Thursday, February 27, 2020

らーめん穂 (Ramen Sui in Asahikawa, Hokkaido)



That's me for a few months out of the year. In Summer of 2019 I headed to Hokkaido for three weeks. Nothing but my motorcycle and a hammock.

This was the setup for the entire time (apart from the odd splurge on a nice ryokan with onsen hot springs and a real bed). Once you figure out the quirks of sleeping in a hammock, you'll never go back to tents again. These things are super light and super cheap (like $30 on Amazon). Find a beach with a couple trees, and life is good.

The northern bits of Hokkaido are truly empty. Ideal for motorcycle riding. Beautiful sea and some decent inland mountains aren't quite epic enough to draw the crowds, but for taking it slow it's the perfect deal.

Local ice cream everywhere you turn. This one, topped with farm-fresh strawberries, is somewhere around Shibetsu, but I can't say for certain. I usually post this stuff on my Instagram.

Ok, ok, ramen time.

Ramen Sui is just north of Asahikawa proper. Maybe a bit out of the way if it is your first time to Hokkaido and you are using public transport, but for the good-ramen-completionist, this is one to hit. Pork and chicken simmered for two days and finished with a deep soy sauce tare. Typical Asahikawa-style ramen.

I loved the mix of local vibe and random automobile tourist crowd.

Monday, February 24, 2020

吉山商店 らーめん (Yoshiyama Shoten in Sapporo Station)

吉山商店 らーめん共和国店

Ramen Street. Ramen Stadium. Ramen Park. There are many names for these collections of ramen shops, usually built in airports, next to major train stations, or up in a big department store. Convenience and a chance to try outlets of famous ramen shops without going out of your way. But is the ramen any good?

The Esta building, adjacent to Sapporo Station, brings eight Hokkaido shops together. Sample Asahikawa, Otaru, and Hakodate in one place. Oh, and plenty of local Sapporo shops as well.

I picked one at random, Yoshiyama. Yoshiyama's main shop is in Sapporo, with six other shops in Hokkaido and one in Osaka.

Miso ramen with a bit of backfat.

Good in a pinch, but I really recommend heading to the proper shops if that is an option.

Official site here.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Men-Eiji Higarashi Base in Sapporo


Sapporo ramen has always lived under a miso cloud. Both Japanese and foreigners make this assumption. But true ramen heads know that Sapporo has some top-level "other" ramen worthy of a journey. 

Men-Eiji has a few brands, including duck ramen and a jiro-style. It is their Higarashi Base shop, though, that has achieved legend status.

The most popular menu item is their 魚介豚骨醤油, gyokai tonkotsu shoyu. Thick pork broth mixed with dried fish, flavored with soy sauce. 

The jelly here is a special yuzu dashi. Yuzu from Kochi Prefecture mixed in a traditional Japanese dashi. It melts into the soup, changing the flavor as you slurp. 

Like most high-level shops in Japan these days, they have an in-depth printed description of the shop's kodawari, their finer points. Homemade noodles are made with local flour. Soup is boiled for ten hours. Chashu is made from local pork.

I should also not that they have miso ramen on the menu as well. Just like most miso ramen spots have shoyu, most shoyu spots have miso. It's a Hokkaido thing.

Official site here.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Japanese Ramen Noodle Lab Q in Sapporo

Japanese Ramen Noodle Lab Q

Japanese Ramen Noodle Lab Q is the hottest shop in Sapporo these days. The stylish interior immediately hypes you up and the ramen lives up to expectations. Clean and refined, it's really something special.

Maybe my writeup doesn't "count" as I went on one of their 裏 (ura) days where they serve a niboshi tinged version. Shoyu and shio.

Shio ramen with wonton topping.

Chashu is a lightly flavored low temperature cooked deal. Sliced thin.

Absolute tops.

Noodles are made in house to match with the carefully chosen raw ingredients.

Chef Hiraokya-san (平岡さん) insists on a bowl that is 100% his creation. The standard soy sauce ramen uses two kinds of soy sauce from Hiroshima, alongside another five or six for a deep blend.

The chef is a former pro snowboarder who had the idea of boarding throughout the winter and serving ramen throughout the summer.

Noodle Lab Q becomes Yakitori Q in the evenings. If you are looking for great chicken skewers served with Japanese sake and natural wine, a return visit is a good move.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

麺処 まるは BEYOND (Beyond in Sapporo)

麺処 まるは BEYOND

With the Best of the Best Ramen guidebook in hand, I headed to Sapporo. Sapporo is known, even to the most rookie ramen fans, as the world epicenter of miso ramen. The above photo, a clean shoyu from Maruha BEYOND, is as far from thick, creamy miso as you can get. It is also the Number One ranked shop in Hokkaido according to Ramen Walker Magazine.

