A simple soba noodle soup is one of our most favourite breakfasts of all time. Will natto be a new contender to hold a place in our hearts?
On our first morning in Sapporo we walked all the way from Susukino to Sapporo station looking for a noodle shop to get a simple steaming bowl of noodles. Soba or udon, we weren't fussy, any would do. After seeing nothing but coffee stores, we headed underground near the main train station to see if hungry travellers meant noodle bars. Bingo.
Just as we turned the corner after the entrance we found this small stand run by two ladies. We had just learnt the Japanese characters for udon (うどん) and soba (そば), so using the ticket machine was a little easier. Next up is memorising tamago (egg, たまご) so we can get exactly the right dish.
Fresh made noodles hide under a just damp towel, the expert ladies take out just the right amount in your choice of udon or soba.
You stand up and eat your noodles and head off on your way.
Plain udon and plain soba, with just a small amount of chopped negi.
Next time we got a bit adventurous. Shawn spied a tempura fried prawn cake to add into his and Alison pressed a random button and ended up with soba with tempura sprinkles. They are kind of like rice bubbles, close enough for a regular breakfast topping then.
Also in the underground mall (near the bus station exit) we found a place called simply 'The Don'. Named after the famous Australian cricketer who was known for his love of a bowl of rice with toppings, of course.
We just made it to the end of the breakfast set time. Set menus are available at most eating places like cafes and diners, with breakfast going until about 10.30 or 11.00. Then the lunchtime set comes on with a different selection of food. Sets are usually great value and we try and take advantage of them when we can.
Shawn goes for a tuna bowl don with pickled radish and miso soup.
The tuna is a little pattie of mooshed up fresh tuna on a nest of rice and sprinkles of nori.
Alison decides that now is the time to try natto. Her only experience before was seeing Shawn almost throw up at a sushi train after grabbing a natto battleship and sticking it straight into his mouth. Oh how she laughed.
For those not in the natto know, natto is fermented soy beans that have a stringy, gooey texture from the bacteria used, and most famously a funky pungent smell. You mix it up with some soy and a little mustard and enjoy.
The breakfast set came with a little packet of rectangular pieces of seaweed, which you use to hold a little bit of rice and a little bit of natto and pop into your mouth.
After this, we mixed the just cooked egg into the bowl as well for some super slimy action. It then became really hard to eat with chopsticks so we slurped it out of the bowl with mouthfuls of rice in between. Although there was some smell, the taste was not really unpleasant and Alison will have it again if she can.
On another breakfast morning we headed in to Matsuya, a budget local diner which we have seen in many places across Japan.
These diners are not to be dismissed as junk food places, they serve up some reasonable food at cheap prices.
Alison is on a natto roll so orders the breakfast set with rice, pickled veg, raw egg and grated radish. A bounty of slimy and runny goodness.
The little pot of natto was covered in a circle of wax paper that revealed the stringy goodness below.
This looked and tasted like finely grated radish or perhaps a yam or nagaimo. Another slippery sucker.
Similar breaky with salted fish instead of natto. We love a fishy Japanese breakfast but it is surprisingly hard to find.
One of our last breakfasts we decided to enjoy a few different things from a combini in the underground walkway from Susukino to Sapporo station. We stopped here nearly every day to get a cheap black coffee which was passable and pleasant.
These stores (Seven 11, Family Mart, Seico) are far better than they should be. We saw a lot of people getting a quick feed from the fresh prepared selections and having a little impromptu picnic on the chairs outside and we joined them one day. Most of the portions are small, enough for one or two, and most weren't over 100yen.
We combined a few egg selections (tea boiled and tamogoyaki) with some cooked fish and some strings of what we think may have been konnyaku or shiritaki, a calorie-less jelly made from a plant called 'devil's tongue'. The fish was quite strongly flavoured (Shawn didn't realise he got two types) and we really should have had some rice as well to make it more traditional. Coffees optional, green tea would have been more fitting.
Breakfast in Japan is something that we find harder to find in the more traditional styles. The shift from miso, pickle, fish and rice is something that has been happening for some time, we saw more places to get coffee and toast than noodles or a set like we had here. It's also hard to find a breakfast set in Sydney, if anyone knows where we could eat like this we would love to know. In the meantime, we will have to try and eat it at as much as possible when we travel.
We love Japan.