Hello 2016! They say that what you do on the first day sets the scene for the rest of year. So my first post for 2016 is about finishing things, concluding my Japan travel posts from last year. I'm hoping it'll also reflect a travel theme for the coming year.
And so our second last stop in Japan was Hakodate, a hugely popular tourist destination that is known for its bounty of seafood.
Our Japan travels from Tokyo to Hakodate
We made the 4.5hr train trip from Otaru. Hakodate is found at the southern tip of the island of Hokkaido.
Hakodate decorative manhole covers
How could you not instantly love Hakodate at the sight of the these decorative manhole covers. So much cute!
Local noodle house in Hakodate
The first meal when you arrive in a city is often the first agreeable thing you can find. We ended up at this local noodle house which had a Chinese twist to its ramen dishes.
Chinese-style ramen with seafood 800 yen/AU$8.80
The ramen here had a clear broth with more vegetables than you'd normally find in ramen. There was also a glut of seafood, including prawn and scallops as well as pork slices and black fungus.
Yakisoba with seafood 800 yen/AU$8.80
It was cold and windy in Hakodate when we visited in May, about 6C with the wind-chill factor. Yakisoba was the warmer I couldn't resist, a nest of deep fried soba noodles smothered in gravy with a treasure chest of seafood, including fat scallops and juicy prawns.
Scallop and prawn on deep fried soba noodles
Hakodate Morning Market
Fishmongers at Hakodate Morning Market
The Morning Markets are only a block away from Hakodate train station. We visited them every morning we were here, a maze of alleyways and arcades that you could happily get lost in.
Using a special tool to open the sea urchin
Asparagus bunches 350 yen/AU$3.85
White asparagus pairs 600 yen/AU$6.60
Asahi rockmelons 4500 yen/AU$49.50 each
Asahi rockmelons are said to be the sweetest rockmelon variety available.
Fresh rockmelon wedges 450 yen/AU$4.95
Squid ink soft serve 324 yen/AU$3.60
Fishing for squid game
It was hard to miss the crowd gathered around this giant tub of live squid. It took us a while to realise that this was a catch-your-own squid fishing game.
The tub filled with live squid
We watched this gentleman dangle his line for about a minute, trying to gently tease a squid with his baited line.
Successful catch after one minute
And hurrah! Success after about a minute.
Paparazzi on standby
A group of Japanese high school kids then swung by to try their luck.
Success after ten seconds
This first guy caught his in ten seconds.
The kids were seriously good at this
And so did this guy.
They all caught their within about ten seconds! And after you catch your squid, it's transferred to a chef who slices it into sashimi - you can't get any fresher.
Asaichi Shokudo Makoto Yasube
Breakfast - or lunch - at the markets is heaven for seafood lovers. We price checked a dozen sashimi shops before deciding on this shop which already had a small crowd dining inside.
Sashimi don set 1500 yen/AU$16.50
Grilled salmon belly, salmon sashimi and salmon roe on rice, sashimi squid and pickles
This salmon rice set was incredible value that included grilled salmon belly, sashimi squid, salmon and salmon eggs along with pickles, rice and soup.
Sashimi prawn, salmon, scallop, sea urchin roe and salmon roe
Kaisendon is perfect if you just want to load up on raw seafood with rice. This version included sashimi prawns, salmon, scallops, sea urchin roe and salmon roe.
Hokkaido kaisendon sashimi bowl 2400 yen/AU$26.40
Sashimi scallop, squid, sea urchin roe and salmon roe
I went with the baller bowl of sea urchin roe, salmon roe, raw scallop and sashimi squid.
Glorious salmon roe
And you bet I popped each salmon roe egg one by one.
And if raw seafood isn't your thing, you can get the grilled fish rice set too.
Manicured gardens within Fort Goryokaku
We'd hoped to catch sight of cherry blossoms at Fort Goryokaku, a fortress in the shape of a star when viewed from above.
Governmental hall of the Republic of Ezo
Sakura cherry blossom tree
We only managed to find one cherry tree still in full bloom. The 2015 cherry blossom season started three weeks earlier than usual so we could only hope to find the very last blooms.
Sakura cherry blossoms
Cherry blossoms are so extraordinarily pretty up close.
Sakura cherry blossom soft serve
We drowned our sorrows in a sakura cherry blossom soft serve, not as tasty as the one we had in Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa that incorporate real cherry blossom petals.
But it was still worth a photo anyway.
Pork belly and leek skewers
Dinner that night was at a local izakaya on our way to the Mount Hakodate ropeway. This was a tiny establishment run by a gently nodding but camera-shy Japanese elderly couple. There were no English menus and they could only speak Japanese, but we managed to order enough to fill our bellies while we watched Premier League football on their tiny TV.
Tsukune chicken mince skewers
Ox tongue skewers
Each skewer was cooked over gently glowing charcoals. These ox tongue skewers were so deliciously tender.
Asparagus wrapped in bacon
And I'm definitely going to have to recreate these bacon-wrapped asparagus skewers at my next barbecue. The bacon was terrifically smoky.
Cheese sticks wrapped in bacon
These were plastic cheese sticks - the kind the parents pack in kids lunchboxes - but even these were transformed into unparalleled tastiness with the addition of bacon and a lick of charcoal.
