Tomita Melon House とみたメロンハウス, Furano, Hokkaido, Japan

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Category: Japanese – Fruit / Dessert

Throughout my entire time in Hokkaido, I was on the hunt for all things melon. Melon ice-cream, melon pocky snacks, melon everything. That’s because the melons in Hokkaido are amazing – even if you don’t get a top grade melon, they’re still probably going to own the ones you have back home. When I saw the green melon shaped balloon floating in the sky, I could barely contain my excitement. And when I finally got a taste of the melon bun… I was on a high for pretty much the rest of the day and wanted to have the bun for dinner as well*.

*Reaction(s) may vary according on how much of a melon fan you are.

3-32 Miyamachi, Sorachi-gun, Nakafurano-cho 071-0714, Hokkaido

Tomita Melon House is actually located in Nakafurano, which is still in the Furano region but not right smack in the middle. It’s just next to Farm Tomita, so if you go to either one, you most definitely should stop by the other as well. There’s ample parking, and when you find yourself surrounded with melon-inspired decor everywhere, you know you’ve gotten to the right place.

Damage: $

In general it isn’t expensive – for individual servings, they sell melons by the slice in the fridge or melon buns by the piece at the bakery shop. Otherwise, you can do what we did, which was to buy up a box of melons to savor at the hotel afterwards; the pricetag on Japanese melons in Singapore is pretty hefty, so if you want to eat a lot of melon, this is the opportune moment. And let’s not talk about the buns… which were my fault (and weakness), entirely.

To go: Yes, please! 😀

I’ll definitely go again the next time I’m back, but note that these are Tomita melons and not the super famous Yubari melons which I’m told are even more mind-blowing, although I personally struggle to understand how mind-blowing a melon could possibly be. In any case, it was unfortunate that we passed the Yubari region too late on our first day in Hokkaido so they had already closed for the day. I’ll definitely want to try those if I ever go that way again, but either way the Tomita melons are great as well.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

The bakery was the closest to the carpark so that was the first place I went. I headed straight to the counter of melon buns and tried to make sense of the different types of buns available. The chef initially told me they’d run out of the signature melon-filled buns, but because we were a group of 8 and would place an order for an entire batch of 10 buns (yes, my crazy idea – anything to get my melon fix), they did it fresh just for us. We’d actually had lavender ice cream at Farm Tomita and lunch before that, so everyone was quite stuffed. I ended up having 3 or 4 buns to myself (oops) but I spread them out over a few meals into the next day, and they kept quite well, except being a little squished from my journey.

Tomita Melon Furano Hokkaido

Since the buns were being freshly baked, we had to wait for a bit and ventured into the building next door which sold the melon fruits in boxes of 2. They’re sold according to a ripening schedule, so the staff advised us on a pair which would be ready to be eaten that evening and the next day.

Tomita Melon Farm

When the sound of the bakery’s ringing bell pierced through the air, I immediately turned on my heel and tried to look as composed as possible while getting there in the least possible time. The buns were ready – fresh from the oven and cozying into their individual paper holders. It was warm against my fingertips. My first bite of the hot and fluffy bun revealed its molten melon center (featured picture) and let loose a whiff of its fruity fragrance. The molten melon filling was a sort of custard, and full of the natural sweetness of the fruit. Truly a delight.

Aeon Supermarket, Hokkaido, Japan

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Category: Japanese – Takeout (Everything from sushi to yakitori to bento boxes)

EVERYWHERE

Yeah, I know – who in the world takes a note about a supermarket? But if it’s a Japanese supermarket, I’m going to take note and that’s because there’s usually a food hall, and in that food hall, the food is likely to be Super Awesome.

Damage: Really varies depending on how much you buy because I know you’ll want to try everything, but a meal typically costs $

You can easily get a bento meal with hotate (scallops) or teriyaki salmon at around $6 or $7, or a box of karaage (fried chicken pieces) for maybe $3. They often have bakeries near the entrance too, selling all sorts of little pastries, japanese pancakes (including my favorite dorayaki; a red bean filling stuffed between two small pancakes), etc. At the first Aeon stop, they even had a melon-filled taiyaki, which is a sort of waffle that’s cooked on grill (sometimes in a fish-shape) until golden brown (featured picture).

