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Monday, October 10, 2016

Hokkaido Autumn Road Trip 2016 (Part 4) Abashiri

From Lake Notoro to Cape Notoro

Abashiri is a port city that is famous for a few things.
1. Drift ice cruise
2. Prison Museum
3. Drift Ice Museum
4. Coral grass in Lake Notoro
5. Line caught Kinki
6. Red King Crab and Blue King Crab
7. Japan's largest Pink Moss park
8. Whale watching
9. Abashiri Okhotsk Blue Beer
10. Rare sushi - think Octopus Eggs, Crab Ovum

We arrived in Abashiri at around 7.15pm. The town was so quiet.

Parked our car, and went in to check in at Dormy Inn. Then, we walked over to Kihachi to have our planned sumptuous  dinner of blue king crab, kujira, and line caught kinki. We walked in to the restaurant, was greeted with a big smile. Then we said, 2 persons please. Straight away they spoke so much that we couldn't get it, until they said 'FULL'. We saw the counter seats were still very much available, and yet, they told us it is full. I don't know if it's because we are foreigners or what, but surely it wasn't nice to be turned away when we saw half the big counter area looking vacant.

It had been a long tiring day and all I wanted that night was a feast. A feast I had planned for and dreamed of eating. But for that moment, we had to find another restaurant quickly as we haven't been eating any proper food since morning, besides the chocolates, cheese, ice cream, chips and a glass of warm milk.

I didn't have a plan B, unlike the other cities of which I had a list of restaurants  to visit. I was just eager to go to Kihachi. Abashiri is a quiet town at night, unlike the other cities. Maybe not that quiet in the suburbs where people live, but in the city center, it's very quiet. I can't even notice another restaurant just by looking left and right.

Not wanting to waste time searching Tabelog, we quickly walked back to the hotel and get our car, thinking to drive to Kaitenzushi Kanigen for rare sushi. Actually, I planned for Kanigen to be visited at 6.00pm, but because we were far behind schedule, we just went straight to Kihachi. Then when we reached Kanigen, it was closed! Oh how careless I was that I didn't notice their off day that was written on Tabelog itself. Nothing to eat now. See, no back up plan!

I went on Abashiri's tourist site and found Hananoren. I remember the name of this restaurant, reading it from somewhere, and so, let's try this out.


When we arrived at Hananoren, we wonder if it's open or not. It seemed quiet. Then we were warmly welcomed by 2 ladies. We were guided to the dining area and provided with English menus. I wanted to order crab and kinki, but to our dissapointment, they only serve it if we reserved it. I totally understand that as the restaurant is quite.... quiet. They asked me if we want sushi, but looking at how quiet the restaurant is.... better not. This is their page on Tabelog.

The ladies of this restaurant couldn't speak English, but we felt very warm with their hospitality, chuckles and some silly antics. They forgot to serve us tea and provide us with a warm towel until they brought us our food. I remember the waitress reaction, so cute. This restaurant, although quiet, feels homely.

The food here although wasn't spectacular, and both of us didn't feel the need to drink and quench our thirst after eating. I think besides Kihachi, this is the only other place that one can try both local gourmet dishes in one restaurant.

About the food we had, we had two Abashiri Local Gourmet dishes. Local Gourmet Dishes are dishes that are 'invented' to represent the place. Read here about the 10 rules for a Zangi Don. I have read many not that positive reviews about this dish, LOL. But yet, I still tried it. It's fried salmon on rice with a light salad, just that. I'm ok with it. Nothing very special, but since the okhotsk pink salmon is deep fried in small pieces, I can't quite taste it and differentiate.

This dish is served with freshly grated Hokkaido Wasabi, which actually horseradish and it's white. The taste is just as pungent and I don't eat wasabi, but my husband liked it. The waitress told me to mix with wasabi into the grated nagaimo (huaishan) and then pour onto the rice. I didn't put much of it onto the rice as I am allergic to raw nagaimo.

The Moyoro people used to live in Northern Hokkaido and suddenly dissappeared in the 13th century. So this dish, Moyoro Pot is a 'reconstruction' of their food based on excavation discoveries. And read here about Moyoro Pot. This dish is on the bland side, I guess ancient people use simple ways to cook their food with natural flvours. I'm ok with it because I am quite tired of eating too salty food over the last 2 days. Nothing to shout about, but I like how nice this hot pot looks like, with all the generous amount of seafood in it.


After eating all these, we still had some tummy room. One of my reasons for staying overnight in Abashiri instead of Kitami was because of food, and rare sushi is one of it. I tried to find another sushi joint and read that this shop is listed in Hokkaido's Michelin Bib Gourmand.

This small shop is handled by two persons, the chef and his wife. The chef prepares the food and the wife serves it. They don't speak English and the menu doesn't come with pictures. So, I got on Tabelog, searched for their site and scroll through the pictures. I showed them a picture of 8 pcs of sushi. I had no idea what were those until much later on. And this is their own website

Bottom right: Button shrimp, surf clam, flounder, salmon, scallop, sea urchin, crab Uchiko , ikuro (salmon roe)

The set I ordered was Okhotsk Set. I tasted one Salmon egg and it was utterly delicious. And I tasted a bit of the purple paste, oh my! What was it? So, I 'sumimazen'ed the chef and asked for extra serving of ikuro nigiri and uchiko nigiri. The ikuro here was the best that I have eaten on this trip, the taste of salmon was rich and fresh. It wasn't salty unlike the usual ones.