Spicy noodle soup
We finished up with a spicy noodle soup, just the thing we needed to warm us up before we spilled out again into the night.
Ramen noodles in the spicy soup
Night lights from the top of Mount Hakodate
I don't think anyone of us will forget the steep walk up to the Mount Hakodate ropeway entrance (it felt like a 45-degree angle hill that went on for five blocks) but the view from the top of the ropeway was worth it. Swinging in the cable car as it gently trundled up and down the ropeway was pretty exhilarating too.
Seafood rice 398 yen/AU$4.40
One of our last meals was at Tsubohachi Izakaya, a random find in a back alley not far from our hotel. Each group gets a private room with sliding doors - shoes are left at the front door. It's designed for people to mostly drink and have snacks on the side but we ate plenty here and eased up on the alcohol.
Salmon belly sashimi 432 yen/AU$4.75
Grilled squid 537 yen/AU$5.90
Squid, a specialty here, should definitely be ordered wherever possible. This was so fresh and tender.
Pork belly skewers 399 yen/AU$4.40
Deep fried marinated young chicken 604 yen/AU$6.60
Finger lickin' good.
Pork leg on rice 475 yen/AU$5.25
Saba mackerel 537 yen/AU$5.90
Calbee Jagabee chips with nori salt
Random Japanese snacks I picked up included Jagabee chips by Calbee, like super crunchy french fries. These were dusted in nori seaweed salt. Super addictive.
Peanut Pocky sticks
And these peanut Pocky sticks with Peanuts characters on the box! These were less peanut butter and more like a peanut cream as promised.
Crab at the supermarket from 633 yen/AU$6.90
Crab is super cheap here. We found these crabs at the supermarket for about AU$7 each.
Hokkaido butter with Royal Bread
And because I couldn't leave without eating Hokkaido butter, I nabbed this handy butter stick from the supermarket to slather on thick doorstops of fluffy white bread. Best supper ever.
Mont Blanc chestnut dessert and chocolate mousse cake
We also raided our hotel's pastry shop for this Mont Blanc chestnut dessert and chocolate mousse cake. Dessert party a-go.
Nama Chocolate by Royce 756 yen/AU$8.30
And while in Hokkaido, you have to buy Nama Chocolate, just because it's so cheap compared to prices in Australia. These squares of chocolate ganache are so light in the mouth.
We also managed to snaffle some catchcakes from Snaffles. These cheesecakes are famous in Hakodate, with branches now open in Sapporo and Singapore. We were a little cynical about these until we ate them - they're like the lightest cloud melting on your tongue. Would definitely hunt these down again.
Catching the local bus to Matsumae Castle
But we still remained determined to find cherry blossoms and Matsumae Castle offered our best chance of seeing the final blooms. More than 10,000 cherry trees have been planted here since 1916 and the trees are known for having a long blooming season. We bit the bullet and took the two hour journey by public transport - one hour by train and one hour by local bus.
Tetrapods along the coastline
The bus was a scenic journey, especially as we travelled along the coast and through local neighbourhoods. These tetrapods were new to me but apparently they're found along the majority of the Japanese coastline to prevent land erosion.
Sakura cherry blossoms
We were nervous that our two-hour journey would be in vain, but there they were... cherry blossoms!
Carpet of sakura cherry blossoms
Matsumae Castle, a concrete reconstruction built in the 1960s
Pink sakura cherry blossoms
White sakura cherry blossoms
Avenue of sakura cherry trees in bloom
There really is nothing more magical than standing beneath a cherry tree as cherry blossoms float down around you. It's like a sigh of pink snow flakes.
Sakura cherry trees in bloom
Sakura cherry blossoms in front of Matsumae Castle
Picnic under a sakura cherry blossom tree
Experiencing cherry blossoms in Japan - tick.
Squid and scallop bento meal and Hokkaido milk pudding from the airport shop
And so we loaded ourselves onto the plane for our final stop: Tokyo. My plane meal was this handy obento box I picked up the airport convenience store, a bonanza of squid, scallop and octopus. I also picked up this Hokkaido milk pudding which had a bitter caramel sauce on the bottom. Even better, I made sure to keep the glass so I had dessert and a souvenir. Score!
>> Read the next Japan 2015 post: Tokyo fruit cream sandwiches and Maisen katsusando
<< Read the first Japan 2015 post: Toyama black ramen and firefly squid
Japan 2015: Toyama > Kanazawa > Nagano > Kyoto > Nara > Osaka > Kobe > Kagoshima > Hakata > Hiroshima and Miyajima Island > Sapporo > Otaru > Hakodate > Tokyo
Asaichi Shokudo Makoto Yasube
9-15 Wakamatsu-cho, Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan
(in the Donburi Yokocho arcade alongside Hakodate Morning Market)
Tel: +81 (0138) 264 404
Open daily 6am-4pm (closed Wednesdays)
9-19 Wakamatsu-cho, Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan
(1 minute walk from Hokkaido Station)
Tel: +81 (0120) 858 313
Opening daily 6am-2pm (from 5am May - December)
5-13 Matsukazecho, Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan
3-8 Matsukazecho, Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan
Tel: +81 (0138) 832 388
Open nightly 5pm-12am
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1/03/2016 03:16:00 am