bento selection- http://www.hasesuto.co.jp/yakitori.html .
Multiple locations around the city.
Several types of squid, scallops, crab, and uni are just part of the local bounty available in Hakodate. Besides sushi-ya, there are a number of seafood restaurants in the city that specialize in “kaisen donburi” which is basically fresh seafood on rice. Many appealing seafood restaurants are around the “asa ichi” morning market (朝市), Hakodate’s version of Tsukiji. Most of the restaurants offer donburi with crab, uni, ikura, scallop or different combinations. These combo’s are “three-colored rice bowls”, called “sanshoku-don” (三色丼) and are the way to go. It’s a tough decision on what those three colors should be. Ok, brace yourself, here’s what one could look like- http://r.tabelog.com/restaurant/images/review/141/141574_93887.jpg .
Asaichi Shokudo Aki (朝市食堂あき) http://r.tabelog.com/hokkaido/rstdtl/1000257/ and Akebono Shokudo (あけぼの食堂) http://akebono-syokudou.com/index.htm look very difficult to pass up. Here’s Akebono’s array of options in slightly generic looking photographs- http://akebono-syokudou.com/menu.htm . Both spots are found right in the market. Just outside the market is a well known place that gets written up a lot called “Uni Murakami” (うにむらかみ). Here’s the menu page- http://www.uni-murakami.com/hakodate/mainmenu.html . Also available in the market is kani-man (かにまん), similar to pork buns, but with crab. Scroll down- http://www.rakuten.co.jp/kaneni/459552/424255/ . These are available at Kaneni (カネニ).
Sushi in Hakodate, I suspect, is perhaps some of the best in the world. Reading up on local reviews, there’s a lot of praise for both quality and selection and no real particular focus on any of the many sush-ya around town. Sushi Mura (鮨村- Hakodate, Komabachou 13-10, PH: 0138-54-5115) and Sushi Kura (http://www.hakonavi.ne.jp/sushikura/) both get good reviews, as does Sakura Dori Ume no Sushi (梅乃寿司- http://umenozushi.co.jp/ / http://r.tabelog.com/hokkaido/rstdtl/1001279/ ) . I kind of like the look and prices at Oushou Sushi ( http://www1.ncv.ne.jp/~oushou/index.html ).
Cheap, fresh revolving sushi seems to be a big tourist destination as well in Hakodate. There’s a lot of buzz about “Gourmet Kaiten Sushi Kantaro” on Japanese tourist sites. Here’s there top items- fresh squid, salmon, maguro chu-toro, uni, and tsubu-gai (I can’t remember the name in English)- http://www.kantaro-hakodate.com/shop/g_kantaro/g_kantaro_menu.html .They’ve got five locations around the city.
All you can eat crab seems to be something to check out as well. I be interested to compare this dining experience at Izakaya Koko (居酒屋ココ) with the Maryland crab feasts I grew up with- http://www8.ocn.ne.jp/~co-co/kani_tabehodai.html .
Hakodate’s most famous edible, from the sea or otherwise, is squid. I’ll make a point to order it at the sushi and the donburi-ya, but the cooked variety is perhaps best done when stuffed with a rice mixture for the dish called ika meshi (いかめし). For some reason, a train station not far from Hakodate is renown for their ika meshi. Branded, prepared bento boxes are available throughout the country from Mori Station. Here’s the link and then a snapshot from a blog- http://www.ikameshi.co.jp/index.html / http://yaplog.jp/cv/yuhlog/img/23/20070610-1_p.jpg .
GoToKen’s (五島軒) well-known duck curry is available throughout Japan. Dating back to 1879, this restaurant was one of the originators of “youshoku” (洋食) or western style Japanese cuisine. There’s mixed reviews on dining here, but it’s certainly on the tourist circuit. Website- http://www.gotoken.hakodate.jp/.
A local sake to look for is called Ginjo Nanohana no Oki (吟醸 菜の花の沖)- http://www.hakodate.or.jp/takebayashi/index.htm .
And then there’s the local ramen scene, which I will address another time.
Hakodate's principal appeals are the local hot springs and seafood.
