Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido, seems to be quite a food destination. When Japanese colleagues learned that I was headed to this city, they all said that I was in for some excellent eating experiences.
Thankfully, I was with a young colleague who was quite a foodie and who was also visiting Sapporo for the very first time. She had done research before we left and had a comprehensive list of restaurants that were "must try's".
We had just two nights in Sapporo so I was quite sure we would barely scratch the surface of her list. We both agreed that each meal would have to be memorable and that we would try as much of Sapporo's specialties as we could. And we would make sure not eat the same thing twice.
On our first afternoon in Sapporo -- to acclimatise ourselves to the bone chilling weather, we decided to warm up with a bowl of quintessential Sapporo ramen.
My colleague Nana san and I headed for the Central building right in the heart of downtown Sapporo. It is just across the Mitsukoshi department store.
Since Central houses a large store devoted to stationaries and art supplies, I couldn't quite believe that it hid a ramen restaurant. But there it was -- right on the shop guide itself.
Ramen on the 4th floor!
I almost missed the noren marking the entrance to Aji no Sanpei as it was discreetly tucked behind shelves and shelves of cards and note pads.
It may look small and rather nondescript but Aji no Sanpei is widely revered as the birthplace of miso ramen. Started in the 1950s by the current chef's father, miso ramen has also become known as "Sapporo style ramen".
Awards, certificates and other commendations are framed on the plain white walls of Aji no Sanpei, attesting to its importance in the culinary heritage of Sapporo.
There are only 12 counter seats in this ramen shop. I was told the lines are always so long but since we arrived way past lunchtime, we didn't have to queue.
While waiting for our order, we watched the team of cooks prepare our ramen - under the watchful eyes of the ramen master. There was quite a bit of high heat sautéing going on!
We both ordered Aji no Sanpei's iconic bowl of miso ramen. In addition to the stir fried bean sprouts and other vegetables, there are bits of ground meat to give depth and more flavour to the bowl.
The broth is made from pork bones and while I would have preferred a lighter, smoother stock it was savoury and delicious.
The waiter told us that the miso was placed at the bottom of the bowl and that we should stir it well to enjoy the right taste.
Aji no Sanpei uses medium thick curly ramen noodles -- cooked al dente with just the right bite.
It was a most satisfying bowl and even if miso ramen is not my favourite, I definitely appreciated the experience of eating it right in the restaurant where it was first "invented".