No Reservations: Hokkaido
In my hierarchy of No Res episodes that was top 5 all time.
What was said about wasabi and soba? I didn't quite catch it. Hokkaido looked amazing but Tony's a douche - I think he wore the same sweater that he got in Austria for 3 days (the hunting sweater with a shoulder patch) and then he ate a bowl of sea urchin and salmon roe. If it wasn't for Lipitor, he'd be dead by now.
OK. So being half-Japanese and growing up there in the 50's, having spent a summer living with my Aunt in Aomori which is near Hokkaido, let me tell you the truth about all the shit AB fucked up about Hokkaido.
If you could even imagine a bowl of Chirashi like that one anywhere near here... And yes, I would have done serious damage to the Ikura and Uni. The yakitori segment was exactly as my memory serves (is there anything like that near Boston?) But the handmade soba - pure buckwheat - I would kill for that.
Clearly, he "gets" Japanese food and especially, ramen. Except for the soba-cha. I agree - top 5, along with so many other Asian shows, the other Japans and Vietnams, Cheng-Du.
Just to mention that I think he did a good job of bringing up the tragedy before and afterwards - things have indeed changed. But it serves well to keep in mind that the good things in life still abound and that they will recover despite the hardships.
Aomori....from what I remember watching from a Hong Kong TV show program, that's place to get some fantastic giant sized delicious Fuji apples, as well as a brilliant local fish market where one can purchase live and fresh seafood, take it to a stall at the market and have it grilled to eat right away. If anything AB should have spent more time at Hokkaido's biggest seafood market. Showing only hairy crab and giant crab seems to be only offering a fraction of the good stuff :-/
Damn I missed it.
I am lucky to have visited Hokkaido three times. The scenery and the food are nothing short of spectacular.
I thought the episode was alright. I could watch soba making all day and I enjoyed the soundtrack they used for that piece and thoughout the program. The portion on the Ainu, including some of their traditional dishes, was interesting and a good job of covering what can be an overlooked aspect of culture. The Ainu people used to actually trade in dried fish to southern Japanese provinces prior to be annexed at the beginning of the Meiji era. One thing I found a little unfcomfortable was characterizing Ainu as marginalized. I'm not Ainu or even know any myself, but I think most people in Japan today sort of consider them assimilated as Japanese- not to say they haven't suffered and had their unique culture threatened.
I also think Tony was off on his take on food in Hokkaido. The bounty of seafood and natural goods are what Hokkaido is well-known for in Japan. It's not particularly considered a culinary, creative, or cuisine destination.
I'm guessing the bit about wasabi and soba....that the chef advised taking a little bit of wasabi, and dabbing it directly on the noodles (which sticks to it), as opposed to mixing it with the dip sauce, that allows the flavor of the wasabi to preserve (very important if freshly grated wasabi). I have to admit that I've done the paste wasabi in the dip sauce mixed before, then again I was messing with dried noodles, not the fresh kind. I really miss the defunct Yabu Soba in Waikiki....
Surely there is way more to Hokkaido than yakitori, ramen, and just a short segment or three on seafood? If he were to approach it from an Asian tourist blogger point of view, he might go visit some of the farms Hokkaido is famous for and some of the tasty products made with them (even if trite or common), or better yet, straight to where the uni is harvested and eat one straight off the shell. Or finding some local chef talent doing some French or Italian haute cuisine with Japanese touches, siphon coffee, and many other lesser things. Then again we know what he likes and it becomes predictable.
One big thing that was mentioned by one of the dining companions as what to eat for dinner.... "nabemono" or hot pot, is something that should have received some coverage beyond a mention. Nothing like a steaming hot bowl of miso thickened broth with local blue salmon (a wonderous local fish that he skipped entirely, I guess not in season yet as it should be circa March - May), veg, shirataki/yam noodles, mushrooms, and other fine ingredients.
I was a bit taken back by his questioning of what is the difference between kaiseki and robatayaki.... and then busted out laughing when he said he did the Japanese version of eating the ketchup first.
And also giant crab being a great meal where conversations stop....a perfect Mother's Day meal...
Yes good point about the weather visiting a farm (well there are also dairy farms that make delicious milk, milk products, and award winning Sakura cheese), and perhaps his timing.
We're otherwise on the same page of missing coverage of other cool things....ishikari nabe (one can also put ramen in the hotpot and it becomes another meal). Or the siphon coffee culture in Otaru...or a quick shot of hakkagu/octagonal fish even if for visual effect.
re: K K
I agree, it was definitely kind of a gringo look at things with the yakitori and ramen and even sake. Produce, nabe dishes, curry, Genghis Kahn, some of the local beer scene, lots of the little local train specialties in Hokkaido are what I like. The seafood market in Sapporo, and Hakodate as well, are really kind of tourist markets filled with shops that serve those chirashi-kaisen-don specials and sell crab that can be delivered back to your home in other parts of Japan. They're all over the country in the port cities actually. And in general, I'm surprised the strong American influence from the late 19th century wasn't mentioned as the agricultural, diary, and meat industries are a direct result....There's certainly a lot to cover- as I'm sure the case with all these places.
The show's primary seafood mentions were:
giant crab (with a few shots of hairy crab, but not much)
red snapper at the robatayaki
and whatever common fish that was in his dining companion's kaisendon chirashi
What a shame, because Hokkaido also has the following: (with the months in parenthesis being prime season)
hokkigai (sometimes loosely called surf clam at American sushi bars, the precooked and frozen variety, at Hokkaido it's fresh out of the shell) (Dec - Feb)
tsubugai / arthritic neptune (Dec - May)
botan-ebi / coon stripe shrimp or humpback shrimp (Dec - Feb)
mizudaco / Pacific Giant Octopus (Nov - Apr)
shishamo (the variety that carries a ton of roe and is perfect when salt grilled, downed with a cold beer) although that seems to be more on the southern end (ditto for Kinki around Hakodate).
In addition to bafun uni (sea urchin) (season is mar - aug) there's also murasaki uni (although the season for murasaki is shorter, june to aug) and supposedly the Yezo scallop has an identical season as murasaki uni.
But yeah, delicious giant octopus, rarely seen special local clams, regional exotic fish. Oh well maybe next time AB, once you're done destroying the uni and ikura supply!
Well the same can be said of him going to several countries and cities across Europe and he needs to stop and sample their version of the hot dog. There are only so many sausagefest jokes one can throw out there.
Let's see....how many times does he do coverage of his love of sea urchin? Osaka episode at Koyoshi Sushi, Tokyo episode (Sukiyabashi Jiro clip at the end which was cut from the re-runs, but youtube search Bourdain sushi and it's there for those who missed it), San Francisco (at Sebo), Sushi Yasuda (Manhattan) on Food Porn 2.... and of course Hokkaido. It's certainly still fun to watch compared to other primetime stuff (or politics), but it's all predictable.