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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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

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

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.

Prose by Photography: A Stir in the Shrine

I stood on the gravel, staring at the textured bark of one of the tall, lean trees in the middle of the Hokkaido Jingu Shrine – like wrinkles of the wise, and as if possessing a knowledge that the rest of us were still lost in seeking to discover. Just a moment before that, I’d been standing on the steps of the main building, quietly and respectfully watching from the side as the locals went up to what looked like wooden kneelers and knelt, looking straight ahead at the altar through the glass, bowing piously.

Suddenly- there was movement to the right side of the shrine. A door opened, and a man dressed in pine-green-coloured robes wearing a black headpiece tied with a skinny white rope around his face and under his chin stepped out, holding a small bell. Ring, ring, ring.

Two ladies stepped out with him, hair neatly and tightly pulled back into a ponytail around which a cream-coloured cloth was wrapped and bound with red ribbon, both clad in long white blouses with slits and big boxy sleeves, under which they wore full-length bright red skirts. Ring, ring, ring.

They promptly bowed low to each other, and one of the ladies spun on her heel and departed briskly, as if on a mission, her feet shuffling quickly in matching red geta slippers and I watched as she navigated the peripheral pathways of the shrine, rounded a bend and vanished, her red skirt previously trailing with movement, going with her.

June 2014, Hokkaidō Shrine (Hokkaido-Jingu Shrine), Maruyama Park, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Rule of Thirds.”

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.