Thursday, September 29, 2016

星龍軒 (Seiryuken in Hakodate, Hokkaido)



Hakodate is synonymous with a few foods. The bustling asaichi (morning fish market) means seafood, especially squid and uni, are great here. The Hakodate-only chain of Lucky Pierrot burger shops are quite popular. As for ramen, Hakodate is all shio. All salt.


Actually, I don't understand Hakodate's claim to shio fame. Sure, there are a handful of shops, but how can a handful of clear, salt ramen bowls entice an entire nation to call Hakodate the salt ramen capitol of Japan. On a recent ramen quiz show, I was told that over 70% of Japanese people surveyed knew this about Hakodate.

Is this the same phenomenon that occurs in my hometown of San Francisco? A place where authentic clam chowder is served at all the finest tourist traps in the city? More research is needed!


My research took me here, to the most popular mom-and-pop ramen shop in Hakodate. Seiryuken (lit. star dragon house) opens for a long lunch service, and runs out of soup on a regular basis. I've worked in the area about five or six times, and had been greeted with a urikire, sold out, five or six times.

This time, I showed up 30 minutes before they opened.


The hype was strong. The hype is well deserved.

Good shio ramen takes a basic chicken broth and hits it with an umami overload. The first sip is mom's chicken soup, with an aftertaste of refined Japanese flavors. It goes from intense to subtle in a heartbeat, a rhythm broken up only by the sparse toppings.


I'm sold. Hakodate equals shio.

Seiryuken boasts a huge menu of noodle and rice dishes, from katsudon to kareraisu to zangi. Pork bowl to curry to fried chicken. The shio is a must, but if you go with a group you could probably split a few more dishes.


Official site here.


Map of 7-3 Wakamatsuchō, Hakodate-shi, Hokkaidō 040-0063

Hokkaido, Hakodate-shi, Wakamatsucho 7-3
Closest station: Hakodate

Open 11:00-18:00
Closed Sunday and Monday

Monday, September 26, 2016

あじさい (Ajisai in Hakodate, Hokkaido)

函館麺厨房あじさい 本店


Ajisai is a bit of a mini-chain, and one of the reasons that Hakodate, in the southern part of Hokkaido, is an area known for shio, salt ramen.


While the famous Goryokaku Fort, Japan's first Western-style military citadel may be the most visited attraction in the area, I was here for the noodles.


A simple mantra.


Oh yeah!


I'll give it a solid so-so rating. Ajisai has been around a while, and in the meantime a lot of chefs, mostly in Tokyo, have elevated shio ramen to another level.


While shio has become a gourmet style, the old guard have remained simple and true. Check this one out if you are a completionist, otherwise consider other slurps.


Official site here.


Map of 29-22 Goryōkakuchō, Hakodate-shi, Hokkaidō 040-0001

Hokkaido, Hakodate-shi, Goryokakucho 29-22
Closest station: Goryokakuenmae

Open 11:00-20:30
Closed Mondays

Thursday, September 22, 2016

梅光軒 (Baikoken in Asahikawa, Hokkaido)

梅光軒 旭川本店


Tourism in Hokkaido has changed rapidly in recent years. With a lot more wealth in other Asian countries, people have begun to flock here in droves. And with direct flights from Shanghai, Seoul, and Bangkok, visiting the cool-in-summer northern island is a breeze.


Waiting in line for famous shops isn't just a Japanese obsession. A few shops I visited this time, both ramen and not, were about two thirds overseas tourists.


The one thing I don't understand, though, is why you would go out of your way to visit the chains. Baikoken isn't a huge chain, but it has certainly evolved into the chain category. With nine shops in Japan and eight overseas, they are bringing the Asahikawa ramen game to the world.


Not a bad bowl, and certainly better than their outlet in Tokyo. I'm sure the guidebooks are rich with suggestions for places like this.


The fact of the matter is that I was spoiled by Hachiya, what I consider one of the best bowls in the country. I didn't take any shots, but I slurped there a few hours before Baikoken, and kind of ruined my palate with the ultra rich, in-your-face impact that you only find at that shop.

Anyways, Baikoken is a famous place, and if you are going to hit it up, you might as well do it at the main shop in Asahikawa.


Official site here.


Map of 8 Chome 2 Jōdōri, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaidō 070-0032

北海道旭川市2条通8丁目右1 ピアザビル B1F
Hokkaido, Asahikawa-shi 2-8
Closest station: Asahikawa

Open 11:00-21:00
Sunday 11:00-20:00

Monday, September 19, 2016

さいじょう (Saijo in Asahikawa, Hokkaido)



My ramen adventures in Hokkaido, 2016, were starting to look like a comedy of errors. Shops I wanted to visit were closed, the weather was completely random, and bowls that I did manage to slurp weren't all that great. Had I eaten at every good ramen shop in Hokkaido?


