Travel Diary: Shiroi Koibito Park, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

Japan, 〒063-0052 北海道札幌市西区宮の沢2条2丁目11−36; Tel +81 11-666-1481

We followed the smiles and waves of the park guides in neatly ironed white uniforms and rounded the bend into the basement carpark before disembarking for Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo, Hokkaido. It was funny how I’d known about the Shiroi Koibito biscuit before I knew anything else about Hokkaido – it seemed to be the ultimate souvenir that friends would bring back from Hokkaido, and with good reason, considering that ever since I’d tasted it, I couldn’t stop craving the light thin biscuit with a skinny block of white chocolate wedged between.

The lift opened into the main store, and straight away I felt like I’d stepped into a fantasyland of sorts, with (what I now recognised to be a distinctly Japanese touch) tinkling music and chocolate and candies in colourful wrappers everywhere, including giant standing lollipop decorations. A grand-ish staircase descended from the second floor on the right, and straight ahead, stood a ferris wheel around which children had gathered, slotting coins and taking turns to hit a button which would spin the wheel and drop a piece of candy from the lowest bucket when it stopped.

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary

Once outside, the Shiroi Koibito Park reminded me of disneyland with its castle-like exteriors and gardens full of the most colourful flowers and little water features, including cherubic sculptures peering out from random places.

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel DiaryWe stepped into the shade of the building to commence our tour of the Shiroi Koibito Park, and were each handed the awesome biscuit at the entrance. I’m not a huge facts junkie, so the details of the making of the biscuit wasn’t all that fascinating to me, except when the trail opened up and ran by the actual production line. I stood for a good while watching the Shiroi Koibito biscuit get pushed out from the machine, sandwiched together, sorted, and packaged, all within a few meters. I couldn’t help but focus on the workers picking out imperfect Shiroi Koibito biscuits near the end of the line, wondering what they did with the rejected biscuits- and daydreamed about them giving it all to me.

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Factory Production LineThe Shiroi Koibito Cafe stood at the end of the tour – it’s the only place where you can have the Shiroi Koibito White Hot Chocolate Drink and the Shiroi Koibito White Chocolate Ice-cream. I sat down excitedly and immediately decided that the dilemma was non-existent and that I was going to have both 😛

Shiroi Koibito Park Famous Best Biscuit Sapporo Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary White Hot Chocolate and White Chocolate Ice-CreamOh god. It was so good – the ice-cream was so creamy, milky, soft, and just melted away in the mouth. The White Hot Chocolate was good too, and was something my cousin had been raving on and on about in anticipation throughout the trip. I thought it was really delicious, but the good news is, when I tasted it, I immediately pinpointed a “dupe” in my favourite Luxury White Hot Chocolate from Whittard’s in London, which means that for everyone who hasn’t had the opportunity to visit Shiroi Koibito Park, you essentially get a taste of Japan if you can get yourself some Whittard‘s.

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Omotenashi Sake Bar & Dining Gosso, Singapore

SCRIBBLES

Category: Japanese – Casual – Yakitori

We were strolling along Boat Quay looking for a place to have dinner before a concert when Omotenashi Sake Bar & Dining Gosso restaurant caught our eye. We were particularly intrigued by the number of Japanese clientele they had and figured that that said a thing or two about it’s authenticity, and decided to give it a try. Omotenashi Dining is quite the new kid on the block, having been around from only around September or October last year, but seems to already have picked up a good number of regulars.

No.64 Boat Quay Singapore 049852, Tel: 6533 5152, Opens 11.30am – 2.30pm and 5.30pm – 12am on Mon-Fri (Opens for dinner on Sat)

Nestled along the shophouses on the main stretch of Boat Quay by the Singapore River, Omotenashi Dining is situated right opposite the Parliament of Singapore, across the SIngapore River. Its decor theme is primarily black, with non-fuss wooden tables and white words printed on its canopy, with a yakitori grill is by the entrance on the left. There are several Japanese restaurants along Boat Quay, but among the yakitori places, Omotenashi had the largest Japanese clientele as far as I could tell.

Damage: $$

Omotenashi Dining is quite reasonably priced, with dishes priced at around $3-4 per stick (min. order of 2 per dish). It might seem little, but since most yakitori dishes comprise of meats, I find that we often underestimate how filling they can be. Beer is also popular at Omotenashi, especially among the Japanese businessmen – I saw a beer tower or two go by in the short while that I was there.

