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Sunday, January 03, 2016

Hakodate: Fishing for squid and the hunt for sakura cherry blossoms

Fishing for squid at Hakodate Morning Market

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 travel map around Japan from Tokyo to Hakodate
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 with squid
Hakodate decorative manhole covers

How could you not instantly love Hakodate at the sight of the these decorative manhole covers. So much cute!


Houran
Houran noodle house in Hakodate, Japan
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 at Houran noodle house in Hakodate, Japan
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 at Houran noodle house in Hakodate, Japan
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.

Yakisoba with seafood at Houran noodle house in Hakodate, Japan
Scallop and prawn on deep fried soba noodles


Hakodate Morning Market
Fishmongers at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
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.

Hokkaido crab stall at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
Hokkaido crab stall

Fresh sea urchin at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
Fresh sea urchin

Opening fresh sea urchin at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
Using a special tool to open the sea urchin

Green asparagus bunches at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
Asparagus bunches 350 yen/AU$3.85

White asparagus bunches at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
White asparagus pairs 600 yen/AU$6.60

Asahi rockmelons at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
Asahi rockmelons 4500 yen/AU$49.50 each

Asahi rockmelons are said to be the sweetest rockmelon variety available.

Fresh rockmelon wedges at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
Fresh rockmelon wedges 450 yen/AU$4.95

Squid ink soft serve ice cream at Hakodate Morning Market, Hokkaido
Squid ink soft serve 324 yen/AU$3.60

And even though our teeth were chattering, we still treated ourselves to a squid ink soft serve. There wasn't a strong squid ink flavour, although we did end up with black tongues!

Squid fishing game at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
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.

Tub with live squid at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
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.

Successfully catching a live squid at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
Successful catch after one minute

And hurrah! Success after about a minute.

Paparazzi capturing the squid fishing game at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
Paparazzi on standby 

A group of Japanese high school kids then swung by to try their luck.

School kids win the squid fishing game at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
Success after ten seconds

This first guy caught his in ten seconds.

Catching live squid in the fishing game at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
The kids were seriously good at this

And so did this guy.

Fishing for squid game at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
Too easy

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 
Asaichi Shokudo Makoto Yasube at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
Breakfast

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 from Asaichi Shokudo Makoto Yasube at Hakodate Morning Market, Japan
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.

Kaisendon sashimi set from Asaichi Shokudo Makoto Yasube at Hakodate Morning Market, Hokkaido
Kaisendon sashimi bowl 1500 yen/AU$16.50
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 sashimi scallop, squid, sea urchin roe and salmon roe set from Asaichi Shokudo Makoto Yasube at Hakodate Morning Market, Hokkaido
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.

Hokkaido sashimi scallop, squid, sea urchin roe and salmon roe set from Asaichi Shokudo Makoto Yasube at Hakodate Morning Market, Hokkaido
Glorious salmon roe

And you bet I popped each salmon roe egg one by one.

Grilled fish from Asaichi Shokudo Makoto Yasube at Hakodate Morning Market, Hokkaido
Grilled fish 

And if raw seafood isn't your thing, you can get the grilled fish rice set too.


Fort Goryokaku
Gardens at Fort Goryokaku, Hakodate, Hokkaido
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 at Fort Goryokaku, Hakodate, Hokkaido
Governmental hall of the Republic of Ezo

Sakura cherry blossom tree at Fort Goryokaku, Hakodate, Hokkaido
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 at Fort Goryokaku, Hakodate, Hokkaido
Sakura cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms are so extraordinarily pretty up close.

Sakura cherry blossom soft serve, Hakodate, Hokkaido
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.

Taking photos of the sakura cherry blossom soft serve, Hakodate, Hokkaido
Sakura-ception

But it was still worth a photo anyway.

Yamakawa Hokkaido milk in Hakodate, Hokkaido
Yamakawa Hokkaido milk

We did revel in another brand of Hokkaido milk, Yamakawa. Drinking as much Hokkaido milk as we can is a mission we undertake whenever we visit this island. Hokkaido milk is really another level of intense creaminess.

Pork belly and leek skewers at an izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
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 at an izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
Tsukune chicken mince skewers

Ox tongue skewers at an izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
Ox tongue skewers

Each skewer was cooked over gently glowing charcoals. These ox tongue skewers were so deliciously tender.

Asparagus wrapped in bacon skewers at an izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
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 skewers at an izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
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 at an izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
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.

Spicy ramen noodle soup at an izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
Ramen noodles in the spicy soup

Night lights from the top of Mount Hakodate, Hokkaido
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.


Tsubohachi Izakaya
Sashimi seafood on rice at Tsubohachi Izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
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 at Tsubohachi Izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
Salmon belly sashimi 432 yen/AU$4.75

Grilled squid at Tsubohachi Izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
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 at Tsubohachi Izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
Pork belly skewers 399 yen/AU$4.40

Deep fried marinated young chicken at Tsubohachi Izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
Deep fried marinated young chicken 604 yen/AU$6.60

Finger lickin' good.

Pork leg on rice at Tsubohachi Izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
Pork leg on rice 475 yen/AU$5.25

Saba mackerel at Tsubohachi Izakaya in Hakodate, Hokkaido
Saba mackerel 537 yen/AU$5.90

Calbee Jagabee chips with nori salt Japanese snacks
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 Japanese snacks
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.

