hokkaido: spring 2017

One of the things I enjoy most is travel writing and sharing all the odd- and loved-spots I find hidden in city corners.  I bring you a post on a recent trip to HOKKAIDO a.k.a cheese/milk (all things dairy) heaven and scenic wonderland.

My first visit to Japan in 2010 was Tokyo-centric and I’d been wanting to explore its other islands ever since.  Did someone say soft-serve?  Before I leap into the holiday-limited world of work in about a years’ time, my very wonderful mum has made it a point that all holidays are utilised well until then and put together our Hokkaido road-map for the first two weeks of May.  Foodie and sight-seeing details were happily filled in by yours truly.

The result?  Holding true to my high expectations for Japan, the trip likely topped the list of most enjoyable travel experiences.  While our itinerary was not perfect … (what itinerary is on a first visit?)… Hokkaido brought many hidden surprises, finds and I learnt that you can never really go ‘wrong’ with food choices.  Any ramen/sushi/katsu eatery is likely to leave you feeling happy so my advice would be just to go with the flow if (1) you can’t find that ramen bar rated #1 on trip advisor; (2) there’s a ridiculously long line at that cafe rated #1 on trip advisor; or (3) all the restaurants you want to try after serial instragam stalking are closed outside ski season.

So, here are the highs, lows and everything in-between of our trip to Hokkaido (with the ‘tl;dr tip’ being integrated in of course).  Fair warning: quite a substantial amount of time will be spent on the road, driving between the prefectures.  Take this time to enjoy the scenery and spontaneous photo opportunities.

The boring part.

From Singapore, unless you ‘Scoot’ to Hokkaido, your journey requires a short transit in Tokyo (Haneda or Narita).  Arriving in Haneda, we had to pass through immigration, collect or check-in bags before taking a bus to the domestic terminal and dropping off our bags at the transfer counter within about 1.5 hours.

tl;dr travel tip: When booking your flight, to avoid any stress arising from flight delays/luggage collection etc ensure you have about 2 to 3 hours before the connecting flight.  (Although the airline is unlikely to package their flights in such a way that you’d miss the connecting flight, the extra 0.5 hour or so will give you the peace of mind)

Rusutsu

Upon arriving in Chitose, we took a 1.5 – 2 hour drive to Rusutsu, which in winter, turns into a ski village.  So unfortunately, off-peak season meant that most eateries were closed.  However, Rusutsu is an ideal centralised location as it is only around 20 minutes drive to more well-known locations like Niseko and Lake Toya.

tl;dr travel tip: do try and get that beauty sleep in on the flight so that you can make the drive.

Niseko

We were surprised to find Niseko rather desolate during off-peak season.  Luckily, the must-tries were still open.

Milk Kobo
888-1 Soga, Abuta-gun, Niseko-cho 048-1522, Hokkaido
Tel: 0136-44-3734 / FAX:0136-44-3734
Open: 9:30 to 18:00

FOR: All things dairy

MUST TRIES: Cheese Tart, Milk Gelato, Souffle

Prativo

This scenic restaurant is just next door to the deliciousness which is Milk Kobo.  For part of the year they only open for lunch but from mid-May onwards there is a dinner service as well.

tl;dr travel tip: if you’re hoping for a more lively Niseko, then either visit during winter (for ski bunnies) or the summer season.  I did more research online to find that many restaurants close during the Spring season.

Fukidashi Park

Photographs say it all.  Fukidashi Park is known for pristine spring water and locals are known to bring jerry cans to bring back water to their homes or restaurants for cooking.

tl;dr travel tip: take as many photos as you can and stop by a coffee hut located just before you descend the hill to the spring for coffee brewed using water from the source!

Lake Toya

This was easily, one of the prettiest lakes I have ever seen.  Although we didn’t stay at Lake Toya, it is quite a popular tourist spot and I can see why, if you have the time to kick back and relax for a few days.

We had an uber satisfying Japanese brunch at Sendoan before heading to Noboribetsu to check out Hell Valley – volcanic sulfur mines; and returning for the last afternoon cruise on the lake.

As most of the restaurants close by 5pm, we stumbled upon a small local cafe, Boyotei, with rickety interiors and serving up a delicious hamburger steak and mac & cheese.

