Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Sapporo Food: Hamburger RISA (original location)


I should've updated this a long time ago since Hamburger RISA closed at this location a couple of years back now. I'm pretty sure I deleted it from my map... at least I hope I did... Anyway, I knew where RISA was moving to, I even went there last summer, but the place still hadn't reopened and I pretty much gave up hope. Turns out it did reopen in the second half of last year and it's just as awesome as ever. So I've done a new blog post about it, and you can just treat this one as a trip down memory lane.


Today this city just got a little bit more awesome, when I went to Hamburger Risa. Yuki and I spotted it when we were driving back from somewhere a while ago, and today it just popped into my head as somewhere to go for lunch. It’s another one of those irritatingly difficult to get to restaurants on the outskirts of town that you really need a car to get to (also, it doesn’t seem to have any parking per se), and it sits in a neighbourhood that’s dominated by a big out of town Uniqlo. It was incredible for SO MANY reasons.

First, as soon as we walked in we were impressed - the place looks incredible. In that it look absolutely awful. There are a bunch of old LPs tacked to the walls, along with some postcards and one bar where you can sit and eat. Other than that the café is a complete tip, with Jazz and Blues CDs, minidisks and Vinyl piled up everywhere, a guitar, amps and bits of other amps strewn around the place, coffee filters stacked on DVDRs and all manner of chaos going on. Everything in there from the clock (that doesn’t work) to the coffee grinder, to the fridge is vintage to the point of looking like someone spent some loving time twonking it with a hammer. We sat down. The man stared at us. We looked around for a moment for the menu, and not finding one, mumbled something about seeing the menu? Oh, he said, we only have one hamburger.
That’s it. The entire menu of Hamburger Risa is one Hamburger. Oh, and you can get Cola, Coffee, Orange Juice (freshly squeezed in a vintage Sunkist machine) and Ginger Ale (imported, but the best I’ve had in Japan, it actually has a kick like Ginger Beer). As he later commented, it’s hard for him to turn a profit – he doesn’t serve fries or alcohol, he’s not a sports bar, and he’s out in the middle of nowhere. He closes at 8pm everyday because it’s not really worth staying open later. He had a, frankly, bizarrely upbeat demeanour while making it pretty clear that he didn’t really want to be running this place, but he was stuck with it. There’s no money in Hamburgers apparently.
The hamburger was wonderful, he doesn’t add any sauces or relish to start with because he doesn’t like them, just onions, tomato and lettuce (there were a bunch of sauces on the counter you could use). The beef was excellent. It’s 100% Japanese, according to a faded, felt-tip cardboard sign, and he talked to us about how most burger joints in Japan, chain or otherwise, mix their beef with pork to lower the cost and then use bacon or eggs to hide the smell. I had no idea, so that’s some pretty valuable information right there. He said Mos Burger was ok, because they say they do it, but most other places keep it hush-hush.
This guy, the owner and cook, and I would imagine the only staff member, seemed familiar, and about a quarter of an hour after we walked in I remembered where I had seen him before. I had seen him immaculately turned out, fronting a super-tight boogie-woogie jazz sextet in the blues bar Buddy Buddy a few months ago. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him, but before we left he mentioned it to us. He’s an incredible guitarist needless to say.

The story of Hamburger Risa, as related in a kinda deadpan, stand-up way, goes like this: Hamburger Risa was founded in Fukuoka in 1956 by his mother; sadly they went out of business around about the millennium, and he was living in Sapporo at the time so he decided to open a new Hamburger Risa for his mother in Sapporo, so she could come to live up here. She moved up for three months, decided it was too cold and moved back to Fukuoka, and this guy was left with it. While I was there I also got to pick up one of these bad boys:

Hamburger Street magazine, a.k.a. Alex’s Bible. They have long articles and features about ten of the best Burger restaurants in Japan, and Hamburger Risa is one of them. Hiroshima’s God Burger, which is awesome, is also in there. It’s all in Japanese of course, but Yuki read out the highlights, including what he considers the hardest part of his job (making money) and whether he wants to keep running a burger joint for a long time (everyone else says “Yes! Of course!” he says “I want to quit as soon as I can”). I’m quite glad that I didn’t whip my camera out inside and start snapping away as he seems pretty down on that too.
I strongly recommend it, it’s North 24 and West god knows what, apparently the closest train station is 24 Ken on the orange Tozai line. We told him that his style of burgers would be really popular with our foreign friends and he shrugged and said he guessed so, but that it was so far out of the way, and they were all going to TK6 for the burgers. He pointed out that he doesn't even serve fries, but really I don't think he was too worried.

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