Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Of Ghost Towns and Butadon Pork - a Tokachi Specialty in Hirosaki (Aomori Prefecture)

A rice ball of shredded dry kelp and Hidaka Kelp for 228 yen.

I was lost for two hours, navigating the deserted streets of remote Hirosaki, this city at the northern end of Honshu, the Japanese mainland. From its castle grounds, I took the wrong exit and couldn't find my way back. What's worse, there were absolutely no one walking the streets. I was in a set of a post-apocalyptic movie. 

When it was dark and chilly, I finally stood in front of my hotel, Toyoko Inn Hirosaki. My stomach was doing somersaults. I knew I should nourish myself first because once inside the comforts of my room, I'd fall into a deep, dreamless slumber.

Fukufukuya Hirosaki Ekimae restaurant was conveniently beside my hotel's entrance. They had photos of food, including that of the Butadon Pork, a Tokachi specialty (from across the sea in alluring Hokkaido). Its Donburi Rice Bowl costs a measly 598 yen. I added a rice ball that looked interesting - Shredded Dry Kelp and Hidaka Kelp for 228 yen. 

Once inside, I took my shoes off, deposited them in a locker, then walked with my socks on to pick a table. It was either a tatami matted-cubicle or a tall table cubicle with sliding doors. I chose the latter so I could enjoy my Japanese dinner in private. Besides, the table across mine was having a rowdy good ole time. My order took a little longer than expected but I wasn't in a rush. 

As for the Butadon, the relation between Tokachi (a coastal subprefecture in Hokkaido) and pigs, according to its pioneer Benzo Yoda, has been longstanding and is considered indispensable to the lives of the locals. 

Little Piece of History from Botejyu

Butadon or pork bowl is a local specialty of Obihiro in Tokachi consisting of a bowl of rice topped with pork simmered in a mildly sweet sauce. Shuji Abe, a local restaurateur, was credited for creating the Butadon in 1933. 

Butadon is pork bowl which uses locally bred pork. It was conceived to provide accessible food for everyone to keep them warm during Tokachi’s brutal winters. When researching “what kind of flavor would be palatable to the mass”, they decided it should be soy sauce-based as this was close to the popular “Unadon (eel bowl)” taste that Japanese people love so much. There you go.

Kombu (Kelps)

Kelp harvest in Hokkaido. This photo only courtesy of www.japantimes.co.jp
Meanwhile, most of Japan's kombu is harvested in Hokkaido, accounting for around 90% of all production. 

The sea ice that drifts over to Hokkaido from Siberia is rich in minerals and provides an environment that produces delicious kombu. 

Hidaka-Kombu is good for both making broth and eating (simmered in soy sauce). It is soft, easy to boil and tasty. It is also known as mitsuishi-kombu. Fukufukuya provided me the opportunity to taste Hidaka Kelp. 

How authentic can you get.

Fukufukuya Hirosaki Ekimae restaurant

Natural Hidaka konbu from Hokkaido. They are stewed and eaten. This photo only from global.rakutten.com.