Sunday, August 20, 2017

A trip to Hokkaido

Where are the best sashimi and sushi in Yangon? It’s a question that our readers (and this reporter) have asked many times.

Assorted sashimi set. Photo: Thompson ChauAssorted sashimi set. Photo: Thompson Chau

In fact, for avid fans of Japanese cuisine around the globe, sashimi and sushi are the yardstick upon which many Japanese restaurants should be measured.

Hokkaido – as a place – is the second largest among Japan’s four main islands. It’s well-known for its fresh seafood.

According to one Japanese expatriate here, sashimi from Hokkaido is fresh because the infrastructure between Hokkaido and other parts of the country is so well-developed. You can even get fish transported alive from Tokyo.

It’s no wonder that a restaurant would name itself after the island. Indeed, the experience in Hokkaido – the restaurant – has convinced Weekend that we may finally have an answer for our readers.

We have tasted their ramen, their dried squid, their smoothies, their salmon don (raw salmon with rice) and their ikura don (salmon with rice). All commendable. But I will limit my focus on three highlights.

The first highlight is the sashimi assortment set (US$18). The set is called miyabi on the menu. The term refers to one of the classical Japanese aesthetic ideals, associated with the notion of elegance and refinement. The set contains a decent selection of thinly sliced raw meat – sake (salmon), tako (cooked octopus), tuna, ika (squid), sea bream and the like. The sashimi is pristine – a rarity in Yangon.

Sushi set. Photo: Thompson ChauSushi set. Photo: Thompson Chau

Next comes the sushi set (US$20) which comes in the term of ume (plum) on the menu (US$20). The word symbolises devotion. The choices on offer are wide:  ikura (salmon roll), tobiko (flying fish roll), tako (cooked octopus), hokki (surf clam), sake (salmon), ika (squid), hotate (scallop), tuna and tamagoyaki (egg). Ume is equally satisfying as miyabi and the norimaki, nicely rolled vinegared rice, warms up your stomach while the raw fish on top delights your taste buds. In other words, the fresh raw fish is good enough to be enjoyed with rice or simply on its own.

Unagi don (broiled eel rice). Photo: Thompson ChauUnagi don (broiled eel rice). Photo: Thompson Chau

The broiled eel rice (US$22) is the last highlight. Compared to ume and miyabi, the dish is not the prettiest of things, but the eel really does taste quite enticing. Thumbs up for the texture and the sweet savoury sauce. Although the rice is not as sticky as one would have liked, this flavourful and wholesome dish wraps up a meal – a dinner is not done without a proper bowl of rice for many Asians like me.

The setting is a big plus. Private dining rooms in the tatami style are available through advance booking. These washitsu (Japanese-style rooms) with fusuma (sliding doors) are perfect in that they insulate you from the outside world and so you can really enjoy a nice meal. The atmosphere inside is dignified and sedate.

The elaborate formality with which Japanese gentlemen communicate with one another can pose a distraction from dinner conversations for outsiders. I was once in Penthouse when a dozen Japanese expatriates bumped into another Japanese group. The endless bowing thus started with some foreign and Myanmar spectators looking in awe.

You are bound to be distracted here unless you possess the observational power of a Graham Greene character at Bentley’s (bravo to anyone who gets my reference).

A friend once commented on the restaurant: “it is one of the best venues for a business dinner”. Whether you are going to Hokkaido with your clients or friends, my advice is to go for a private room whenever possible.

This restaurant truly lives up to its namesake.

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