Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost province, can feel distinctly remote:
Vladivostok lies to the west and the vast expanse of the Pacific to the east. The air redefines fresh while winters can get down to a nippy minus forty. Although officially endangered, enormous brown bears still roam the vast expanses, with an infamous hungry nine footer called Kesagake having entered the Japanese psyche after killing seven people.
Hokkaido’s greatest claim to fame in Japan however comes for the extraordinary quality and variety of its produce. In a true land of plenty, it is home to the finest ingredients from land and sea. You want the world’s most outrageous melon, costing up to US$150 each, as served at two-starred vegetarian temple Daigo in Tokyo? That’ll come from Yubari. A potato so good it is served as a starter at Musée in Sapporo? Mt Yoteizan. How about the uni (sea urchin), king crab and ikura (salmon roe) that almost bought Bourdain to tears? Try anywhere in the freezing waters off the coast. You get the picture.
Given this natural bounty, a breakfast jaunt to Nijo fish market in Hokkaido’s capital Sapporo is pretty much a guarantee of good eating. I pick a spot at random, a tiny space, eight seats total at two rickety tables with plastic red and white checked tablecloths, a map of Hokkaido’s seafood on the wall. One table with three lads, still smelling of sake and smoke after a long night out. Behind the counter, a rice steamer and two small fridges of the most mind-blowing seafood. That’s all the owner needs to deliver one of the great meals, a donburi rice bowl of the gods.
He gently paddles perfectly cooked rice into a black laquer bowl, adds the flesh from Hokkaido crab claws, a generous serving of Hokkaido sea urchin and a spoon of brilliant, vibrant, day-glo orange Hokkaido salmon roe.
There is almost no cooking involved in one of the most remarkable meals I’ve ever eaten. Just a symphony of utterly perfect produce, sourced from the market stalls next door, served with passion and pride. Hokkaido in a bowl. 8.5/10