To Go: A good hangout place for meatloving friends

Omotenashi  was reasonably priced and the food was fine – some dishes being more standout than others. Indoor-seating (air-conditioned) is rather limited and it can get rather warm if you’re seated outside, so if you have more than one layer on I suggest to go somewhere else or begin stripping unless you want to be a waterfall. Service at Omotenashi was quick and the staff were attentive and eager to be of help, and the restaurant has an old Japanese feel. Overall, a possible place to hang out with friends after executing mission: escape from the office.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

A uniformed waitress came out to greet us at the front, nodded and politely invited us to come in in a slight Japanese accent. Several tables were already taken by the riverside and the indoors was full so we were seated by the entrance and presented with the menu which contained an array of yakitori, from skewered meats to tsukune (minced meat patty/ball), in different renditions – with mustard, with cheese, etc. I asked the waitress for a recommendation between the two versions of tsukune, and she pointed at one and said, “I would recommend this… and this”, and pointed at the other version. We looked at each other and tried not to laugh.

In the end we ended up ordering the Kinoko Salad, and several kinds of yakitori, a onigiri (rice ball), and an egg dish called Dashimaki. From there, the orders were sent to the grill, and soon after, began hitting our table in rapid succession.

Omotenashi Authentic Japanese Yakitori Singapore New 2015 Food Review Blog Boat Quay Mushroom Salad

The Kinoko Salad ($9.80) which the waitress said was very good and “popular” had a generous portion of stir fried mushrooms, beyond which I found to be pretty ordinary. You can give this a miss if you’re fine with having a mostly carnivorous meal.

The Isobe-yaki (chicken fillet wrapped with seaweed; $5 for 2 sticks) and Negima (chicken thigh with leek; $6 for 2 sticks) (featured picture, from left to right) were ordinary as well. They were a good piping hot, but the chicken was way too dry, which was surprising for the Negima since chicken thigh is typically fattier and retains juice better.
Omotenashi Authentic Japanese Yakitori Singapore New 2015 Food Review Blog Boat Quay Tsukune

The tsukune ($6 for 2 sticks) was great – the outside was charred perfectly, caramelising slightly the semi-sweet glaze, and the inside was piping hot and extremely juicy. They were very generous with the meat – I think this also contributed to its robust flavors and texture, making it more satisfying to have than the usual thinner tsukune patties, including the one I practically grew up on from MOS Burger.Omotenashi Authentic Japanese Yakitori Singapore New 2015 Food Review Blog Boat Quay Signature Egg

The waitress explained that the Dashimaki ($6.80) was gently cooked in a dashi stock for some time and whisked or something to give it it’s fluffy texture. To be honest I couldn’t internalise her description of the entire process because I zoned out halfway, and told myself that bottom line was that this egg was going to be more awesome than it looked. It was light but ordinary and rather lacking in seasoning, I’d happily swap this out for another yakitori.

Omotenashi Authentic Japanese Yakitori Singapore New 2015 Food Review Blog Boat Quay Yakitori Pork Asparagus LeekIt would do you good to have this – Butamaki Shimeji (Shimeji Mushrooms wrapped in Pork Belly; $6 for 2 sticks)This is one of my all-time barbecue favorites. Whenever I host or attend a barbecue, this is a dish that needs to be present to elevate the session to barbecue stardom. Ever a crowd pleaser, this yakitori was no different; mushroom juices galore, soaking up and adding to the natural saltiness of the bacon, with cheese atop. Omg, yes!

Wakakoma, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

SCRIBBLES

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.


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

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

Daijinmon (大仁門), Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

SCRIBBLES

Category: Japanese – Barbecue

Daijinmon is the most highly-recommended Japanese barbecue place and is touted as the best one in Otaru on Tripadvisor. If a sushi/sashimi-overdose was possible, it certainly happened during the trip, and so we decided to have barbecue instead. Daijinmon has an incredible wait if you don’t place a reservation, and since we happened to be strolling in the area in the mid afternoon and spotted it within radius of our Google Maps, my cousin and I went ahead to scout it out while our family rested their feet from an entire morning of walking about and waited for us in the shade by the Otaru canal (小樽運河).

1-13-5 Ironai, Otaru 047-0031, Hokkaido, Tel: +81 134-23-2876

It seems to me that Daijinmon only has branches in Otaru. I’m Japanese-illiterate, so if you do visit their website and discover otherwise, please let me know so I can share this with everyone 🙂 It was easy to find with GPS since Google Map pins it in the right place. The signs outside are an easy spot- with mouthwatering pictures yelling about the juicy goodness of fine cuts being licked by a charcoal heat.

Damage: $$

Unbelievable is all I can say. If we’d had the same thing back home in Singapore, it would’ve easily costed us 4 to 5-fold more. We had slices of wagyu, beef slices of every cut, fine cuts of kurobuta pork, vegetables for the grill… everything, and it summed up only about $35 each.