To go: Yes! Whenever I spot one! 😀

It’s full of delicious treats and the product offerings are never the same at different branches. After that first Aeon stop, I’d gone to each subsequent Aeon eagerly looking for the melon-filled taiyaki but alas, there weren’t any. My advice is if you want to try something, just do it, because you might not be able to find it at another branch.

It’s a great way to go if you don’t have time for a sit-down meal or just want something convenient, or even if you’re looking for a more affordable meal. The standards are high – the Japanese supermarkets are truly like no other – and each time I go into one, I could easily spend hours just browsing the wide selection. I’m not a fan of getting food off the shelf but I’ve had countless good meals just having Supermarket takeout because Japan is just… Japan.

Matcha pancake with azuki red bean hokkaido japan

Kushiro Washo Market, Kushiro, Hokkaido, Japan

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Category: Japanese – Seafood, Fruits

13-25 Kuroganecho, Kushiro, Hokkaido Prefecture 085-0018

The Kushiro Washo Market was the first market I visited in Hokkaido. My cousin had been to Hokkaido before, and he’d said that the markets were one of the best places to get seafood coming in straight off the fishermen’s boats and at reasonable prices. We started the day early, and although the market was supposed to open at 8AM, many of the stalls were still setting up shop when we entered at 8.15AM. Majority of the stalls at Washo sell seafood, although there is a sizeable section of fruit and vegetable stalls at the other end, as well as shops selling cooked food (e.g. all matters of dons) along the perimeter of the market.

Damage: $$

Sashimi here compared to elsewhere was definitely cheaper on the whole, but with so many stalls selling the same thing (sashimi, etc.), it was challenging to determine which stall to patronise. The crabs were not cheap though. Nonetheless, for the price we paid, we got to sample a wide variety of items including uni (sea urchin) and kani (crab), although on hindsight I can conclude that for the highest quality sashimi/crab, you should go to the notable restaurants instead because they know how to pick out their raw ingredients far better than we do.

Kani (crab) at Washo Market Kushiro Japan

To go: Nope :/ unless you want some fruit?

I wasn’t quite impressed with the quality of the sashimi and the crab, to be honest, was poorly prepared. I tasted better sashimi almost everywhere else. My first taste of uni was at Washo, and I immediately declared that I didn’t like its fishy, mushy taste which reminded me a little of ammonia. The steamed crab was surprisingly dried out and fibrous – not at all what I was expecting of the crabs Hokkaido is supposed to be famous for.

We got some fruits on the way out and they were really juicy and succulent. The stalls were most pleasing to the eye, lined with peaches of almost perfect skin and beautifully packaged giant strawberries which I gladly picked up in preparation for the long drive to the next town of Abashiri.

Fruit peach at Washo Market Kushiro Japan

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

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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

Travel Diary: Farm Tomita, Furano, Hokkaido, Japan

Furano, a city to the south of the Kamikawa Subprefecture and rather central in the landmass that is Hokkaido, is a paradise of natural produce. Furano was our stop after Asahikawa and before Sapporo, and I was absolutely thrilled by the prospect of all the farms we would get to visit and the photographs I’d seen. The lavender fields would only be ready in July, but in June, we had melons, strawberries, and other delicious fruits.

It was back at the start of June 2014, a few weeks into the Hokkaido Spring, and the fields were already full of colour. For some of the later blooming flowers, the buds were transitioning into blossoms as the heat was coming on, although we could still cool down quickly by hiding out in the shade because the humidity had not risen too much yet.

Poppies in Furano

I remember trodding up the sandy path leading farther into Farm Tomita. That turned quickly into a half-run once I saw the bold dabs of colour at the end of the field. The poppies were in full bloom, spotting the lush green field with its starburst centre surrounded by its bright white or red chiffon-like petals like skirts in the wind. There are a few greenhouses near the edge of the farm as well, which houses an assortment of flowers in rows on rows. Looking out from the inside of the greenhouse, beyond the flowers potted in the window sill and to the field beyond, I tried my best to capture the beautiful scene and lock it in my memory for a future revisit.

