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Japan Hour

It's Lunch Time

Our search for interesting spots and delicious food around Japan continues this week. The next stop is Sarufutsu Village in Hokkaido.

Our search for interesting spots and delicious food around Japan continues this week. The next stop is Sarufutsu Village in Hokkaido. The northernmost village in Japan, it is an hour away from Wakkanai City by car. Facing the Sea of Okhotsk, the area is abundant in Hokkaido's prized salmon and hairy crab. It is also known for its huge haul of wild scallops, with over 30,000 tonnes being caught each year. One of the specialities here is seasoned rice with scallops. The rice is infused with the soup from the scallops and topped with one whole scallop.

We first speak to 48-year-old Mrs Komatsu, who is preparing tsubu, a type of sea snail. Her husband Kazunori is a third-generation fisherman. She is also boiling some scallop gonads, known as kokko in this area. We ask to see her lunch and she offers to show us her dinner instead. So we go to the Komatsu residence, a white three-storey house. The Komatsus live with their eldest son’s family.  

Dinner is prepared by Mrs Komatsu and her daughter-in-law. They season the scallops with salt and pepper, coat them with bread crumbs and then deep fry them. Boiled scallop gonads are sliced, after which finely cut scallions are added. They are mixed with a dressing made of white miso, sugar, mayonnaise and mustard to make a scallop gonad salad. Other dishes include deep-fried sea snails and alpine leek tempura.

Our next trip takes us to Otsu City in Shiga Prefecture. The town faces Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. Eel is a speciality of Otsu and a famous dish here is eel rice bowl with a Japanese-style omelette, which is 5cm thick. The recipe of the sauce used in the dish has been passed down for over 100 years. 

We continue exploring the area and meet 82-year-old Mr Ito, who is on his way to work in a rice field. He tells us that rice fields were created on flat land after World War II, while living areas were moved to the steeper sections. We want to see his rice field and later learn to drive a tractor to smooth out the field. He agrees to let us see his lunch so we go to his house. His wife has prepared rice balls made with freshly cooked Koshihikari rice, dashi-infused stewed young bamboo, and kelp and shiitake mushrooms cooked in soy sauce. There is also vegetable and white fish paste bought from the market.

After this, we visit a bakery next to Lake Biwa, La Sante. Run by a couple, the Nois, it opened 10 years ago and sells more than 50 kinds of sweet and savoury breads. One can also see the blue waters of Lake Biwa from the bakery. We get to observe Ms Noi preparing the bakery staff’s lunch. One dish is an original pizza toast with creamy egg. After spreading the pizza sauce, a slice of pork loin ham is added, lots of cheese is sprinkled and the pizza is topped with an egg and mayonnaise. It is baked in a large oven for about 10 minutes. Other items are a ham and vegetable sandwich made on salt bread and onion soup.

We return to Sarufutsu Village in Hokkaido to continue our journey of discovery. We come across Emiko Ikeda who is picking beach silvertops, a genus in the carrot family. Also known as Apiaceae, they grow on sandy beaches. They were popular in the Edo Period, but now can only be found in high-class Japanese restaurants. Ms Emiko, who owns a bar, has driven all the way from Wakkanai to pick these delicious plants.

We later go to Ms Emiko’s bar in downtown Wakkanai. She started the bar 14 years ago. Besides drinks, she also serves homecooked dishes such as udo and octopus with vinegar and miso; alpine leeks with miso on tofu; boiled butterbur sprouts; beach silvertops pickled in vinegar; and beach silvertop tempura.  

1) Seasoned rice with scallops is something you must try when visiting Sarufutsu Village
2) A famous dish in Otsu is eel rice bowl with a thick Japanese-style omelette


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