Eating my way around Hokkaido – 1

Whenever I say that I went to Japan for a month, one of the first things people ask me is this:

“Isn’t it expensive in Japan?”

Well, yes and no. Some things in Japan are expensive. Transportation in Japan can cost a pretty penny depending where and how one travels. Food can also be expensive if we picked the really nice places to dine. Also, meals probably cost more in Japan in comparison to many other Asian countries. However, coming from Canada, the prices of meals are reasonable and slightly cheaper for some things.

Food was a big part of our trip to Hokkaido. Most of the time we were in Sapporo. So I will take you through some of the different meals that we partook over our month there. I hope to share the ordinary to the not-so-ordinary of dining in Hokkaido.

New Chitose Airport Onsen

first breakfast in Hokkaido at New Chitose Airport Onsen

Meals do not need to be fancy or extravagant when travelling. Sometimes the simple things can be the most enjoyable. My first breakfast in Hokkaido was at the New Chitose Airport Onsen. We had decided to stay overnight at this airport onsen because we didn’t want to arrive super late at night at our shared house. For less than ¥1,000, one can have the Japanese breakfast buffet.  We had our choice of rice, miso soup, salad, assorted veggies (including lotus root), and natto (the infamously pungent Japanese fermented soy beans). Also, there was all-you-can-drink coffee, green tea, or red tea. We were just missing the famous onsen egg with this meal. Thankfully, some eggs came out onto the buffet halfway through our meal. So we got up and grabbed some. Again, it didn’t need to be fancy, but it just needed to hit the spot at the right time. This simple breakfast did that for me.

Limited Edition Burger at Mos Burger

When we arrived in Sapporo, Mos Burger was in the middle of a special promotion. They were doing a Mos Burger X Mister Donut crossover. Before you gag at the thought of eating a burger donut, let me tell you that it turned out really well. The idea was to make sure the donut was not sweet. So the burger part was a spicy chorizo sausage put on a savoury donut. There was one with fruit available; however, I assume that it was more of a dessert snack than an actual burger.

Mos Burger burgers are not very big. Think of them more as sliders, than full on burgers. The spicy chorizo burger here was on a savoury “French crueller” bun. No sugar-coating at all. Then the sauce was oozing out from between the curled up chorizo sausage patty on top and the large single slice of tomato on the bottom. It was really good. It was something I would have again.

ESTA food court pager

It was also at this Mos Burger that I had my first experience with the Japanese food court pager. Basically, you’re food is almost never available right after you order it. You need to wait for a bit. They give you a pager complete with a mini TV screen on it. So as you wait, you can watch the adverts or music video on the screen. Once your food is ready, the pager vibrates and sounds to let you know to go back and get your food. I just love these little things about Japan.

Aji no Sanpei (味の三平)

I had read that Sapporo was home to the restaurant that invented miso ramen. For a food traveller, this restaurant should be on any pilgrimmage list. However, Aji no Sanpei (味の三平) is not an easy restaurant to find. I was using a Chinese-language travel guide to find this place. However, I had read the directions to the restaurant incorrectly. I knew that the restaurant was in a department store and I saw the name of the department store, Parco, splashed on the page. So I assumed that Aji no Sanpei was inside Parco. Parco is a large well-known department store in Japan. It sounds like the perfect place to house a famous ramen shop.

Nope. I was wrong. We were going up and down the escalators of Parco and couldn’t find the place. We passed by the information desk in the basement level and practiced our Japanese to ask for directions. It turns out that the restaurant is not inside Parco. Aji no Sanpei is actually in the department store behind Parco. Oops. That department store is known as Central. It specializes in things like stationary, CD/DVDs, and Japanese wares. It is on the 4th floor of Central that you will find Aji no Sanpei, right beside the clothing and stationary sections.

It’s not a huge location. There’s probably enough seats for about 15 people to sit at the counter. You basically eat looking at the cooks doing their thing. Every one has a little stool on which they can sit. Your bags and other belongings are to be hung upon hooks on the wall behind the seats. Under the seats are seats and benches for waiting patrons. Because it had taken us a while to find the place, it was already mid-afternoon and the lunch rush had passed. We got to sit down almost right away and order.

I’m a huge gyoza/dumpling fan. So we had to have the signature shu mai at Aji no Sanpei. Now shu mai  It doesn’t look all that impressive in a photo, but its taste makes up for the looks. Inside is minced pork and plenty of it. The pork is solidly packed into these little dumplings. It was really good. Each individual shu mai is ¥60. A lot of little goodness for ¥60.

And finally, there was the miso ramen. It was a rich, brothy soup topped with bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and slices of chashu, or barbecue pork.  It was a hearty bowl of ramen that really makes the visit to this little ramen shop worthwhile. Aji no Sanpei is certainly worthy of being the inventor of miso ramen. A heartwarming meal for a humble little ramen shop. Finding little gems like Aji no Sanpei makes travelling in Japan ever more fun.

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