Considering Sapporo is a little short of sights I though a short 45 minute train ride to the small coastal city of Otaru would help prevent monotony setting in. Otaru is what I imagine Alaska looks like, a coastline hugging city caressing the bay, complete with a lightly industrialised fishing port, functional buildings that lack much finesse filling the bulk of the town outside off the historic centre, snow scattered hills and mountains rising steeply back from the harbour side.
I got off the train a few stops before Otaru I thought a brisk walk in the cool sea air would be just the thing to build an appetite for lunch. I enjoyed walking through the outer reaches of the city, past the small industrial units, seeing the pleasure craft moored in the harbour, past the ramshackle houses, and the nice ones, dillying at a temple and dallying through a shop or two, Otaru is an approachable place, most enjoyable in the spring sunshine.
I saw little of the Meiji era development until I came closer to Otaru station, on reflection there was some, but it was hard to make out the turn of the century design aesthetic until I had seen more of it. Down by the canal side and along Sakaimachi St there was plenty of it, it was easy to see the Northern European and American influence upon the buildings, the harsh cold climate here lending towards the need for heavy stone work and strong wood panelling, the Japanese design easily distinguishable.
Otaru’s small and well-formed fish market near the central station put Sapporo’s to shame when it came to crab, at under a hundred meters and with only the one narrow thoroughfare this crammed market was heaving with diners and shoppers, eager to buy tubs of sea urchin eggs and to select and eat the live crabs, available in their hundreds from any one of the huge tanks, there must have been two dozen tanks lining the market parade.
I didn’t want to eat my lunch crammed into the market like one of the crabs in the tanks, nor did I want to have a full restaurant lunch experience. The brusque canteen like service that delivered my lunch really was about perfect, enough care that the plates didn’t clunk on the table but not enough care to come back for a second drink order.
I really enjoyed it, the snow crab onigiri giving me a chance to eat some more wonderful crab, but without having to extract it from a crab myself. The mackerel onigiri was described as “of the taste of grilled vinegar” judging by the taste I was lightly soused and glazed with a blow torch, with a little wasabi and a little soy and a little ginger between pieces to clear the palate, it all delivered a slice of sushi heaven.
I had been meaning to have a sushi bowl for some time, this being sushi rice topped with sashimi and eaten like a rice dish rather than a sushi dish, I couldn’t face that much raw fish, I like sashimi, just not the portion sizes that these bowls delver. The mini kani don, a small version of the aforementioned sushi bowl was perfect topped with local crab and a little salmon roe. Perfect!
Then from the charcoal grill, the reasons I was happy to welcome the nonchalant service, came char grilled king crab legs and char grilled prawns. Damn I was happy, the blackened spots on the shells, the light blistering, that charred crustacean smell. Then the brilliance of peeling the sweet succulent flesh from the shell, I can admit I wished for garlic butter, but was content with a little dunk of soy and skerrick of ginger. In spite of the moist scented napkins I struggled to remove the scent from my fingers until the following day, I don’t mind it is a reminder of an appetite well spent.