Flowers at Farm Tomita Greenhouse

Flowers at Farm Tomita

Although the lavender was not in season, Farm Tomita was selling its famous lavender ice-cream anyway. I thought it tasted absolutely amazing and it was the prettiest shade of… well, lavender. I’ve tried lavender ice-cream on several occasions and came away with an expanded awareness of the range of taste – from soapy to powdery. But this… was a different matter altogether.

Lavender Ice Cream

It was like eating perfume. I know how that sounds, but trust me, it was great. You have to try it if you ever go that way. There was a certain sweet creaminess in the ice-cream and as I ate it, felt like I was inhaling a lavender perfume. I would describe it as “tasting the scent”, if that makes any sense at all.

I sat together with my family in the shade of an umbrella, colored in the same pine green shade that colors all of Farm Tomita’s signs, thoroughly enjoying the ice-cream while watching children run around in the sun, trying to avoid having their melting lavender ice-cream drip on their toes.

Pancho Buta-don Restaurant ぱんちょう豚丼, Obihiro, Hokkaido, Japan

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Category: Japanese

Nishi 1-jo Minami 11-19, Obihiro 080-0011, Hokkaido 

We were early for Pancho Buta-don, and yet we knew the restaurant from a few blocks down because of the queue that had formed even before it was open. Buta-don is actually quite a simple dish – rice topped with strips of barbequed pork, quite commonly found on restaurant menus across Hokkaido. Obihiro was a relatively quiet town with not a whole lot to see, so I was surprised to realize on hindsight that the best buta-don I’d taste on the entire trip would still be my first buta-don encounter – and that would be at Pancho Buta-don.

Damage: $

Honestly I don’t recall exactly how much it was, but there were two sizes available – regular or large. Large was actually the same amount of rice but with more meat; and if I were to go back, this would definitely be what I’d go for without a seconds hesitation. We couldn’t read the Japanese menu, so we ordered the signature Buta-don and probably spent around $10 per person, or slightly more.

To go: Yes! If ever we are in Obihiro 😀

The place is pretty compact and isn’t that big – I’m guessing it can take up to around 35 people. I’d make a note to get there early before it even opens, but anyhow, it’s definitely worth the wait.


A MORE DETAILED RECOUNT

Queue at Pancho Butadon

I spotted the queue outside Pancho as I walked across from the JR station. Most of the people who were waiting were locals, which checked off the “authentic” box in my mind – I’m not sure about you but whenever I see hordes of tourists arrive at a restaurant or any establishment for that matter, I immediately think of “tourist trap”, “rip off prices”, and the conclusion that whatever it is they have is “probably not authentic”.

In Japan, the dining places always have a bamboo rod with the shop’s banner hanging from it going across the entrance, which they put up when they’re open for business and take down when they close for the day. A neat little lady came out and put the rod was up as everyone watched, and we were invited inside to our seats shortly after.

Pancho Butadon entrance

The interior was simple and mostly wood, with the menu in calligraphy on parchment framed up on the wall, simple rectangular tables and straight-backed chairs. It was very compact, and with our coats, there was barely any space between the chairs. The Japanese are incredibly efficient and within minutes of ordering, our food was served, along with yellow pickles and our add-on mushroom soups.

The buta-don (featured picture) was extremely fragrant. It was served covered with a bone china lid which could barely conceal the beautiful textured pork slices beneath. There were random green peas in the buta-don; they didn’t add to the dish but I didn’t mind because they did add colour and constituted greens of sorts. The sauce was a very tasty sauce which I believe was soy-based – it reminded me of the dark soya sauce most Chinese families would have at home, except it was thinner and had greater depth of flavour. The barbecue process had successfully infused the sauce into the pork slices, intensifying the flavours. We ate enthusiastically, and to my right, a little child with cheeks flushed pink reached out for one more slice of buta.