Ibis Styles Breakfast and Ramen Alley Lunch

One benefit (?) of coming to Japan from the West Coast is that the jet lag will have you waking up super early which means you get to have more hours in the day to eat. Breakfast came with our room at the Ibis Styles Sapporo and though it is a budget hotel, the breakfast buffet was well made. In typical Japanese breakfast fashion, there were many small items for you to choose from including tamago, miso soup, soft scramble eggs, grilled fish, etc. I went back a couple times to get a bit of everything.

We had a few hours to kill before our train to Niseko so decided to take a walk through downtown Sapporo. The historical clock tower was a must visit as it's an iconic landmark of Sapporo. Another iconic spot is the famous Ramen Alley where Anthony Bourdain visited during his time in Sapporo. We opted to not eat at the same spot he did but instead chose another miso ramen joint a few doors down, Misogin. After ordering from a touch screen at the door, we gave our ticket to shop owner, and then took a seat at the bar. My daughter didn't want a full bowl of ramen so we got her fresh made gyozas that were blow torched then crispy fried leaving a nice "skin". I got the Miso Ramen Kiwami and my wife got the Miso Ramen Irodori. I'm usually not a miso ramen person (prefer tonkatsu) but this really hit the spot after walking through the snow. The egg was perfectly cooked, the noodles had the right amount of chew, and the broth was rich (even had a pat of butter!). Sad we only had a chance to have one bowl during our stay in Sapporo as the other shops looked great with some offering specialities like clam, abalone, and crab ramen. Something to put on the to-do list for next time.

Back in Japan for 2020 - Sapporo and Lawson

We’re back in Japan for 2020 and decided to head up north this time to see some snow. After an 11 hour flight to Tokyo, we hopped a domestic flight to Sapporo to spend the night before heading up to the mountains. Definitely much colder than Tokyo (which was unusually warm for this time of year) with snow lining all the streets.

We picked a budget hotel, Ibis Styles, which turned out much nicer than I expected. The bonus is that they have a Lawson connected to the lobby! 

Whether you are loyal to them or 7-11, you can’t go wrong eating from a cobini store. Besides having ATMs that accept foreign bank cards, they have very good food at very cheap prices. 

Case in point, we arrived at about 9pm and were too wiped out to go back out to dinner. We turned to Lawson for a quick, cheap, and pretty healthy late night meal of oden and onigiri. All you see below was less than $9 and was more than enough for us. I even got to choose my oden items - tofu, egg, fish ball, and daikon in a soul warming simple broth. Great end to a long day...

Kurakura izakaya and Wako Isetan for tonkatsu

For our last dinner in Kyoto, we stopped by our favorite izakaya in the area, Kurakura. This is a favorite with locals and we were lucky to have a local friend join us for dinner. We started with a house appetizer of potato salad, stewed tuna, and black sesame tofu. We then moved on to eggplant stewed in dashi, little fish tempura, a healthy tuna salad with a tangy sesame dressing, fried renkon, large grilled squid, and grilled ayu (sweet fish). All simply prepared and delicious. For dessert, we were treated to homemade warabi mochi. If you ever get a chance to try this, do it! It's an amazing flavor that's not too sweet yet still quite satisfying as an end of meal dish.

The next day, we were getting ready for our shinkansen back to Tokyo and decided to grab lunch at Kyoto station. We had not yet enjoyed tonkatsu so wanted to have that. Our local friend recommended their reigning favorite, Katsukura at Kyoto station. However, we got lost amidst the rows of restaurants at The Cube mall attached to the station and ended up at another tonkatsu place, Wako Isetan, by mistake. Not a bad thing since it was really good! This place is super kid friendly with toys and candy for my daughter alongside a hearty kid's meal. I decided on the standard kurobuta (black pig) while my wife got a set that included tempura shrimp and clams. A great way to fill us up for the train ride back to Tokyo!

7-11 Fast Food and Kyoto Station Curry Udon Mimikou

7-11 in Japan is an essential place for us. Not only does it provide free Wi-Fi but it also has ATMs that accept foreign debit cards. Most Japanese ATMs will not accept foreign debit cards so only those from 7-Bank (7-11's bank), the post office, or at some other convenience stores like Lawsons or Family Mart will work for us (though 7-11 ATMs are the only ones that are guaranteed to work). The other major benefit of 7-11 is the cheap and high quality food. Picture freshly made, high quality sandwiches, onigiri, and even oden (veggies, eggs, tofu, fishcakes, etc. cooked in dashi broth for hours). We got 3 onigiri and a container of oden for less than $5 which was a perfect quick breakfast for us. Our coffees from Starbucks were more expensive!

For lunch we went to Kyoto Station to have curry udon at Mimikou. Hearty and satisfying on a cold day. Plus they give you bibs which was necessary to slurp these noodles up without staining your shirt with curry sauce!

Komeda’s Coffee and whisky @ Yamazaki

Every time we’re in Kyoto, we make the quick train ride over to Yamazaki to buy whisky at the Suntory Distillery. For breakfast, we headed to our favorite coffee shop, Komeda’s Coffee, for some good strong coffee and the best egg salad sandwiches. New on the menu was a hearty tonkatsu sandwich which was crispy and juicy. The little one got her usual flaky pastry with soft serve on top, this time with strawberry sauce on top. Seems strawberries are in season!

With the popularity of Japanese whisky at an all time high, there are no longer good buys at the distillery itself. Aged whiskies are pretty much gone and the bottles that can be bought at the distillery can also be bought at most shops in Japan. Instead, the reason to go visit the distillery (besides the beautiful nature) is to drink some of the best whiskies in the world at extremely reasonable prices. Below is my line up of pours which ranged from a 12 Year Puncheon Cask (extremely good and can only be had at the distillery) to a 30 Year Hibiki. Prices ranged from as little as 300 yen (less than $3) to at most 2,900 yen (about $26). I've seen places in the states charge $15-$20 just for a pour of 12 Year Yamazaki so $26 for a pour from a $3,000+ bottle seems like a pretty good deal to me.