Jingisukan in Sapporo

Pretty isn’t it?

Interrupting my Tohoku posts to keep within the season. Seems weird to write about summer in Tohoku when it’s winter already. I was in Sapporo early in 2011 on assignment for Escape magazine. It’s taken this long to write about this because it’s taken this long for my piece on Sapporo to be published! And until it’s out in print, I didn’t think it was right for me to blog about the trip.

I had a really good time on that trip. I was part of a small group of journalists – just three of us from various newspapers and magazines in Singapore – on a media visit to Sapporo, Hokkaido. I think we hit it off pretty well. And then there was the fabulous trio of ladies from Sapporo Tourism who were so generous with their time, their information and their friendship. That really made all the difference between a work trip and FUN work trip.

My posts on Sapporo are not going to follow any particular order. I’m just going to blog on whatever sticks in my mind whenever it sticks. This post for instance, is on our last dinner of the trip.

This is the Sapporo Beer Garden in Sapporo, Hokkaido. A former factory in an earlier incarnation dated 1890, the building now houses a museum and the Beer Garden or Biergarten.

The pictures you google usually show a hulking brick structure with ivy crawling up the walls – looking dignified enough to make you think you’re somewhere in England – until you actually get there and see the sprawling concretised carpark lot and shopping mall right beside it!

We were a little early for dinner so  we walked through the supermarket at the mall  in a quest for shirako – or cod sperm. We found it in the refrigerated cold food section but there was no way we could bring it home. Pity. Shirako, seasonal winter dish, tastes fantastic –  although one of the weirdest foods I’ve ever had. But then, faced with basashi (raw horsemeat), hachinoko (bee larvae), shiksa sashimi (raw deer meat), this is par for the course.

Eating in Japan is always an adventure – and great food is not always found in traditional presentations. Sometimes so-so food becomes great food when it comes with great fun – as was the case with dinner at the Sapporo Beer Garden.

To reflect the festive season, the red-bricked building was prettily lit with Christmas lights. The ivy was gone of course, but the snow and the twinkling lights added the oomph factor to an impressively atmospheric place for a fun dinner. Inside, a fire in the hearth welcomed us at the waiting area.

The dining section was a large noisy hall – somewhat like an old refectory with shades of Hogwart banners, except that instead of Griffindor colours, we had Yebisu and Sapporo biru!

The key specialty of the Sapporo Beer Garden is jingisukan or mutton bbq on a metal helmet-like hot plate. For about 3600yen, it’s a rollicking free flow of drinks, platters of sushi, Hokkaido crab, salad and meat. And lots of Sapporo beer of course!

Here’s how you enjoy jingisukan:

First behold the pristine iron pan shaped like – what else – Hokkaido! The domed area is for cooking and is supposedly representative of Genghis Khan’s helmet – hence the name jingisukan. Or was it so named because of the mutton? Or wait a minute, wasn’t the Khan repelled when he tried to invade Japan a couple of hundred years ago? The details are fuzzy but it doesn’t matter. Not really. All that matters is HOW you cook and eat the mutton – never mind the flimsy Khan connection.

Anyway, getting down to action means you then take a chunk of mutton fat and wipe the hot dome, melting the grease in the process, like this:

Once the pan is sufficiently greased, add the veg and the meat. Let it sizzle and then dig in. The modern version of the caveman campfire.

Along the way, dig in, or should I say carefully dig out, the delicate flesh of the long slender Hokkaido crab legs, bulk up on sushi and lots of beer. Kampai!

Our Japanese hosts were great fun and the evening just whizzed by until we realised that we were the last party in the hall and the staff were waiting patiently for us to finish.

We struggled into our coats, replete with good food and company, a bit sad that the evening had ended. It was one of those memorable meals you’d think about from time to time in years to come. Yeah, jingisukan may be a bit corny and bordering on the kitschy, and maybe the food is not great, just okay. Nevertheless this is a fun way to have dinner especially if you’re ever in Sapporo.

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