Sendoan
144 Toyakoonsen, Toyako, Abuta District, Hokkaido Prefecture 049-5721, Japan (2F of Wakasaimo)
Tel: 0120-211-850
Open: 11:00 – 19:00

FOR: Scallop Sashimi, Rice Bowls, Unagi and Katsu

Boyotei
36 Tōyakoonsen, Tōyako-chō, Abuta-gun, Hokkaidō 049-5721, Japan
Tel: 
+81 142-75-2311
Open: 11:00 – 21:00

FOR: Hamburger Steak and anything gratin

Lake Hill Farm
for Cheesecake, Gelato and photo opportunity with a cute goat.
Japan, 〒049-5724 Hokkaido Prefecture, Abuta District, 洞爺湖町Hanawa, 127
Tel: +81 142-83-3376
Open: 09:00 – 18:00

Otaru

This is a quaint town described as the Venice of Japan, albeit more tourist dense than Niseko and Furano, which I wish we had more time to explore.  The main street, Sakaimachi, boasts the flagship store for LeTao and its spin-offs i.e. LeChocolat.  If you are unacquainted with all things LeTao, think cheesecake, cheese biscuits, jersey milk soft-serve and add the word FAMED to that description while you’re at it.  Also, this is where sushi lovers can come together and hold hands around the table.

LeTao PATHOS
5-22 Sakaimachi, Otaru City, Hokkaido
Tel: 0134-31-4500
Open: 09:00 – 18:00

LeChocolat
4-19 Sakaimachi, Otaru City, Hokkaido, 047-0027
Tel: 0134-31-4511
Open: 09:00 – 18:00

FOR: Chocolate Soft-Serve

tl;dr travel tip: if you want time for your food to digest between food-hopping, allocate at least one day to exploring the streets of Otaru. Also, don’t feel desponded if you can’t purchase every single LeTao item as the store readily provides small samples for customers!

Furano

At the foot of beautiful mountains, this ski village was one of our favourite pit-stops.  This may be due to my weird enjoyment of strolling through local supermarkets (of which there were plenty) after dinner. For others, it’d be strolling through the ski fields on a crisp morning. However, there is of course much more to love.

Furano Cheese Factory
〒076-0025 Hokkaidō, Furano-shi, 日の出町Hinodemachi, 3−22
Tel: 0167-39-2345
Open: 11.30 – 23:00

FOR: Wood Fire Pizza; Squid-Ink Cheese

Yuiga Doxon -唯我独尊
〒070-0035 Hokkaidō, Asahikawa-shi, 5 Jōdōri, 7 Chome−右6
Tel: +81 166-22-4604
Open: 13:00 – 22:00 (Closed Monday)

FOR: Omu-Rice in an assuming cottage.

Furano Marche – Farmer’s Market
Japan, 〒076-0024 Hokkaido Prefecture, Furano, 幸町13−1
Tel: +81 167-22-1001

FOR: buying fresh fruits; local snacks; food stalls

Farm Tomita
Japan, 〒071-0704 Hokkaido Prefecture, Sorachi District, Nakafurano, 基線北15号
Tel: +81 167-39-3939
Open: 08:30 – 17:00

FOR: Lavender Soft-Serve <3; Lavender/Melon Soft-Serve

Kumagera
Tel: 0167-39-2345
Open: 11.30 – 23:00

FOR: Shabu Shabu; Beef Sashimi Rice

tl;dr travel tip: if you want some beautiful scents and views at Farm Tomita, Lavender season is normally around late June (which we just missed!).

Sapporo

A peaceful Tokyo, Sapporo was crowned my favourite Hokkaido pit-stop.  Be prepared for an ‘eat your heart out Anthony Bourdain’ experience. You’ll spend a majority of your time walking and eating

Nijo Fish Market
4-4 Minami 2-jo Nishi Chuo-ku, Sapporo 060-0062, Hokkaido
Tel: 
+81 11-206-9900
Open: 9:30 to 18:00

Head here for one (or multiple) bowls of Chirashi, scallops and all things seafood.  I’d recommend arriving just before the lunch crowd (ahem… queue) hits as even then the main restaurant is already full.

Note: If you’re staying at the Mercure, there is a free shuttle bus to the market.

