30 October 2013

Summer in Sapporo Part One - Susukino streets, Cheeza and Chu Hi

Sapporo in Japan's cold north is a popular winter destination attracting tourists worldwide for world class skiing and the ice sculpture festival. So we go in summer...

We're drawn to Sapporo for it's size, it's a small city by Japanese standards with just a couple of million souls. We spend a week here pootling around and eating. There's not really any attractions in Sapporo so we couldn't necessarily recommend visiting in summer, unless you just want to escape the sweltering wet heat of Tokyo. We enjoyed it, but we're a bit mad.

Sapporo is famous for it's food. In episode 1 of Destination Flavour Japan, TV chef Adam Liaw reckons Sapporo has 69 Michelin starred eating holes, of which we went to none. Our eating ambitions were downmarket as always, but if we were in town longer we would have explored restaurants a little higher up the food chain. Mid-level dining seems more approachable in Sapporo than in other Japanese cities we've been to. We saw many restaurants that looked hip and welcoming that were on the street level, whereas in Tokyo for example, you would have to head up an elevator to have a look, then feel obliged to stay. That's if you know where to go in the first place. In Sapporo however there were loads of mid-level restaurants around the Susukino area that looked fantastic.

On our short visit we were mainly interested in ramen and soup curry, which we will cover in later posts. In this post we just want to give an idea of what Sapporo is like in summer.

Alison finds a special for a killer room at the Mercure Sapporo that averages out at $80 per night. We usually stay at backpacker joints but in Japan hotels are often the better deal.

A welcome note from Satan?

There's the appearance of bright-lights-big-city around the nightlife centre of Susukino. It's a fun area with plenty of restaurants and all the girly-bar stuff is easy to avoid.

Sapporo is a laid back kind of town. It's flat and gridded with wide streets which makes it pleasant to wander around. This quiet scene is only a block away from the busy nightlife hub of Susukino. Walk a couple more blocks and you're in suburbia.

Sapporo's suburbia is as spectacularly boring as any in Japan. In winter it gets prettied up by snow, in summer it's all bitumen and concrete. But that's ok with us. We have a fascination with Japanese suburbia that we can't quite explain. We just love putting on our shoes and walking in a random direction away from the city.

Wander the suburbs and you always find something interesting or beautiful hidden amongst the concrete and convenience stores. There's some gorgeous houses and gardens and the odd leafy suburb amidst the Legoland.

It's the little things that make us love Japan so much. When it comes to civil niceties, Japan is a country that's got all it's ducks in a row.

Sapporo is the Adelaide of Japan - great food, wide streets, one tram line, a statue of a guy pointing, the odd old building, and not a lot to do.

We loved the underground walkways. You can get all the way from Sapporo station to Susukino via underground walkways lined with shops and restaurants.

We even found a shopfront cooking school in one of these underground walkways.

There's a long covered walking street above ground that's a stretches across a few blocks in the opposite way to the underground walkway. It's good place to hunt for food day or night.

Sapporo is livened up in summer by the Sapporo Beer Festival, a huge lagerfest in Odori Park in the centre of town. There's 13,000 seats, nearly all of them occupied. There's several areas, each set up by a different beer company.  Everybody from students to nanna is out having a beer or five on a Tuesday night. Man we love Japan.

What is most amazing is that with 13,000 folks drinking large quantities beer there's no security, no police, and no trouble. In Australia there'd be cops, violence and loud messy emotional arguments between people called Shayne and Brianna. And if that's not amazing enough, with 13,000 there was barely a queue for the toilets. We wonder if the ancient Samurai warrior tradition includes the ability to hold in wee-wee.

For festival times check here: http://www.city.sapporo.jp/keizai/kanko/event/event_english.html

This frozen beer looked gimmicky be we had to give it a go, it was surprisingly excellent. It's kind of like beer slushy on top of regular beer. The frozen beer was frosty and creamy and darn delicious.

Ever wonder what food you would find at a Japanese beer festival? Probably not, but here's the menu anyway.

More beer festival food. It looks alright in the pictures but the food we saw on people's table looked pretty average. We saved our stomachs for ramen.

Booze menu.

We find another open air beer garden under the TV Tower in Odori park.

A block away from 13,000 beer guzzlers and the town is dead quiet, until you hit the nightlife zone of Susukino. It was also the start of the Bon Festival, an unofficial holiday time so perhaps it extra super quiet.

