The day has finally come. A day that marks the beginning of my quest to Hokkaido, Japan. The seafood. My scheduled visit to Nijo Market left me excited and craving for what goodies there were to come. It has been a long time since I enjoyed sea urchin fresh from the shell or even my long, memorable experience of tucking in to prawn sashimi that was just caught out off the tank. Said to have over a 100 years in its current location, Nijo Market is one of the places for gourmands to be at.
For over a 100 years, Nijo market has served the fresh seafood needs of locals and tourists alike. Said to have developed during the early years of the Meiji period, Nijo Market started when Ishikari Bay fishermen started selling their fresh catch together. From Nishi 1-chome to Higashi 2-chome, the market used to comprise a row of fish stores that is directly opposite the Sosei river. After time, restaurants opened up to complement the crowd’s demands – laying the groundwork for the market today. Its central location within Sapporo city has also made this place a must-visit for any gourmet traveler. While there may be arguably fresher and slightly cheaper produce in either Otaru or Kushiro, guests within Sapporo city may want to fulfill their seafood cravings at this more conveniently accessible location.
Although I was there at about 9am in the morning, my expectations of a crowd was unfounded. The days after Golden week seemed to be an off-peak season, so it might be a good time to visit. Also, I expected a little more stores to be opened. Nonetheless, it was fine and I quickly covered the entire market within a good 15 minutes.
I was on the lookout for tucking in to some fresh sea urchin. What that meant for me is that they should still be alive and in the shell. Hence, the closest which I could find in Nijo Market was at the Fresh Crab & Shellfish Shop. The store owners were grilling sea urchin with a torch – not my preferred way of cooking but definitely catching my attention. On top of that, they also had live hairy and king crabs, botan ebi, oysters as well as scallops.
Fresh sea urchin for sale – 1000 yen a piece
It was sheer delight to relish in sea urchin that is freshly opened, washed and served.
Alternatively, for the same price of 1000 yen, you can opt for sea urchin that is grilled. While it may be a slightly larger portion (I reckon they topped the shell up with the previous day’s sea urchin), I did not really go for the use of a blow torch to quickly cook the uni.
Torching the sea urchin although efficient, leaves a slight pungent overtone. Also, the shell is overly charred to a white crisp. That said, the sea urchin was still good and cooking it definitely brought out the flavour and creaminess better.
I highly recommend going for the Oysters and Scallops (350 yen and 500 yen respectively). The scallops were sweet and fresh, with a refreshing taste that simply made you go oishii.
The oysters were large and juicy, topped with a gentle layer of sea water for that touch of salinity complemented with the fleshy sweetness. All these ingredients combined were a highly recommended start to the day. I loved it.
Live King Crab. Priced according to its weight, the king crab is easily a $100-$150 at the Nijo Market. I was sorely tempted to order a crab but I resisted. Thankfully, during my later trip to Kushiro, it was King Crab land and priced way cheaper. I got my crab for about $65.
King crab legs.
Within the narrow corridors of Nijo Market is the Don Buri Chaya restaurant where I had my first Kaisen don for brunch.
Brian and I various donburis to share as we were quite hungry and were prepared to have this meal for the whole day till evening. In total, we ordered the Botan Ebi, Sea Urchin, King Crab and Hairy Crab Donburi (3, 180 yen), the Ikura and Uni Donburi (2, 780 yen) and the Mini Kaisen Don Set (2 bowls + Asari Miso Soup for 1, 780 yen).
The Mini Kaisen Don set is truly small. Just slightly bigger than a large tea cup or slightly smaller than a rice bowl, guests can have the option of choosing various predetermined toppings. Brian opted for the Hotate and the King Crab Meat with Sea Urchin selection. The scallops were fresh, sweet and exceptionally tasty with the warm Japanese rice.
On the other hand, the king crab meat was delightful pairing with the thick and creamy uni. Somehow the flavours of sweet crab and sweet sea butter is simply a wonderful blend. This Mini Kaisen Don set is worth it if you are in the mood to try a variety without paying too much for it.
However, if you do wish to go a little extravagant and get a more extensive seafood selection, this holistic Kaisen donburi might be your choice. Sweet botan shrimp is nicely matched with sweet sea urchin, sweet king crab leg and sweet hairy crab meat. There, I’ve said sweet 4 times. But it truly represents what I felt as I slowly sampled each ingredient. Fantastic.
Still, for a bowl of life’s simplest pleasures, this selection of Ikura and Sea Urchin is a divine mix. Salted salmon roe are a burstful delight as they are complemented with the uni. To really tuck in, I recommend savouring a little of both at the same time, and separately. The best part for me however, is allowing bits of ikura to burst over the rice and scooping a serving up to indulge in each time. The fish’s oiliness, saltiness plus the rice’s hearty fragrance, makes this a much more satisfying dish.
For the rest of the day, Brian and I took the time to explore Odori Park. A massive central park with multiple sections, this was a beautiful place to visit in the Spring. Apart from residents having picnics, there were also volunteer gardeners sprucing up the place, getting ready for the weeks ahead. A very charming place indeed.
Also, if there is any inclination to do a little bit of shopping or to get away from the inclement weather, simply head down to the underground shopping passageway that links all the way from Odori park to Sapporo Station. Very convenient.
The main underground stem to Sapporo Station
All in, the day’s visit to Nijo Market was a very fulfilling affair. I thoroughly loved my first sample at Japan’s fresh seafood produce. Of course, there are plenty more to come in Kushiro and Hakodate (which I will come to find much later as better places to be at for seafood). Nonetheless, the day’s journey was a worthwhile trip and it left me ready to move out to Kushiro the next day. For the 4 hours train ride, I was well set to discover the joys of Robatayaki dining by the pierside.