And it isn't even in central Sapporo. Hop the Namboku Line to Nakanoshima Station.

Even though Hokkaido is synonymous with miso, most shops have soy and salt on the menu. Some see this as a for-regulars-only thing, but it makes sense that someone up here must be crushing it in the chukasoba soy ramen game.

Pork and chicken for heartiness. Onions and ginger to balance the aroma. Dried fish for umami. It is the standard recipe for chukasoba, Japan's original comfort food ramen. 

Maruha BEYOND is one of many non-miso shops I tried on this trip. Though Sapporo doesn't have the numbers of Tokyo or Osaka, the variety is there. Should you skip the famous miso shops and go for something like this? If social media dictates your eating habits, or you are obsessed with the relatively small number of food journalists who dipped their toes into Hokkaido food culture, then you'll be fine with miso twice a day.

If not, this one was worth the journey.

Monday, February 10, 2020

ふじ屋 NOODLE (Fujiya in Sapporo, Hokkaido)


Fujiya is a legend shop in the middle of Sapporo. There are plenty of great miso ramen joints, but for buttery smooth miso ramen this one is up there.

This was part of my 2019 three-week Hokkaido #ramenriders trip. What a blast.

One thing I set out to do on this trip was finding the best unidon in Hokkaido. Locally caught sea urchin on rice.

This is Coco Kapiu (軽食喫茶 ココ・カピウ). It is nowhere near anything, and it was divine. Looking back at my uni hunt, it was an expensive endeavor. I'm writing this during the height of the Covid-19 thing, in a time where I suddenly find my freelance lifestyle leading to zero income, and spending close to $100 for uni on rice seems like insanity.

The rice bowl here was around $35, for the record.

I'll say it again and again, Hokkaido is motorcycle heaven.

It is also a foodie's heaven. Instagramable treats everywhere.

And then there is Sapporo. It's a big city, and not what I am looking for when it comes to motorcycle touring. 

But Sapporo is where the bulk of famous Hokkaido ramen shops are found. I've been to the legendary Saimi and Yukikaze, so it is time to try some new spots.

Miso alongside a black and a white shoyu. Food culture in Hokkaido dictates that shops may specialize in one thing but serve a variety. It's a northern Japanese thing.

Thick pork soup with golden miso. The one is on the heavier side of the ramen spectrum.

Please note, and it says this on their ticket machine, Fujiya doesn't have butter or corn as toppings, so don't ask for it. I know you Americans think miso ramen equals butter corn, but it doesn't. Not that I'm insulting you or your choice. I like pineapple pizza, so I guess we are even.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

ラーメン館 秀航園本店 (Shukoen in Kushiro, Hokkaido)

ラーメン館 秀航園本店

Summer, 2019. Tokyo temperatures are into the mid-30s, which is something like high 80s for you Americans. It's hot. And humid. Hokkaido is a few degrees lower and a whole lot drier. The air is cleaner and the sky is bluer. For someone who lives for motorcycle touring and good food, it is heaven. I'm in heaven.

I arrived in Tomakomai, a port city not known for ramen. I had two choices. Head to the city of Sapporo for ramen or head to the mountains for hiking and camping. Sorry, ramen, I'm here for a few weeks so the city stuff can wait.

This year I brought only a hammock. Two trees (or telephone poles) and I am good to go.

Work was in Kushiro, so I made it a point to visit some great shops. Shukoen was the one to hit. As Kushiro is known for seafood, the oyster ramen looked particularly good.

Kushiro, for those interested, isn't somewhere many tourists visit. It's a solid four hours by express train from Sapporo. Sure, it is nearish to famous Lake Mashu and some amazing nature, but most tourists will make it to Obihiro and skip the industrial cities farther east.

Oyster ramen. I had to do it. The photo on the ticket machine showed plump oysters sitting on top of a thick miso broth.

Though the real thing was far less photogenic than the advertisement, it hit the spot. Six or seven oysters and a fragrant miso broth.

From here, it was off to the mountains again. It is a mini-goal of mine in life to hike the 100 famous mountains of Japan. I managed to finish two more in Hokkaido on this trip; Mt. Tomuraushi (トムラウシ山) and Mt. Yōtei (羊蹄山). At the age of 41, though, my body is struggling. Coming down Tomuraushi, rated as one of the toughest in Hokkaido, my knees were basically useless. I stumbled into the hot spring at the bottom for some recovery, realizing that I need to adjust my hiking style, which basically was full-bore up and down to turn an overnight hike into a one-day thing.

That said, it may be time for some specific training for this kind of thing, as well as learning how to use hiking poles and knee supports. I'm not 25 anymore!