This bar in Susukino is one of the the very few bars we could find to sit outside, even in the warmer summer weather. It's on the main street across from the Mecure so it was easy to find.

Groovy interior.

Cold cucumber snackages.

Lemon chuhai and a black Hoppy beer for the lady.

Dinner was DIY on a charcoal grill. Squid, small salty fish and pork bits.

If we had more time we would have been all over this Singaporean restaurant. What could Japanese Singaporean food be like?

There were a surprising number of Italian restaurants in Sapporo, some of them looked fantastic. Wish we had time to try that sucker as well...

Another place, another drink. Scallop snacks with our beer, you can nibble on seafood snacks in bars too. Much better than crisps.

Some things were better left uneaten. The Garlic Meat Beast from Burger King. Eeesh.

Another wonderful creation from fast food chain, Mos Burger. A witty caption just fails us here, the photo is enough.

And here. Mister Donut curry pan. Looks like a curry filled deep fried donut, kind of like a curry cronut.

We had time for in hotel room snacks though. Cheeza cheese flavoured cracker biscuits are awesome. They are available in various cheesey strengths, these are (allegedly) 53% cheese. They taste like, um, cheese.

65% Cheeza. Only addiction can follow.

Another convenience store find was sushi topped Devon, Fritz, Baloney or whatever cheap processed meat-like substance is called in your neck of the woods. This tasted way better than it should.

Mr Shawn is hooked on girly drinks: lemon chuhai, which is kind of like vodka and lemon, it's sweet but not to sweet and a heartstarting 6% alcohol, or stronger. Miss Chicken digs the Asahi dry black beer, think Toohey's Old with added class. The Asahi Red Eye was sparkling alcoholic  tomato juice, a weird variation on a bloody mary. We scored this collection from the supermarket near Susukino subway station.

Alison had found lots of recommendations that we must try 'Gengis Kan' in Sapporo. We had passed this place in the Shopping Street a few times and decided to try our lamby luck.

Upstairs from the mall, the interior is quite plain. Note raincoats on hangers so you can cover up your jackets in case they get infused with BBQ.

All you can eat option looks interesting, but we are not that hungry.

All you can drink could be good too, but for once we aren't that thirsty!

Some handy instructions on how to go about cooking your dinner.

We go for a set menu at 1000 yen each, a selection of three meats, carrots, zucchini, potato and onion, two spools of yellow noodles and what seems like an extraordinary amount of bean sprouts.

It all works a little differently to a Korean BBQ style. The plate is circular with a trench around the outside that holds a mix of sauce (soy and mirin?) that boils around the base of the plate. We cooked some of the vegetables in the boiling sauce before putting them on the grill plate and had some softly cooked.

The meat is a thick cut and already seasoned lightly in a salty, sticky sauce. It doesn't need to cook for a long time, rare is a little better. Pile in the bean sprouts to get them soft, you'll be needing them soon.

Once the meat has cooked, add a little sesame and chilli powder to the bits in your bowl as you please. No need for any more soy, its salty enough. The hot plate will have a lot of meaty goodness stuck to it. Don't let it burn, pile on the par cooked bean sprouts and noodles to make a meat juice flavoured yakisoba for your final assault.

You can order extras of fresh egg to crack into the round circle of meat and veg to make a volcano egg or order cheese to melt over the lot like hot cheesy lava. Mixed with kimchi, the mix of chilli and vinegar and cheese is an umami bomb.

All up the Genghis Khan cost about 3000 yen for two. Jin Jin is in the covered shopping street, there's so much more food to explore there. Many hotels have their entrances in the covered area, makes a lot of sense when it's snowing.

We love Japan!


  1. I also still can't believe how polite drunken Japanese people are.

    Was in Osaka once and there was a drunk guy vomiting, and generally making a nuisance out of himself. He was flanked by about 8 of his friends, and they were making a cordon around him to make sure he doesn't bother the other pedestrians. One of his friends even made sure that he vomited correctly in the gutter.

    Won't see that happening in Australia...

  2. I have to say that the information here was the most complete that I found anywhere. I am definitely bookmarking this to come back and read later.


Thanks for your comment joy - please keep your musings happy - if you want to complain about a restaurant please do it on a restaurant review site (or your own blog) - we're all about celebrating cultural diversity and the great eats that come along with it :-)

Our ethics: We pay for all our own meals and travel (though sometimes Mum shouts us).