(Formatted with All Pictures here:
The island of Hokkaido is the largest prefecture in Japan, and in terms of land-mass, only second to Honshu (where Tokyo resides). Once a year, a Hokkaido Fair is held in Southern California, sponsored by Mitsuwa Market (in Torrance and Costa Mesa). I missed part of last year's festivities and this year, I was determined to try at least both of the Ramen shops that were visiting from Japan. :)
The Hokkaido Fair lasts for only 1 weekend out of the year, and this year, it's starting from today, Thursday, September 11, through Sunday, September 14, 2008. My top destination was to try Sumire Ramen, available only at the Torrance portion of the Hokkaido Fair. Sumire is a pretty famous Ramen-ya in Hokkaido, and this year, they brought along their Miso Ramen (Ramen Noodles in a Miso Soup Base), and their Miso Butter Corn Ramen.
We ordered their Miso Butter Corn Ramen and eagerly awaited this Northern treat. (^_^) As today was only the first day, I was expecting their Broth to be rough, or not fully prepared (after all, they flew in from Japan, had to set up their booth and this was the first day of the fair).
The Miso Butter Corn Ramen had a good aroma, and the broth was scorching hot (temperature-wise). As we waited for it to cool down slightly, I noticed the nice slab of Butter floating on top, the Corn and the rest of the ingredients. I finally took a sip of the Broth: Delicious! It was surprisingly tasty for a kitchen staff working in a foreign kitchen, away from their regular equipment, ingredients, etc. There was a deep, complex taste in the Miso Broth, one of the best Miso Broths I've had in Southern California, actually! The Butter added a really nice, creamy, fragrant facet to the Ramen Broth, and really elevated it (but Butter helps everything (^_~)).
Sumire also used a Fresh Ramen flown in from Sapporo, Japan, and the noodles themselves were good, of nice thickness, and better than the usual yellow, curly noodle. The Pork Chashu was cubed, instead of in the more commonly found sliced form, and tasted relatively fresh (this was only the first day of the fair). Whether or not Sumire has cooked enough Chashu for the entire fair and will refrigerate the rest, or cook new Chashu each day, remains to be seen. But for the first day of the fair, it was fresh, tender and decent. The Menma (Bamboo) was the preserved kind, with a strong aroma for those that enjoy that version, and the Corn added a light sweetness and texture change as well. This was definitely the highlight of the fair.
Besides the Ramen at the Torrance location, the Hokkaido Fair featured a bunch of vendors from Hokkaido selling a variety of tasty items: The first stop was the Pullman Bakery Kare Pan (Curry Bread). According to their sign, Pullman Bakery was a "TV Champion" and they brought a variety of items to the fair. Their Kare Pan had just finished cooking up, and I could smell the fragrance way before we arrived at their booth. :) We quickly ordered one and sat down to try it.
The Kare Pan (Curry Bread) was a deep-fried pastry filled with a Vegetable Curry (we couldn't taste or see any meat inside). As they just made the first batch of the day, it was piping hot, and taking a bite, it was *so* buttery, crunchy, and crispy on the outside, followed by a delicious burst of a spicy Curry from the inside. The dough was also nice and airy. Easily the best Kare Pan I've had in So Cal so far. :)
The Costa Mesa branch of Mitsuwa was sponsoring the Hokkaido Fair as well, with their own specific Ramen Restaurant featured only there: Asameshi Maeda Honpo's Shoyu Ramen (Soy Sauce Broth Ramen Noodles). We arrived at the Costa Mesa Hokkaido Fair, and went in to try this one as well.
We placed our order and waited for the food to be ready. At first glance, we noticed the soup didn't look very hot (i.e., no steam rising from the bowl of noodles). We sat down and took a bite: This was probably the biggest disappointment of the entire fair. The Asameshi Shoyu Ramen was really salty (too salty), and the Broth just tasted flat. There was no depth of flavor, or if there was, it was killed by the sodium levels.
In addition, the other key component of good Ramen failed miserably as well: Their Ramen Noodles were overcooked, extremely doughy, and mushy! :( These were probably the worst Ramen Noodles I've had in years.
The other toppings tasted pretty average as well (being drowned in an overly salty Broth, supported by mushy Noodles don't help, either): The Menma (Bamboo) was the preserved kind, with a strong aroma, the Chashu Pork was really thinly sliced, and tasted slightly gamey for some odd reason. Even though we were sharing, I couldn't finish my portion (it was just too gross and salty). Avoid at all costs.
We walked around at this point, and the rest of the Costa Mesa Hokkaido Fair vendors seemed similar to the ones in Torrance, with a nice Bento Box (Lunch Box) vendor selling fresh Seafood Bento Boxes! There were Crab Bento Boxes with Crab from Hokkaido, as well as Tarabagani (King Crab) Bento Lunch Boxes for $29.90 + tax. Or versions with Ikura (Salmon Roe), and a few others.