To go: YES PLEASE!!

Are you kidding? If I were in Otaru, I’d go back multiple times a week! The place is comfortable, clean, has friendly service staff with a great service attitude, delicious cuts of quality meats with the tastiest sauces.

Daijinmon 大仁門 Best Beef Wagyu Meat Barbeque Barbecue Otaru Hokkaido Japan Food Review Travel Blog


A MORE DETAILED REVIEW

Daijinmon was further away that it’d appeared on Google Maps. We navigated the neat grid-like roads of Otaru under the gaze of the afternoon sun, taking a left 3 junctions down into a side street, and by the time we were on the right street we were melting. The clean wooden facade of Daijinmon was immediately visible, and we loitered around outside waiting for Daijinmon to open again at 3.45pm so we could place our reservation. I was poking my foot around in the gravel to distract myself from the heat when the sliding door suddenly activated and a tall, slightly awkward girl came out, pulled a chair to the side of the entrance, and looked at us curiously.

Re-ser-va-tion?, I said, and drew with my fingers some imaginary notepad on which I took an imaginary note, and then pointed at my watch whilst saying eight peo-ple at eight o’clock, while my cousin lifted up fingers to show number 8. She gave a confused look, and quickly ducked back inside. We looked at each other and shrugged, not knowing if she’d gotten our meaning. After a while she came back out, and we asked her again about the booking. O-K, she said, O-K. It seemed she didn’t need our name or any contact, but perhaps that could be because they didn’t see many foreign chinese people in their restaurant? Either way, when our entire convoy arrived at 8pm that night, we were ushered inside and upstairs without a moments hesitation.

On the second floor, we left our shoes in a shoe rack and stepped onto the raised deck which was flanked by private rooms with wooden sliding doors on the left and right, walls fitted with ricepaper. It was cozy, with lots of dark wooden furnishing, and cushions on which guests could seat themselves around the table and grill. The menu was extensive but entirely in Japanese, so we did a fair amount of pointing, gesturing and attempted to get our point across in sl-ow hal-ting english, which seemed to work quite well. We ended up with a feast to behold, and we’ve fondly remembered that meal ever since. One of the best Japanese barbecues I’ve ever had, at a standard comparable to Gyu Kaku here (or maybe even better), and at an incredible price. This is just one of the many reasons I need to find my way back to Japan- and perhaps you should to, too.

Daijinmon 大仁門 Best Beef Wagyu Meat Barbeque Barbecue Otaru Hokkaido Japan Food Review Travel Blog

Let’s explore: The little town of Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

Otaru has become a special memory for me. The tinkling music in LeTAO and the Orgel Museum transported me into a Disneyland of sorts, while the abundance of food places along the street and souvenir shops kept it real by singing with wonderful aromas and displays of kawaii toys, telling me that indeed, “This is Japan”.

I managed to capture some of my experiences in this charming town of Otaru, so come along and take a walk in the town with me!

Travel Diary: Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan

I remember waking up to this scene in the morning- watching as yachts slowly sailed out of the marina to sea, V-shaped ripples trailing in their wake. Once I escaped the veil of slumber, I excitedly sat up and pulled out my now-crumpled sheet of itinerary to see which stops I’d planned out for the day.

Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Seaview Sea

Otaru, about half an hour’s drive northwest from Sapporo, has a small town kind of feel – we would walk along its wide, clean pavements, and make stops every few steps or so along the rows of shops, full of the most tantalising displays of chirashi don and fresh sashimi one moment, to dried seafood shops and souvenir shops the next. I guess part of the charm of Otaru was derived from not really knowing what might be stumbled upon. Full of historical buildings and some of the most incredible dessert shops, the town was bound to be full of pleasant surprises.

Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Canal Street

Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Canal Seafood Dried Shops

A day isn’t long enough for Otaru, especially if you have an affinity with food like I do. We would walk into glorious clouds of mouthwatering smells and be seduced by stalls selling a dazzling array of- very good, might I add- food with samples generously being offered to you as you stroll down the street; there’s no way anyone could go hungry in Otaru.

Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Canal street side stalls

Otaru Hokkaido Japan Travel Diary Blog Canal seafood Ika stuffed squid

And through the centre of it all, lay the beautiful Otaru Canal (小樽運河, known locally as Otaru Unga; featured picture)- a quiet, gentle body of water, mirroring the façades of the low rise buildings standing alongside it, delicately covered in a vibrant green, and also the clear blue sky. In the late afternoon, after hours of walking about, I’d sat by the canal on a cold stone bench, fleeing the sun for a moment of rest, and thought about how perfect this town seemed to be.