Thursday, 29 March 2012

Sapporo Food: Yakumo Goma-soba

I try to avoid writing about chains of restaurants here. I figure that you hardly need me to tell you that there are a bunch of McDonald's or Starbucks or Tully's Coffees in Sapporo. But then I'm never sure whether or not to put up some stuff about the local Sapporo and Hokkaido chains like the yaki-tori chain Kushidori or (and this one I'll never bother with) the hamburg steak chain Bikkuri Donkey. If you live here then these places are so common that it'll seem pointless detailing them, but if you're only visiting then knowing about places you can eat pretty well for not much money could be really useful. AND SO - I decided to do a post about the soba restaurant chain Yakumo.

There are Yakumo's all over the place in Sapporo and they're all a little different but they all do very nice soba. Soba has always been one of my favourite Japanese foods - buckwheat noodles that can be served cold or hot and eaten in a few different ways. I'd guess the most common way that soba is eaten though, is cold. You get a tray of soba noodles, some soba sauce to dip the noodles in and often some tempura to go with them. It's great, and healthy and I love it.

I sometimes go to the Yakumo in the basement of 4chome Plaza next to Odori station, because it's conveniently on my way home sometimes, and I sometimes go to the one in the PASEO section of Sapporo station for the same reason, but mostly I go to the pretty fancy one on the top floor of the department store PARCO. So let's talk about that one, huh?

What sets Yakumo apart from other soba places is that they serve goma-soba, that is they use sesame in their noodles. What does this look like? Little black bits in the grey noodles. What does it mean for the taste? Ehhh, I'm not sure. It's subtle. They're a little harder? Anyway they're delicious. Every now and then they've told me that they're serving 'Shin-soba' that day, which means not goma-soba, but the noodles are still great. They're also a Hokkaido company which means lot's of Hokkaido sourced ingredients and Hokkaido big-upping in their menu.

Here's what my girlfriend got the day I took these snaps. I think it was torori soba? The bowl at the top right has a raw egg and a bowl of grated mountain potato - very sticky. That's not really standard, but the noodles here are presented in a really standard way. The bottle has the soba sauce and in this case she added that to the egg bowl, then added the spring onion and wasabi (to taste, as they say) and picked up the noodles and dipped them in the mixture. I think. Man, I don't want to sound patronizing about this, but God knows I've been a bit baffled by the bowls and bottles presented to me at soba restaurants.

And here's what I get most of the time when I go there: ebi oroshi soba. This particular Yakumo has a great evening meal deal where you can choose one of six main dishes to go with a few side dishes for 980yen, and you can add a beer for 380yen more.

So, let me explain what's going on here. The soup from the bottle in the middle goes into the bowl and you mix in as much wasabi and spring onion as you want. Then you add the various things on top of the soba and mix those in as well, and when you can see enough of the noodles to get at them, you dip them in the soup! The tempura shrimp there also get dipped in the soup - IF YOU WANT! And there at the back, the salad and the baked rice-ball are part of the meal set. The yaki-onigiri (rice-ball) has cheese inside and is awesome.

The beer, you drink.

Oh! And last but by no means least you'll always get a pot of soba-yuu at soba restaurants. That square red pot in shadow at the back is the soba-yuu - that's the water that they cooked the noodles in. At the end of the meal, when you've finished everything else, you'll probably still have some of the soba sauce left, so you pour some of the soba-yuu into the sauce bowl to make a soup you can drink.

Isn't soba wonderful? Shhh, no need to answer. I like Yakumo, so if you're in Sapporo looking to have some soba and you see one around, it's probably not going to be a bad meal. This PARCO branch I'd say is good, especially for that evening meal deal so I'll mark it on the map.

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