Wakakoma, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan


Category: Japanese – Kaisen Wakakoma Don, Kaisen Chirashi Don

I added Wakakoma restaurant to our “Hitlist” for Sapporo because it’d been featured on No Reservations. I’d watched that episode on one of the weekday nights after work, was sold by Anthony Bourdain’s mouthwatering descriptions and enthusiasm for Wakakoma, and found my tummy grumbling about not getting some of that amazing sashimi heap that Bourdain was happily tucking into.

Sapporo Fish Jyogai Market, North 11 West 21, Chuo-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaido, 060-0011 (〒060-0011 北海道札幌市中央区北11条西21 中央卸売市場 場外市場), Tel: 011-644-7722, Opens daily from 9AM – 9PM

We had a tough time trying to find the place, with the front and sides of the building plastered over in a dozen signs filled with loud Japanese characters and stalls selling fresh seafood on the ground floor, I thought I’d gotten it wrong. I was asking for directions when one of the stall owners finally caught wind of “Wakakoma“, and gleefully pointed us in the right direction and up a narrow flight of stairs that we would’ve otherwise totally missed.

Damage: $$ – $$$

Wakakoma was definitely one of the pricest restaurants. The Kaisen Wakakoma Don was 3,780JPY (~$44 SGD)- but was also covered in 13 kinds of seafood and so was totally justifiable in my opinion. Can’t get nothing of that sort in Singapore, no, so might as well go big or go home!

To Go: Yes, but don’t go out of your way and stick with the tried-and-tested

It was very good, no doubt. The seafood was fresh covered ever inch of the top of the bowl, and included king crab and botan shrimp. Travelling around Hokkaido, you’d realise that any don (rice dish) with kani (crab) in it never ever comes cheap, and so while it was a pretty costly meal, I thought it was well-priced compared with everywhere else. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to eat at Wakakoma because it was a little out of the way (there was nothing that interesting in the area) and I think you can get some pretty darn decent kaisen dons elsewhere. Sorry Bourdain, but Marutomi Shokudo in Monbetsu was still the best.


We alighted at a nearby parking lot and following my GPS, we found ourselves at the foot of a small cluster of buildings, huge signboards plastered on all sides. I led the way down the pavement – a narrow cement path which separated the shelves of fresh produce and seafood to our left and the road to our right on which huge lorries and trucks drove by hurriedly, fetching the day’s catch from the market to, I supposed, restaurants all over Sapporo.

Wakakoma Restaurant Anthony Bourdain Food Review Blog Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Jyogai Market

I walked up and down that same stretch several times, looking for Wakakoma, and each time seeming to succeed in overshooting the little red dot anchored on the map. A kind middle-aged Japanese lady manning the fruit stall finally figured out what we were looking for and pointed down the row. We’d stopped at regular intervals and turned to her for approval, only to see her wave us farther and farther down the row, until we finally ended up by a small staircase where she nodded and pointed upwards.

The staircase opened out into a small restaurant which could seat about 30-40 people. The chef’s table was to the right of the dining area, and dozens of signatures of (I suppose) famous people lined the wall at its entrance which probably meant Wakakoma was a favourite of many.

Wakakoma Restaurant Anthony Bourdain Food Review Blog Sapporo Hokkaido Japan

I took no time with ordering at all, considering I already knew exactly what I was there for, and everyone took my cue. When I saw the Kaisen Wakakoma Don, I’m pretty sure my eyes lit up- I mean, anyone’s would! With a grandiose botan shrimp head triumphantly poking out of the sea of sashimi, I’ll admit I was really excited. While some of it was good – like the hotate (scallops) and kani, others like the ika (squid) and maguro (tuna) fell short; the ika was chewy and rubbery while the maguro was thin and slightly stringy. I’d tried uni (sea urchin) a few times around Hokkaido and had attributed my indifference to the fact that those weren’t the freshest, but even at Wakakoma I was let down in spite of all the uni-campaigning that Bourdain had done. It was only recently when I had the best uni of my entire life at Hashida Sushi, surprisingly or otherwise, back home in Singapore – and that, is a story I’ll share with you in time.

Wakakoma Restaurant Anthony Bourdain Food Review Blog Sapporo Hokkaido Japan

Otaru Market, Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan (Gallery)

We made a stop by Otaru’s wet market in the late morning to check out their range of fresh seafood. Being a seaside town, Otaru’s streets are lined with restaurants and shops selling seafood in various forms – from live to dried to fresh cuts served with don. Otaru’s wet market was smaller than Kushiro’s Washo market but better, with fresher seafood and great value. The stall owners are a lot kinder as well, perhaps due to lesser competition, and even took the time to explain the different catches and fantastic sea creatures.

I walked down the length of the market armed with my DSLR, trying my best to capture as much of the colour as possible. One of the shopkeepers saw me pointing and commenting on the giant crabs in my video, and without hesitation, lifted the entire crab out of the tank and said, “Yes it is hu-ge!” Haha! – often it’s really the locals that really make the place even more memorable. He gave me a pinch of uni to taste before we eventually sat down to enjoy a Major seafood meal.