Kinotoya

  • Shops (there are many) – Japan, 〒060-0806 Hokkaido Prefecture, Sapporo, Kita Ward, Kita 6 Jonishi, 3 Chome, JR札幌駅
    Open: 09:00 – 22:00
  • Cafe – 4 Chome-7 Kita 5 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture 060-0005, Japan
    Tel: +81 11-252-6161
    Open: 10:00 – 20:00

FOR: Cheese Tarts; CHEESE SOFT SERVE

Note: Kinotoya’s cafe at Daimaru food basement has a wider range of cakes but if you’re just after the cheese tart then grab one to go from the station.  Be careful though, as they SELL OUT before closing!!

Kanon Pancakes
5 Chome-5-18 Kikusui 3 Jo, Shiroishi Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture 003-0803, Japan
Tel: +81 11-556-0141
Open: 11:00 – 17:00

A pancake fiend cannot leave Japan without savouring their signature pancake goodness.  So,  to the glee of my pancake dreams, we celebrated Mothers’ Day at a local gem, Kanon Pancakes.  

As the menu was in Japanese, we referred to Instagram for some guidance and decided upon a simple Banana & Caramel; and Matcha Pancake.  Also, I have a feeling we were the only non-locals in the entire cafe!!

Note: Be prepared to wait as Kanon is definitely a favourite with the locals.

Noymond Organic Cafe

I have to give a shout-out to Noymond Cafe, which I stumbled across in a beautiful corner building in the city and immediately made it my life’s mission to try its Houjicha Gelato.  After, being introduced to houjicha at Tolido’s I developed a slight obsession with its smoky flavour, which makes matcha seem a little dull.  Although the colour may seem a little off-putting, this gelato was … I can’t really find the words… but just magical.

Ramen Alley

<< r a m e n a l l e y >> pt 2 • the ramen story •

A post shared by M I N G . (@helloitsming) on

(scroll through for a ramen story)

Ramen Alley boasts quaint shops with benches built around an arena of flying noodles, chopped spring onion and tamago eggs.  On our final day we chanced upon a fantastic stall with a chef bearing a very wide grin.

Sapporo Engine
4-4 Minami 2-jo Nishi Chuo-ku, Sapporo 060-0062, Hokkaido Tel: +81 11-206-9900
Open: 11:00 – 23:00

Alternatively, head to Tanukikoji and find Sapporo Engine where the broth in your ramen is flame-torched to provide some unique smokiness. While exploring the ‘Chromes’ in Tanukikoji you’ll most likely end up snacking on some crepes or soft-serve.

GoTsubo
4 Chome Minami 6 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan Tel: +81 11-551-7220
Open: 18:00 – 02:00

Arrive before 6pm and slurp away on the best (and cheapest) grilled oysters you will ever taste.  There will be a wait and it is 99% likely that you will be eating at the shop window but it is 100% worth it.

Streamer Coffee Company
4F-Center, SAPPORO STELLAR PLACE, 2 Chome Kita 5 Jonishi, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture 060-0005, Japan
Tel: +81 11-209-5159
Open: 10:00 to 21:00

(scroll through for some epic latte pours)

I don’t think I’d be the first to say that a good old black coffee in Hokkaido are beautiful.  This is likely owed to their slow filtering process which circumvents any bitterness from a traditional coffee machine.

On the other hand, there is a plethora of wonderful coffee creations involving matcha, hojicha and sakura.  We headed to Streamer in search of the famous military latte.  I would have loved the matcha to come out a little more but watching them bring together all the elements to achieve the military pattern was something else.

Also, around Daimaru Shopping Center and Stellar Place there is an abundance of restaurants which I sadly did not have the time or stomach space to try!!

tl;dr travel tip:
1. save some money to splurge on food by forgoing car rental and make full use of your feet and train for locomotion.
2. find yourself a Mister Donut store and savour a Japanese (baked not fried) donut paired with 7/11 coffee for breakfast to tide you over early morning hunger pangs (save your stomach for the rest of the day)

New Chitose Airport

As our flight out of Hokkaido was in the evening, we headed to New Chitose Airport about 5 hours early for last minute shopping.  Yes, (1) don’t be surprised when you are greeted with every single possible type of savoury and sweet imaginable at the airport; and (2) if you missed out on buying or trying on one of your pit-stops it is very likely that you’ll be able to make up for it before you leave.

Also, there is an area called Royce Chocolate World…

tl;dr travel tip: travel to the airport by the limousine bus usually found near major hotels and bring an empty trolley bag for all the goods that you will inevitably buy before departure #yolo.

So comes an end to this extremely lengthy Hokkaido recap – that’s all there is, there isn’t anymore (cue Madeline theme song).

Ming x

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