They also carried fresh Puddings from Sun Green (another Hokkaido vendor), ranging from Coffee Puddings to Milk Puddings and more.
There was one vendor (Hokubu Foods) selling Hokkaido Souran Age (Fried Fish Cake), infused with various ingredients, such as Ebi (Shrimp), Vegetables, etc.
They also brought in a variety of fresh Seafood (and some Live Seafood as well!) for any home cooks out there looking for rarer items from Hokkaido. Some of the fresh fish flown in from Hokkaido, Japan, included Sanma (Mackerel Pike), Surumei Ika (Common Squid), and Tarabagani (King Crab).
The highlight was the Live Kegani (Japanese Hairy Crab). These weren't as large as the ones at Maki Zushi, but it was impressive (and cheaper).
The fastest-selling item at the vendor area (besides the Ramen) was the Korokke (Croquettes) section, with a variety of interesting flavors being offered. The Korokke vendor was from Hakodate, Japan, and they were touting some famous flavors of Hokkaido. We decided to try two of them: The Hotate Korokke (Scallop Croquette), and the Tarabagani Korokke (King Crab Croquette). Japanese Croquettes can really be hit or miss in So Cal, and while this vendor was from Hokkaido, I was fearing the worst (after the debacle I had at Ryo Zan Paku last week, I wasn't sure what was going to be inside these).
Luckily, these turned out to be some of the best Korokke I've had in quite some time! The Scallop Korokke featured a huge Scallop and Roe as well. It was surprising, and quite tasty, with a great crunchy exterior, soft Potato filling, and the Scallops.
The Tarabagani Korokke was a little cooler in temperature (that batch must've been made earlier than the Scallops), but the exterior was still very crunchy and the interior of the Potato puree and very generous portions of King Crab meat was nice. Overall, while there was a lot of King Crab meat inside, ultimately, it still tasted like a Croquette, meaning rather basic and simple, with it being deep-fried and tasting mainly of Potatoes, regardless of the filling. It's worth it, if you enjoy Korokke in general, and probably some of the best Korokkes offered locally.
(Note: We went right when the Fair opened (11:00 a.m.), so the Korokke was just made and fresh. I'm not sure how long the Croquettes will remain sitting around (so the crispiness and freshness may wane), but I confirmed that they constantly make new batches, when they run low.)
Moving onto sweets, the Hokkaido Fair also features some Dessert Vendors, including Kitchen Yasohachi offering Ishihikari no Ohagi. These were balls of Red Bean Paste, surrounding an interior of fresh Mochi! It was an interesting reversal of the usual Mochi with Red Bean filling and worth a try if you're a Red Bean fan. :)
Paocari was offering Yubari Melon Pan (Pastry Bread with Yubari Melon Juice). Melon Pan (Melon Bread) in general is a very popular, standard item found in Japan. After having an *amazing* Melon Pan in Nakano Broadway on my last trip to Tokyo, I was hoping this Yubari Melon Pan vendor would be offering something to rival the fresh-made Melon Bread that I experienced.
We ordered one and tried it: Despite today being the first day of the fair, and we arrived only an hour after they opened, the Melon Pan was hard(!). The exterior was really firm / hard, like day-old bread, rather than a freshly-baked pastry bread. I took a bite and thankfully it gave way to a softer interior. There was a nice, fragrant Melon aroma, but that was about it. The aroma and Melon taste lingered about the exterior of the bread, but the interior was basically white bread and dry, a far cry from the wonderful Melon Pan I had at the Tokyo bakery. :( But it was better than the usual offerings at the local markets here in So Cal.
There were also freshly-made Mini-Cheesecakes, in cute containers (I'm going to have to come back and try one tomorrow :).
Arles was selling Hokkaido-style Cream Puffs, made with Fresh, No Additives, Cream from Hokkaido.
Overall, the 2008 Hokkaido Fair, sponsored by the Mitsuwa Market in Torrance and Costa Mesa, provide an entertaining venue to find various foods (raw and cooked) from Hokkaido. Whether you're in the mood to cook up some fresh Seafood at home, or want to try some delectable Sweets from the Northern prefecture of Japan, or their great Kare Pan (Curry Bread), or just want a bowl of the tasty Miso Butter Corn Ramen noodles, the 2008 Hokkaido Fair is worth a visit. (^_^)
2008 Hokkaido Fair runs from Sept. 11, 2008 (Thurs) - Sept. 14, 2008 (Sun), at:
Mitsuwa Market (Torrance)
21515 Western Avenue
Torrance, CA 90501
Tel: (310) 782-0335
Mitsuwa Market (Costa Mesa)
665 Paularino Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Call for Fair Hours (Ramen starts serving at 11:00 a.m. every day)