In a few weeks I’ll be making my fourth trip to Hokkaido and my first to the city of Hakodate. The island’s third largest city, Hakodate is on a peninsula of a peninsula of a peninsula gently sticking out into the icy cold Tsugaru Strait, which separates Hokkaido and Honshu. It’s famous for the attractive view atop a small mountain that over looks the city and harbor, local hot springs, a star shaped fort, a red-bricked historical district, history as one of Japan’s only open ports, and let me see what else??? What else?....Hmmm….Oh, yeah! Only maybe perhaps the world’s greatest seafood!
In doing my web research, English material has been very limited, so I’ve been really stretching my Japanese ability hunting down the city’s great chow destinations. I’m going to post a lot of links here and most will be in Japanese.
Before diving into those bountiful icy seafood waters, it’s necessary to cover two of Hakodate’s most well-known establishments. The first is “Lucky Pierrot” which is an eccentric local chain of burger shops. The other is “Hasegawa Store”, a local convenience store chain.
Lucky Pierrot (ラッキーピエロ)
Each franchise is decked out in its’ own unique kitsch including one in art deco and another in year round Santa themes. They made international news last year when they began offering a “whale burger”, which one blogger called more poetically a “whale whopper”. LaPi, as called by locals, does indeed have a menu as eccentric as its’ décor. Click here- http://www.luckypierrot.jp/new/umaist... . The #1 most popular item is called “Chinese Chicken”. #2 is the “whale burger” which is actually fried whale with a miso sauce. I’m intrigued by two of the others- the “Hokkaido Genghis Khan Burger” and the local scallops burger, which was a sandwich idea determined from a customer contest. The main LaPi website is a trip. The menu link is called “Umai monogatari” which means “Tasty Tales”. They also provide sightseeing suggestions for Hakodate, as well as a page called “Love Letter” which seems to be a signbook/forum for folks to pay tribute to their food. Omoshiroi. Here is the website- http://www.luckypierrot.jp/ .
Multiple locations around the city.
Hasagawa Store (ハセガワストア)
They are well-known for their “yakitori bento”, which is a couple of skewers of meat on top of a layer of nori and some rice, along with a skewer of vegetables and maybe some pickles. Interestingly, the most renowned version is the pork. Seeing as yakitori means grilled chicken, this one too is “omoshiroi”. Here’s their bento selection- http://www.hasesuto.co.jp/yakitori.html .
Multiple locations around the city.
Several types of squid, scallops, crab, and uni are just part of the local bounty available in Hakodate. Besides sushi-ya, there are a number of seafood restaurants in the city that specialize in “kaisen donburi” which is basically fresh seafood on rice. Many appealing seafood restaurants are around the “asa ichi” morning market (朝市), Hakodate’s version of Tsukiji. Most of the restaurants offer donburi with crab, uni, ikura, scallop or different combinations. These combo’s are “three-colored rice bowls”, called “sanshoku-don” (三色丼) and are the way to go. It’s a tough decision on what those three colors should be. Ok, brace yourself, here’s what one could look like- http://r.tabelog.com/restaurant/image... .
Asaichi Shokudo Aki (朝市食堂あき) http://r.tabelog.com/hokkaido/rstdtl/... and Akebono Shokudo (あけぼの食堂) http://akebono-syokudou.com/index.htm look very difficult to pass up. Here’s Akebono’s array of options in slightly generic looking photographs- http://akebono-syokudou.com/menu.htm . Both spots are found right in the market. Just outside the market is a well known place that gets written up a lot called “Uni Murakami” (うにむらかみ). Here’s the menu page- http://www.uni-murakami.com/hakodate/... . Also available in the market is kani-man (かにまん), similar to pork buns, but with crab. Scroll down- http://www.rakuten.co.jp/kaneni/45955... . These are available at Kaneni (カネニ).
Sushi in Hakodate, I suspect, is perhaps some of the best in the world. Reading up on local reviews, there’s a lot of praise for both quality and selection and no real particular focus on any of the many sush-ya around town. Sushi Mura (鮨村- Hakodate, Komabachou 13-10, PH: 0138-54-5115) and Sushi Kura (http://www.hakonavi.ne.jp/sushikura/) both get good reviews, as does Sakura Dori Ume no Sushi (梅乃寿司- http://umenozushi.co.jp/ / http://r.tabelog.com/hokkaido/rstdtl/... ) . I kind of like the look and prices at Oushou Sushi ( http://www1.ncv.ne.jp/~oushou/index.html ).
Cheap, fresh revolving sushi seems to be a big tourist destination as well in Hakodate. There’s a lot of buzz about “Gourmet Kaiten Sushi Kantaro” on Japanese tourist sites. Here’s there top items- fresh squid, salmon, maguro chu-toro, uni, and tsubu-gai (I can’t remember the name in English)- http://www.kantaro-hakodate.com/shop/... .They’ve got five locations around the city.
All you can eat crab seems to be something to check out as well. I be interested to compare this dining experience at Izakaya Koko (居酒屋ココ) with the Maryland crab feasts I grew up with- http://www8.ocn.ne.jp/~co-co/kani_tab... .
Hakodate’s most famous edible, from the sea or otherwise, is squid. I’ll make a point to order it at the sushi and the donburi-ya, but the cooked variety is perhaps best done when stuffed with a rice mixture for the dish called ika meshi (いかめし). For some reason, a train station not far from Hakodate is renown for their ika meshi. Branded, prepared bento boxes are available throughout the country from Mori Station. Here’s the link and then a snapshot from a blog- http://www.ikameshi.co.jp/index.html / http://yaplog.jp/cv/yuhlog/img/23/200... .
GoToKen’s (五島軒) well-known duck curry is available throughout Japan. Dating back to 1879, this restaurant was one of the originators of “youshoku” (洋食) or western style Japanese cuisine. There’s mixed reviews on dining here, but it’s certainly on the tourist circuit. Website- http://www.gotoken.hakodate.jp/.
A local sake to look for is called Ginjo Nanohana no Oki (吟醸 菜の花の沖)- http://www.hakodate.or.jp/takebayashi... .
And then there’s the local ramen scene, which I will address another time.