A few years back I was hitchhiking in this part of Japan, and an Asahikawa local said i should try ホルメン, ramen topped with horumon, animal innards. Not something I normally go for, but if it is a local ramen dish that a local said you gotta try, you gotta try.

It was also a chance to check out the Asahikawa Ramen Village, a collection of eight shops on the outskirts of town. The funny thing is, this place is very inconveniently located, and most of these places have their head shop within walking distance of Asahikawa Station.


You've got Aoba.


Ittetsu-an Matsuda.








Kobo Kato.






Well, if you like sweetened pig butt fried as a topping, you might enjoy Saijo. Me, I can't stand the stuff. It looks like quite a few shops in the area do limited bowls of intestine-topped ramen. It is supposed to give guys stamina.

I'll gladly throw up (no pun intended) a guest post by someone who can crush all eight of the participating shop's horumen bowls. As for me, I'm out!


Official site here.


Map of 4 Chome Nagayama 11 Jō, Asahikawa-shi, Hokkaidō 079-8421

北海道旭川市永山11条4丁目 パワーズ内 あさひかわラーメン村
Hokkaido, Asahikawa-shi, Nagayama 11-4
Closest station: Minami-Nagayama

Open 11:00-21:00

Thursday, September 15, 2016

ラーメンロッキー (Rocky in Kamikawa, Hokkaido)

ラーメンロッキー 狩勝店


I snapped the shot below, of my bike with a beautiful lavender field, just before the sun started to set.


The campground on lake Kanayama is beautiful, and I should have just set up my tent, cracked a bottle of local sake, and been done with the day. But no, there was a cheese factory, of all the stupid things to be interested in, about 50 kilometers away. I had a bottle of French wine, a Premier Cru made by a friend of mine, that I had lugged in my bike's touring cases, and I was set to drink it with something nice.

Halfway to the cheese factory, a thunderstorm. The mountains were cold, I didn't have my rain gear, but I continued on. Of course, you can guess what happened. The cheese factory was closed for the day when I arrived. Of course.


So on my way back to the campground, I stopped at the only ramen shop I could see.


Obihiro is the largest town in the area (I considered going there to get a hotel room instead of camping), and Rocky is a group of three or four shops in the area. Serviceable miso ramen for local families and truck drivers, but nothing I would return for.


I spent the night cold and wet, and discovered that my prized camping tent has a leak.

But wait, there's more to the story. The next day, on the way to a dry hotel room in Asahikawa, I found another cheese factory, where I purchased a nice aged cheddar and a smoked Camembert. A day later, at the top of a 2300 meter mountain peak, I popped the cork on that wine. Of course, you can guess what happened. I had left the cheese in the hotel room's fridge.


Map of 118 Shintoku Kisen, Shintoku-chō, Kamikawa-gun, Hokkaidō 081-0038

Hokkaido, Kamigawa-gun, Shintokucho, Shintokukisen 118
Closest station; Shintoku

Open 11:00-19:00
Closed Thursdays

Monday, September 12, 2016

炎神 (Enjin in Sapporo, Hokkaido)

炎の味噌ラーメン 炎神


Ultra-creamy miso ramen in Sapporo. But how, you might ask, did it get so creamy?

Quiz Japan 4.VOB_snapshot_00.48_[2016.08.08_12.09.51].jpg

I was asked that exact question, on a TV quiz show. Here I am, one of two contestants still standing at round 15. To my left is Brendan, an expert on Japanese castles. Dude knew his stuff.

Quiz Japan 4.VOB_snapshot_00.48_[2016.08.08_12.13.38].jpg

I managed to get it right, question 15 and 16, something about obscure ramen ingredients if I remember. Then came question 17.

Quiz Japan 4.VOB_snapshot_00.48_[2016.08.08_12.13.45].jpg

What tool does Enjin use to make their broth smooth? Any idea?


Well, I missed it, thinking it was probably some kind of blender used to aerate the soup. It was my second strike (I missed a question about a particular branch of Nagi and which exit of Shibuya Station is was closest to), and the victory went to the castle nerd. C'est la vie. Shoganai.


If you've been, you will know the answer immediately.


They hit their soup with an industrial blow torch. Creamy lard is roasted in the high heat, and the entire bowl benefits from it.


They have two versions, a 2012 and a 2011, with the newer one being the most popular.

And, yeah, it lives up to the hype. The soup is smooth, smooth, smooth. Easily in my top 10 for Sapporo bowls, though you can probably tell by my failure to pull off the win that I don't know much about Hokkaido's capital city.

Thanks to everyone who watched! It looks like there is a copy up on YouTube if you want to check it out:


Official site here.


Map of 4 Chome-4 Minami 2 Jōnishi, Chūō-ku, Sapporo-shi, Hokkaidō 060-0062

北海道札幌市中央区南二条西4-4 狸小路四丁目商店街
Hokkaido, Sapporo-shi, Chuo-ku Minami-2 Nishi 4-4
Closest station: Sapporo

Open 11:00-23:00