For this trip, we needed 2 things: a big appetite & a JR Pass. The first comes naturally; the second is heaven-sent. Not only because a JR Rail Pass meant savings, but more so because it was convenient, time-saving and boosted our confidence. We did our homework. We listed down our itinerary, checked the train schedules and made seat reservations. If we missed the train, or changed our plans, it was no big deal. There were NO PENALTIES! And the times we had no seat reservations, we simply boarded the train cars with non-reserved seats. Same goes with our hotel bookings via Bookings.Com. No charges on your credit card until you check in, and cancellations were free so long as you cancel a few days before. The beauty lies in the facility of making same-day or next-day bookings. The “fluid” schedule made for an exciting itinerary where we were able to stay longer in some places or make detours. No sweat about hotel bookings. If one place is fully booked, we just moved to the next town. Free spirits? Oh, I miss those days and I must say I did enjoy being out of my comfort zone. So, shall we start?
As soon as we landed, we searched for the JR Railways Ticket Office to present our vouchers and passports in exchange for the JR Rail Pass you see on the left. Guard this with your life! A sample reserved seat ticket is issued as requested. I suggest you do your research and have a list of planned trips ready for this moment 👌. We made ours this way: OSAKA – TOKYO – HAKODATE – LAKE TOYA – SAPPORO – OTARU – HAKODATE – NAGOYA – NAKATSUGAWA – NAGOYA – KYOTO – OSAKA – HIROSHIMA – MIYAJIMA – HIROSHIMA- OSAKA. Don’t fret, the iti only looks formidable but we managed to spend at least 3 nights each in 3 major cities. Some are actually “stopovers” like the Hakodate-Lake Toya-Sapporo leg which split a 4-hour train ride into 2 hours each. Same with the Nakatsugawa – Nagoya – Kyoto leg which is really just 1 journey with a change of trains. Having said that, let’s get on with this food trip. Starting from the top….. Hokkaido Island’s Hakodate, Sapporo, Otaru and Lake Toya. Down to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nakatsugawa, Osaka, Hiroshima and Miyajima.
WHEN IN HAKODATE
Raw. Fresh. Bounty from the sea. Paired with only the best rice from Hokkaido. Uni. Ikura. Ebi. Salmon. Otoro. Hotate. Ika. Kani. As for the crabs (Kani), have it all ways: grilled, boiled, fried, steamed, or sashimi fresh. But first you must decide which crab. Snow crab? Red King crab? Spiny king crab? Or Horsehair Crab?
And how about that “Dancing Squid” dish? You fish it, you eat it. Sorry, but I can’t handle it. Poor ika. Have a look. https://youtu.be/yMkQ1ISgZj8
WHEN IN LAKE TOYA
Never miss a hotate meal. Scallops. Fresh and raw is best. Paired with mushroom rice like kamameshi. More shellfish…. as in clam miso soup. Finish it off with a cone of soft-serve Hokkaido ice cream. Happiness!
WHEN IN SAPPORO
The seafood rice bowl is the same here in Sapporo. Have your refills of Uni, Kani, Ikura and Hotate — all my favorites. But there’s a Ramen Alley that may be interesting. Except that it’s overly crowded. A tourist trap. You may instead try the Ramen Republic near the JR Sapporo Station. Or if you still missed that, head back to Hakodate’s Daimon Yokocho for your ramen fix. And hey, did I mention Hokkaido melons? The sweetest. Trust me on this.
WHEN IN OTARU
Sweet corn. And don’t forget trying Hokkaido sweets from cheese cakes, tarts, ice cream, Le Tao cookies, biscuits, chocolates, yogurt, and anything matcha. Snaffles? Good yeah but wait till you try the Pumpkin Fromage and Double Fromage pudding from Le Tao.
WHEN IN OSAKA
Dotonbori is street food galore. Osaka must-try street food are takoyaki and okonomiyaki . I’m not a big fan, but I can’t and won’t resist the crabs, scallops and wagyu.
Think more seafood and Kobe beef. Or Matsuzaka Beef. Just strolling along Dotonbori would make you feel hungry in an instant. I kid you not.
WHEN IN TOKYO
TOKYO being more cosmopolitan has a more international flavor. Fusion cuisine? Well, if you must try it, have it in this city. Or in Odaiba, that futuristic, artificial island off Tokyo Bay. BBQ’s and katsu for our dose of protein plus shrimp and squid tempura. And I still remember our recent food trip in a sushi bar in Shibuya.
WHEN IN KYOTO
By this time, my belly needed some rest. Having found my favorite persimmons, I indulged in this autumn fruit and thus satisfied cravings for heartier meals. No kaiseki dinners. Soba or udon and miso soups for me while my niece had more beef. But don’t miss out on the sushi!
WHEN IN HIROSHIMA/MIYAJIMA
Oysters galore. Any which way you like. Conger eels or anago too. Then finish off with the Hiroshima Orange Ice Cream. Miyajima was a surprise food destination. They have their own souvenir cookies too, shaped like a maple leaf. And don’t forget the Hiroshima Okonomiyaki — fluffier, more filling, yummier.