Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan. It’s an island that is so far north it’s closer to Vladivostok than Tokyo. Surrounded by cold ocean waters it is home to some of the best seafood in all of Japan, which is saying something. Tokyo, never one to let a little thing like a lack of freezing cold ocean waters keep it from eating good crab, is home to a few Hokkaido imports. My personal favorite is Uoya Iccho. It is a chain of Izakaya restaurants that specialize in Hokkaido style seafood. Hokkaido style basically means fresh fish, Sapporo beer and butter on things that you wouldn’t normally put butter on.
This coaster translates as “Thanks for another hard days work.” That cat is asking you to drink.
Izakaya, the pubs of Tokyo
An Izakaya, according to Wikipedia Sensei is “a type of informal Japanese pub. They are casual places for after-work drinking. They have been compared to Irish pubs, tapas bars and early American saloons and taverns.” I’m not sure about that comparison but there you have it. That after-work drinking bit though is spot on. You will not, I promise, be able to get a table at this place if you wander in after 7PM. There will be a line of thirsty office workers already there and probably with reservations. This particular Izakaya is located in a basement of a shopping center in the gay heart of Tokyo, Shinjuku Ni Chome. So you might also see bar staff and bar goers getting a proper meal in before an all nighter in Ni Chome. Bottom line, it’s Tokyo, book a table. If you’re visiting Tokyo and a blog subscriber I’ll help you book here.
Navigating an Izakaya
Izakaya, especially the bigger franchises, are typically loud, busy and low on formalities. Don’t see a server? Look around on your table for a buzzer with a “bell” icon on it. Push it and someone will come running over. Your table will most likely be covered in laminated copies of menus and seasonal specials. If you see more than one soy sauce it is because one is for dipping sashimi (usually the thicker sauce one but I’ve been wrong before, try both).
There will sometimes be a printed menu without pictures, those are the specials. If you can’t read Japanese you will typically be out of luck here but I have some advice. The specials menus usually deal with the freshest foods on offer. This is one of the reasons there are no pictures, if they had time to prepare pictures then the menu items wouldn’t be the freshest things on offer anymore. Also, the freshest things on offer are typically fish related. Sashimi! My advice is to simply pick this up and say “sashimi moriawase” and watch as the freshest platter of sliced sashimi materializes moments later. Quick note, I often see tourists confused by this. Once you’ve ordered a sashimi platter your server may hold up their fingers, asking how many. This doesn’t mean how many plates but how many slices of each type of fish and they will almost always be even numbers. For example, if you are a group of 4 and your server holds up four fingers she is confirming that you want 4 slices of each fish, one for everyone. You wont be getting 4 platters of sashimi.
Somes small nibbles will occur as soon as you’ve sat down and this is when you would typically order your beers. As this is a Hokkaido style restaurant they serve ice cold Sapporo beer, no Asahi or Kirin here. This tiny plate of food that you didn’t order is called Otoshi. It’s a type of Izakaya aperetivo meant to get your appetite into gear. It changes day to day, is savory and typically goes well with beer.
Some Northern Japanese Suggestions
That’s enough out of me. Time for the food.
Tempura Wakame. Wakame is a type of seaweed that is often found in miso soup or as a condiment on a sashimi platter. It has a delicate, salty flavor. Here it has been battered and deep fried tempura style and lightly salted. This is a personal fave and you’ll wish you could order it in buckets while at the movie theatre.
Ramen Salad. This is a fresh salad of lettuce, sliced egg, corn, tomatoes, red onion, shrimp and RAMEN NOODLES. It comes with a thick, creamy sesame dressing. Goma Dressing (sesame dressing) is my Japanese version of Ranch Dressing in the sense that it makes everything that much more wonderful. You can get it at any supermarket and I highly recommend taking some home with you.
Seabream sashimi served on shredded scallion with green onions and ground daikon radish mixed with chili pepper. It comes with a citrus soy sauce called Ponzu and ground sesame to pour on top.
Simply pour everything on top and mix it together for an entirely different type of sashimi.
At one point during our meal a lovely young woman came by with an ice bucket on a cart filled with seasonal sakes for about 6 USD a bottle. Go on. Just this once, eh?
The Sashimi Moriawase from the specials menu. Fresh, fresh, fresh mackerel, red snapper and various cuts of tuna. Comes with wasabi and grated ginger. Soy sauce and grated ginger are incredible with white meat sashimi.
Dashi Maki Tamago. This is the largest, most rectangular omelette I’ve ever seen. It’s made with a bit of dashi broth in it so it is nothing like the dry bland omelettes I make at home. If you want to eat it like the locals pour some soy sauce on top of that dollop of grated daikon radish in the corner. Then put a dab of the daikon on top of the egg when you eat it.
Shirasu Agedashi Tofu. This is probably an advanced dish. Shirasu are tiny tiny whitebait fish and aren’t for everyone. They have been wrapped in a pocket of fried tofu and covered with green onions and bonito flakes. Pour some soy sauce on top and dig in. This has an earthy, deep fried flavor with a carnival of textures going on. Doesn’t taste fishy.
Hokkaido Style Fried Chicken. These are called Zangi in Hokkaido and they’re delicious. Squeeze a bit of lemon on top.
Shima Hokke. This is my favorite type of fish from Hokkaido, the Atka Mackerel. It has a strong smell but the flavor is amazing. It’s an oily, rich fish that goes great with a bit of lemon. There is nothing to this dish other than grilled fish and lemon. A personal favorite. You could also cover that dollop of grated daikon radish in soy sauce and eat it together with the mackerel yum.
Hokkaido French Fries. Hokkaido makes the best milk, cheese and butter in Japan. This was our last dish…so we ordered something light. Yikes.
I didn’t realize how much food we ordered until writing this. Uoya Iccho is a go to for when we have guests visit that are keen to try seafood but who might want something else as well. We didn’t order it this time but this Izakaya is also great for lamb dishes.
Uoya Iccho at Shinjuku Sankocho Building
11:30 AM – 2:00 PM
4:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Sat & Sun
4:00 PM – 11:00 PM
Shinjuku San Chome