Hokkaido crab at the supermarket in Hakodate, Japan
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 in Hakodate, Japan
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 in Hakodate, Japan
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, Hokkaido, Japan
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.

Snaffles catchcakes from Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan
Snaffles catchcakes

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 from Hakodate to Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, Japan
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 of Hokkaido, Japan
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 at Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, Japan
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 at Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, Japan
Carpet of sakura cherry blossoms

Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, Japan
Matsumae Castle, a concrete reconstruction built in the 1960s

Pink sakura cherry blossoms at Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, Japan
Pink sakura cherry blossoms

White sakura cherry blossoms at Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, Japan
White sakura cherry blossoms

Sakura cherry blossom trees at Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, Japan
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.

Tulips at Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, Japan
Tulips

Sakura cherry blossom trees at Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, Japan
Sakura cherry trees in bloom


Sakura cherry blossoms in front of Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, Japan
Sakura cherry blossoms in front of Matsumae Castle

Picnic under a sakura cherry blossom tree at Matsumae Castle in Hokkaido, Japan
Picnic under a sakura cherry blossom tree

Mission accomplished!

Experiencing cherry blossoms in Japan - tick.

Squid and scallop bento meal and Hokkaido milk pudding at Hakodate Airport, Japan
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)

Hakodate Morning Market
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)

Houran 
5-13 Matsukazecho, Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan
Tel: +81 (0138) 228 086

Tsubohachi
3-8 Matsukazecho, Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan
Tel: +81 (0138) 832 388
Open nightly 5pm-12am

16 comments - Add some comment love

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posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 1/03/2016 03:16:00 am


16 Comments:

  • At 1/03/2016 7:47 am, Anonymous John - heneedsfood said…

    The carpet of blossom petals is incredible, as was seeing how much sea urchin roe on those sashimi bowls. Delish!

     
  • At 1/03/2016 10:05 am, Anonymous ChopinandMysaucepan said…

    Dear Helen,

    I felt as though I was there in Hakodate. I would love to try raw squid that's so fresh but for now, I will have to settle for those frozens salmon belly sticks in my freezer for lunch.

     
  • At 1/03/2016 4:57 pm, Anonymous Berny @ I Only Eat Desserts said…

    Hooray to catching the cherry blossoms - they look so beautiful! I'm also really excited to try some cherry blossom soft serve when I'm in Japan this April :D

     
  • At 1/03/2016 9:26 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    ahahaha i want to go fishing for squid!

     
  • At 1/04/2016 4:06 pm, Anonymous Katherine said…

    The last time I went to Japan I wondered why fruit was so darn expensive, then my mum gave me a wedge of Asahi Rockmelon. It is indeed super sweet, in fact it was sickly sweet and I couldn't eat it all. Love your post Helen. Makes me miss Japan so much.

     
  • At 1/04/2016 4:55 pm, Blogger Ozark Cafe said…

    Hello,
    Very nice post about best restaurants..I loved all these yummy food items...Excellent post...Thank you too much.......

     
  • At 1/04/2016 5:44 pm, Blogger Qoo01 said…

    How good are those catch cakes? * drool *

     
  • At 1/04/2016 6:24 pm, Blogger retrodaze said…

    Wow, you have just given me serious seafood cravings!

     
  • At 1/05/2016 11:14 am, Blogger Cassie | Journey From Within said…

    I want the cheese sticks!!
    And having ice cream in the cold is so much cooler ;)
    Happy new year Helen xx

     
  • At 1/05/2016 5:33 pm, Anonymous Hotly Spiced said…

    The cherry blossoms are very pretty. I do love the man holes. And the fresh asparagus both green and white looks really good. But what's going on with the melon??? Is that right??? $49.50 for a melon? I thought Sydney prices were expensive xx

     
  • At 1/05/2016 9:14 pm, Blogger Ramen Raff said…

    Love your sakura shots! Def want that Kaisendon and I wanna fish for squid too! Hahaha

     
  • At 1/06/2016 4:06 pm, Anonymous Amanda @lambsearsandhoney said…

    Good lord, Helen - so much food!
    I do like the tank of little squid swimming around. I don't think I've ever seen them live before.
    I'm glad you finally found some cherry blossom, too.

     
  • At 1/06/2016 9:50 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    I love your Japan posts - such detail! :)

    PS I was recently gifted some nama chocolates from a friend who went to Japan on holiday - soooo creamy and delicious!

     
  • At 1/09/2016 10:47 am, Blogger sashimi_mimi said…

    I was in Hakodate Morning Market just after you; the fishing lines for the squid aren't baited, you're really just jagging, ie. trying to hook the squid's flesh on the sharpness of the hook. I saw lots of squid get jagged and fall off the hook, ripping their flesh badly. Felt quite sorry for them.

     
  • At 1/20/2016 9:35 pm, Blogger irene said…

    Oh the finger butter is such a great idea!!

     
  • At 1/27/2016 11:24 pm, Anonymous Sara | Belly Rumbles said…

    I am yet to do the sakura and get a tick :( One day!

    I made sure I was on a plane on the 1st January, just in case the saying is correct ;)

     

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