One of the main tourist draws is the Asa-ichi Market, which is just south of Hakodate JR train station. Perhaps it is a genuine operating market patronized by locals, but for all intents and purposes it seems primarily geared for tourists- especially domestic tourists, who can easily purchase sets of items and have them readily shipped back home. Vendor displays are often these pre-packaged sample sets. It's nothing like an operating smorgasbord of seafood in the way that Tsukiji is. Nevertheless, it's absolutely worth checking out every morning, especially if you are a short time visitor. And if you are a resident of Japan, the vendors are set up to easily ship whatever you buy to your home. I believe shipping is free, but don't quote me on that.
The market is open from 5am till noon. The main dining destinations are the various shops offering seafood rice bowls (called "donburi"). The most well-known one is Uni Murakami. But there are many shops. There are some in an indoor little mall at the north part of the market called "Donburi Yokocho" and then more along the flanks of the market outside. Essentially, they all sell the same thing- any combination of uni, ikura, hotate, ika, kani and various other raw seafoods on top of rice. You can get the rice plain or vinegared sushi rice. The prices range from 2000 YEN on up to like 5000 YEN. I found they weren't necessarily a great value. And actually, I didn't find them too filling and ate at two different ones each morning. The menus have colorful pictures so ordering shouldn't be a problem for non-Japanese speakers/readers. If one really wanted to watch their budget, I suppose you could probably buy uni or kani or whatever you wanted from vendors and then buy microwaveable rice from a convenience store and do it yourself in a park.
Along the sides of the market there are also stands selling fresh uni where you can lean up to a counter and eat uni directly from the shell. I didn't find these any good. However something worth trying from the outdoor stands are fresh steamed crab buns. Think Chinese pork buns (not XLB but fluffy buns) with fresh crab instead. They are like niku-man but called here instead "kani-man". Inside the market building there are two things to eat that I can recall worth checking out. Ika meshi are small squid stuffed with seasoned rice and stewed in a soy sauce broth for a long time. There are various vendors selling these. You can eat them freshly made and you can also buy them in vacuum packs to take home. I've seen these sold at Japanese markets in NYC but it might be worth grabbing a couple as food gifts or to eat when you return to your home country. Also inside the market there are "fish your own squid operations" where you can pluck out a fresh live squid with a fishing line and then the vendor will hack it up and grill it or serve it to you as sashimi. It's a novelty for sure but it's pretty good and there are a couple of draft beer vendors and tables to sit at and put away a couple of cold ones while you watch people 'eek at the squid. If this market isn't enough for you or a bit too touristy, there is also the Jiyu Market (自由市場), which seems to be a more locally patronized shopping destination. It's in another neighborhood accessible by street car. Where Asa-ichi has items displayed like souvenir sets, Jiyu Market is a more active retail operation. There are also a couple of cheaper than Asa-Ichi donburi shops. If you have time, the market is worth checking out. Here is the homepage- http://hakodate-jiyuichiba.com/ .
While in Hakodate, it is not a bad idea to eat sushi. I dined at a couple of different local restaurants, but the one I enjoyed most was Umenosushi. I had a great, probably 4-hour, meal there a few years ago just eating and chatting. As a taxi is the best way to get there, I strongly recommend making a reservation to dine at Umenosushi. There were two chefs when I went- the father and the son. I sat in front of the son and his sushi was fine, the ingredients were great, and he and I just hit it off and chatted for a while. Umenosushi has a lovely garden with bonsai that are framed perfectly in large windows behind the chefs. On the particular night I went it was windy and snowing hard. It looked just like a Hiroshige print!...Here is a page in English on the restaurant- http://www.bfh.jp/en/theme/theme_searchdetail/80001256/ . Michelin gave them a Bib Gourmand designation, but on Tabelog they are one of the top rated restaurants in the city.
