If you noticed that I didn’t mention food in the previous post, you’d be right. That was because I decided to dedicate an entire post to food in Otaru! I don’t think Otaru is particularly known for its food scene, but the meals we shared in Otaru were anything but boring. As we were staying at a hostel, we prepared simple breakfast both mornings and had the chance to talk to the students who ran the hostel while we were eating in the common room. This left us with four dine-out meals – two lunches and two dinners.
We arrived in Otaru in the evening and wanted to head straight to our accommodation, but not before eating dinner because we were hungry!! It was super cold outside, so we decided to find somewhere near the hostel and grab a quick bite, whatever it was. Turns out that there was a yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) place nearby, so we wasted no time getting there. The place was called Daikichi Yakitori and the exterior looked…spooky? Hmmm…
We entered and were greeted by a server, who seated us by the counter. The restaurant was very small and cozy, being able to seat perhaps no more than 20 people. The owner and server spoke very little English, J and I spoke almost no Japanese (aside from the customary beginner’s phrases), and there was no English menu!! Hmm, this would be interesting and would require some coordination and a lot of pointing. As a result, we relied on Google Translate and educated guesses based on photos on the menu. We did realize, of course, that this was a restaurant specializing in grilled meat (mostly chicken), and we noticed later that there was a diagram on the wall that summarized exactly what part of the chicken each item referred to. Very helpful!!
So then J and I pointed to items on the menu and ordered a bunch of random stuff, some without knowing what the item was. Fingers crossed that they’d be good…and they were delicious!!! In fact, we liked the food so much that we went back to the same place on the second night, and it was the only restaurant during the entire trip that we went to TWICE! Minimum order was three sets per item, and our choices included (from both nights) but were not limited to: chicken thigh, chicken skin, pork belly, shiitake mushroom, green peppers, grilled potato, grilled chicken on rice, and tea-soaked rice.
On the second night, we were seated at a table as opposed to the counter on the first night. This seemed like quite a popular place among locals, what I imagined a typical izakaya would be like. The chef was the only one behind the counter and the server was his only helper. Even though we were unable to communicate efficiently, we really adored this old guy!
We invited the chef to join us for a photo on the second night, after the other diners have left and he was relatively free. I made sure I told him “honto ni oishii!” (meaning “really delicious!” in Japanese) before leaving the restaurant, and he was glad that we enjoyed the meals!
Now, onto the next meal – lunch. We were told that Otaru had some excellent sushi restaurants, and I had looked up some beforehand and shortlisted three conveyor belt restaurants. Not being able to choose wisely between them, I asked the students at the hostel for a recommendation, and one of them mentioned “Waraku”, which was one of my shortlisted options. Well then, no need to choose, Waraku it is! We arrived just at the right time to be seated – if we entered five minutes later, there would have been a 25-minute wait!
The conveyor belt sushi experience in Kyoto was unforgettable for me so I had pretty high expectations for this one. It was J’s first try at conveyor belt sushi, and while he found it a fun experience, he was not nearly as excited as I was. In total, we had 15 plates of various prices, but I’ve picked my top three as follows:
#3: egg & mayo gunkan! This was even a surprise for me because I don’t usually order it, but the sweet egg just dissolved in my mouth and it somehow became one of the highlights of the meal!
#2: unagi (grilled eel) sushi! This gem is a classic at any sushi meal and I certainly didn’t want to miss it in Otaru, where supposedly some of the best sushi in Hokkaido is found. Amazingness on a plate!
#1: fatty salmon belly!! The salmon belly was actually also my favourite last time I had conveyor belt sushi in Kyoto, and there’s a reason for it. The melt-in-your-mouth feeling is one of the best sensations ever, so much more enjoyable than regular salmon. I liked this so much that I wanted another plate, and after waiting for a while without seeing it on the conveyor belt, we asked the chef directly, only to find out that it was sold out!!! It was THAT good that even though it was on the expensive end, it was gone too soon. So then I got a plate of salmon belly (not fatty, slightly cheaper) and while it was still good, it was lacking that oh-my-goodness factor that the fatty salmon belly offered. Ultimate delight, indeed!
I’ll end this post with something that may seem too ordinary, but is anything but ordinary during a trip. First up is our final breakfast before departure. After his morning run, J returned with a bunch of stuff from the nearby supermarket (mini-croissants, apples, soy milk, instant noodles, cheese), which served as a meal in itself. Then, while waiting for the afternoon train to Sapporo, we got something very simple for lunch…a two-piece meal at KFC!! We almost never eat western-style fast food during our travels but this was one exception 😛 Then it was bye bye Colonel Sanders, bye bye Otaru!
Next up: Sapporo in two posts, with a must-have experience that was new to both J and I. Can you guess what it is??