After eating, I wondered what was the purple thingy, and I asked the chef's wife, and she rubbed her tummy pointing to the crab. Oh, they were Red King Crab's ovum, or roe. Google translation will call it crab ovaries. The chef did some light chatting with us, asking us where we are from and lastly, we were served a clear broth that tasted so good, with lots of umami. Was it broth from boiling crabs? I don't know. It's very clear, very very clear.

Final bill was 3780yen for 8+2 pcs of Okhotsk nigiri. :)

We got back to the hotel, did our laundry using the free washing machine and went to bed.

the weather for both days we were there

The next day, after having the sumptuous hotel buffet breakfast, I plan to visit the places that was on the day before's itinerary. My husband asked me, whether we will have enough time today to cover so much? I told him, the others are not seasonal, if we don't have enough time today, we can always visit them any other months if we ever come again, but not Coral Grass.

Coral Grass At Lake Notoro

Coral grass or Glasswort is a rare plant in Japan, and it turns red during early Autumn. It is not commonly found but only in a few places in Japan, where it thrives naturally. In Hokkaido, they can be found in Lake Notoro, Lake Akkeshi and Lake Saroma, with the colony at Lake Notoro to be the best for now.

I came at the right time, when it was almost in full 'bloom'. All the dissapointments of not seeing Autumn leaves in Kurodake was temporarily washed away by this field of redness.

The gentle morning breeze, the bright sunny sky..... feels so good.

Coral grass /glass wort are succulents. Some parts of Europe use them as food. But I think the people here don't eat them.
click on the picture to get a large view

There is a washroom here and a shop that sells farm produce. And since it's Autumn, there's pumpkins!

Cape Notoro

After seeing coral grass, we drove to Cape Notoro. The journey there was so beautiful. The blue skies, the crushing waves, the cool sea breeze... ahhhh..... that's life. We drove with windows down, air cond off.

We stopped for a short at a scenic spot. See the protruded piece of land in the picture below? That's Cape Notoro and the light house seemed so small.

When we reached Cape Notoro, it was even more beautiful. The farmlands on one side, the Okhotsk sea on the other, the smell of grass and the smell of sea. If only I brought a picnic basket, hahaha!

See how much sun, land and grass each cow gets. That's why the milk here is so good!

We walked around and hubby was happily snapping away with his Camera and mine with my phone. His camera went bonkers at this point, the shutters went faulty and it dampened his spirits a bit, as it was only the early half of our trip. There's still so much to see.

click to see an enlarged panaromic picture

We left Cape Notoro after spending around 30 minutes here. We walked from the carpark, all the way to the Okhotsk Tower and back to the carpark.

Okhotsk Tower

Okhotsk Ryu-hyo Museum

Okhotsk Ryu-hyo or Drift Ice Museum was also part of yesterday's itinerary, and I feel it'll be a waste if I didn't come here to see the cliones.

We bought our tickets and walked down a mysterious staircase. Our legs feeling painful from the hike up Kurodake makes this walk down quite a torture.

One lady guided us over to the drift ice room. We put on the provided fleece coats and went into the icy cold room. Brrrrrr.... it was cold. Can't stay there for long with those fleece coats.

Then I saw these cliones swimming so elegantly in the tiny tanks. The background music of the museum made the 'dance of the cliones' even better. They seem to be dancing.

I recorded a video of them to show my kids.

Then we were guided to a mini theater with 5-sided screens to watch a short 8 minute movie about drift ice. I find the movie interesting as drift ice is something that I have never seen before and seeing it on a big screen with loud booming sound system is much unlike watching a video of it on youtube.

Besides Cliones, there were other sea creatures on display.  Don't they look cute?

After the movie, we went out and visited the souvenir center. I bought some drift ice candy, a packet of Clione gummy and I finally saw Okhotsk blue beer! It was not found in any convenience stores. The salted caramel soft served here was light but creamy and the blue coloured Okhotsk salt was a nice touch.

Map to Drift Ice Museum

Sunflowers at Asahigaoka Park, Ozora

This park was supposed to be the first location of my 4th day. I almost wanted to skip it due to time constraints but when we were almost there, my husband decided to turn in. It wasn't far from the main road. We spent just 10 minutes here. It was enough as we only took pictures of us with the sunflowers and went onto the observation deck to have a view of the place.

The sunflowers weren't in full bloom the day we came, but it's ok. At least I saw a sunflower field.
The weather hasn't been good the past week due to the stream of typhoons hitting the island. Sunflowers need a good amount of sunlight to turn out spectacular.

Abashiri is a nice place to visit in late Winter for the drift ice, spring for flowers and Autumn for the coral grass. I didn't want to go to the Prison Museum because I don't want to feel sad.

We left Abashiri for Teshikaga by noon.

Useful Links:
1. Abashiri Tourist Website
2. Ozora Tourist Website

Hokkaido Early Autumn Road Trip 2016

1. Planning the trip - 9 things to think of
2. Driving in Hokkaido - 9 points to consider
3. Part 1 - Sapporo
4. Part 2 - Furano and Biei 
5. Part 3 - Asahikawa and Sounkyo
6. Part 4 - Abashiri
7. Part 5 - Teshikaga (Kussharo, Mashu, Mount Iou)
8. Part 6 - Kushiro
9. Part 7 - Obihiro and Tokachi Subprefecture
10. Part 8 - Yoichi and Otaru
11. Part 9 - Sapporo again and going home.
12. Hotels we stayed in Hokkaido
13. Shopping in Hokkaido
14. Things to Eat and Drink in Hokkaido


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