Two parts of town to check out are the red brick area, called Aka-Renga, and the Motomachi neighborhood. The Aka-Renga section probably won't appear too visually exciting to Westerners visiting Japan as it looks like an old-timey port area of U.S. or Europe. But it has novelty appeal for Japanese and Asian tourists I suppose. There is a large German style beer garden in this area and I found it pleasant. The beer was ok. The menu is large, with all kinds of grilled stuff. Try the lamb skewers. Nearby a popular dining destination which I didn't happen to go to myself, is Marukatsu Suisen, a large kaiten sushi restaurant run by a seafood wholesaler. Here is an English link- http://www.bfh.jp/en/theme/theme_searchdetail/80001255/ .
Closer to the water, where the squid boats dock, there are a couple of large local food themed souvenir stores called in Japanese "Hakodate Kaisen Ichiba" (はこだて海鮮市場). In English they seem to be called Hakodate Factory- Fresh Seafood Market Square. DEFINITELY, check these out. The main shop is a large emporium of every sort of dried or preserved seafood. For sure touristy but interesting and worth it nonetheless. Salmon preserved in a million different ways. Long flat dried squid the size of banjo. Tins of whale meat, bear meat, seal meat, and other delectables. Uni and ikura spreads. Konbu done up every which way. I don't recall how well the labeling is in English but anyway, just go. While there are similar stores in the train station and near Asa-Ichi, this was the largest one. Check it out. It makes Russ and Daughters look like a kiosk. http://www.hakodate-factory.com/market/ (Japanese
Motomachi is the old foreign residence area. Again, the novelty may be less for Westerners visiting Japan, but it's a nice place to stroll with an interesting history. I believe there are a couple of famous Japanese curry rice shops here. As it was, when I was in town, I went to the Motomachi branch of Lucky Pierrot, the wacky local fast food chain I wrote about in the original thread. I enjoyed the whale burger and the Genghis Khan lamb burger. I just checked their menu online and it seems they no longer serve the whale. But there are fried scallop burgers, fried squid burgers, and other anomalies of the sandwich world like sweet and sour pork burger!
Another dining destination, specifically created for tourists, is the Daimon Yokocho (大門横丁) which is an area of street stall type small shops (called "yatai"). About half the shops do grilled skewers of different sorts. http://www.hakodate-yatai.com/ (Japanese)
A nice local little izakaya run by two women that I visited at the suggestion of another patron at Umenosushi is Abeno (あべ野 -http://tabelog.com/hokkaido/A0105/A01...). It's in a small alley near the Goryokaku tram station. I can't find any reviews for it online and really, it's only for Japan vets who can speak and read Japanese. But I want to note it because I had a nice meal here.
In terms of what to see and do in Hakodate, there should be plenty of information available online. I recommend the trip up Mt. Hakodate at night, a visit to Goryokaku Park, and I suggest also visiting a hot spring (onsen). If you are not staying at one, most of the large resort hotels will give you a day pass. But I found the public onsen at Yachigashira, at the end of one of the tram lines, to be perfectly acceptable.
I used to live in Hakodate and can vouch for the seafood there. The squid is like nothing else in Japan...I'll never forget one place I went where a girl in a kimono walked into our room with a live squirming, squiggling, squid then neatly placed it on a cutting board and proceeded to make sashimi out of it. Cruel maybe but wicked fresh.
I lived with a host family who took me to some of the best restaurants I have been to in Japan (but unfortunately I only know where they are and nothing about their names, etc). Either way, just try and hit some of the smaller sushi shops--pass on anything with more than 10-12 seats and stick to small simple but clean places. Sit at the counter and let the chef work his magic.
Of course Lucky Pierrot is great hangover food. And by the bay, Hakodate Beer has a standard wannabe-german-beer hall menu but some great drinking options. Also, shio-ramen and uni are pretty famous in Hakodate too.
Simon, enjoy your Fukuoka trip. When I do make it there (won't be on the upcoming trip but hopefully the one after), I will be making use of your recs so please keep them coming.
If my plans come to fruition I will be braving Hokkaido in early Feb, mad I know but I want to go to Snow/Ice Festival in Sapporo and also I hear that fish/seafood is superb at this time of year when the local waters are at their coldest. I will be referring to this post for some Hokkaido recs and will report back if it all goes ahead.