Right- enough of my talking. I’m going to hit you with the pictures 😛

Otaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food DiaryOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food Diary King CrabOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food Diary BlogOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Ikura Don Travel Food DiaryOtaru Wet Market Fresh Hotate Salmon Uni Kani Don Travel Food Diary

Shiretoko Cuisine Ikkyuya, Utoro, Shiretoko, Hokkaido, Japan

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Category: Japanese

We stopped in Utoro for lunch, just before we turned off into the Shiretoko pass which ran between Mount Rausu and Onnebetsu. I’d read about and seen pictures of this specific Salmon Ikkura Don (Salmon and roe on rice). I tried my best with all the tantalising descriptions I could muster for the duration of the entire morning, and by lunchtime, everyone was convinced to look for it in this little seaside town on the west coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula.

13 Utorohigashi, Shari-gun, Shari-cho 099-4355, Hokkaido

It was pretty hard to find – a clean, cream-coloured building with black outlines and a light coloured wooden door – the restaurant blended in with the surrounding buildings. Even with the GPS, we drove around the same area four times before someone finally spotted the white shop sign hanging vertically in front of the restaurant as we came around the bend.

Damage: $$

It was very value for and well worth the money. The dishes had generous portions of ingredients which were very fresh, well-seasoned and tasty. My Salmon Ikkura Don was about 2000JPY which is about $22. Most of the dishes also come with a bowl of soup and yellow pickles.

To go: Yes, if you can spot it 😀

The elderly lady, who I believe was also the owner, was friendly and very polite, and the dishes were meticulously put together. Everyone enjoyed the different dishes, from the well-known Salmon Ikkura Don to the Yakisoba (Fried noodles) to the Katsu Don (Breaded Pork on Rice). When we were there, they also had a “special” dish which were the clams, and they were absolutely lovely, so you should definitely take a look at what’s the special when you go.


There it is!

Someone finally spotted a white sign on the side of the building with blue and black Chinese characters hinting something along the lines of food as we rounded the same bend a fourth time. There was little else which would’ve given it away – no logo, no pictures of food or anything of the like – besides the little white shop banner which hung across the front door on a pole. It also didn’t help that the shop was facing away from the sea, so it was on the reverse side of a cluster of buildings.

We’d parked across the street at the open carpark and started walking towards it when suddenly an elderly lady came out and started taking the shop banner down from the pole – that’s when I ran towards her and began gesturing wildly, refusing to believe that all our efforts would go to waste. Fortunately, after she figured out that our group of 8 (big business – especially when it’s hungry Singaporeans) wanted to dine at her restaurant, she decided to let us in.

Clams steamed in Japanese sake

On her recommendation, we tried the special, which were clams steamed in a clear sake broth. The clams were fresh and cooked just right – none of that chewiness – and came off the shell cleanly. The broth itself was light, and carried the full-bodied flavour of the sake well.

I ordered the Salmon Ikkura Don (featured picture) – of course, I wouldn’t change my allegiance – and it did not disappoint. When it was served, everyone who hadn’t ordered it went all jelly and kept eyeing it (I mean, look at the picture). It was so carefully put together – the thick salmon slices had a healthy gleam and lay in a circle around the bowl, within a ring of glossy ikkura. The salmon was extremely fresh, smooth, and had a good firmness.

Yakitori Soba Utoro HokkaidoThe Yakisoba came with pork and shiitake slices, and was topped with an egg – I managed to steal a bite, and it was delicious. The noodles were firm and springy, coated in this tasty savory sauce which had a hint of sweetness (perhaps a sort of teriyaki sauce but slightly less sweet). The pork was fragrant and the mushrooms were cooked to a good softness, while the vegetable slices provided the crunch. And egg yolk on noodles… how can anyone go wrong with that?

Although we were the last ones in, the owners did not rush our meal. In fact, when they noticed that we were eating really quickly so they could close for the afternoon, we were told not to worry and to take our time to enjoy the food. We made it a point to keep telling them how good it was by giving them the thumbs up and telling them おいしい (Pronounced “Oishii”, meaning “delicious” in Japanese) each time they came around. When we were about to leave, we were handed little postcards featuring the fishing pier by which to remember their town and restaurant by, and smilingly ushered out with friendly goodbyes and polite little bows, and we left ready to take on the rest of the peninsula.

Robata Renga 炉ばた煉瓦, Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan


Category: Japanese – Barbecue

3-5-3 Nishikicho, Kushiro, Hokkaido 085-0016

Hokkaido is well known for its fresh seafood, and when we heard about Robata Renga being famous for its do-it-yourself seafood charcoal grill, we wrote it down into our itinerary right away. Ordering was a bit complex for us because none of the staff could speak any English, but we survived with some guessing and pointing, and had a fine meal. There was a good range of seafood from which we could pick out our ingredients for the grill, but I’d say you definitely need some skill going at the charcoal barbecue.

Damage: $$

Robata Renga isn’t cheap, and by that I mean it averaged around $25 to $30 per head for us to feel full, but the seafood is fresh and the cuts are generally good.

To go: Maybe, if you like barbecue and would like to have a go at it yourself 😐

On the whole I’d say the meal was a good one, and because the beer was really inexpensive all the men were more than happy. The mixed platter had mostly one of each kind of ingredient, so it wasn’t the easiest to share (i.e. you’d have to slice it all up to each have a taste) – I don’t think this had to do with the two different sets we ordered because all the pictures seemed to feature only one or two of each item, but perhaps that could be the point. The meats were pretty ordinary. In the end, I think whether it’s worth your while really boils down to who is working the grill. If you’re not a fan of a do-it-yourself, I’d be all for leaving the barbecue to the Japanese chefs because they’re often plenty good at it.

Robata Renga seafood charcoal barbecue