Thursday, March 5, 2015

Savoring Sapporo's Specialties, Part 3 -- Doing Genghis Khan proud at Aji no Hitsujigaoka

This was my first trip to Sapporo and since I was going to be there for all of two days, I wanted to discover her tastes and specialties as much as I could in the short time that I had.   
It was a good thing that my young colleague Nana san,  who was with me for this business trip, had the same thing on her mind.  She had done her "due diligence" as to what and where we should eat.

It was our last evening in Sapporo and we had just come from a successful launch of our project. 
To celebrate, we headed to Susukino, Sapporo's famous "red-light district".  A bit of a misnomer perhaps because while all the clubs, bars and entertainment centres are here, this is also where you can find very good restaurants, cafes and high end stores and shops.  

Susukino plays a major role each year at Sapporo's Yuki Matsuri or Snow Festival.  It is one of the three areas where the festival is held.  This long ice corridor sponsored by Kirin had thousands of tiny twinkling multi-coloured fairy lights - truly a dazzling display.

This long street in the Susukino district was the site of  the ice sculpture competitions.  
The judging would be done the next day but some contestants were still putting the finishing touches on their entries.  It was - 5 degrees that night and I could just imagine how cold it must have been to be working with ice and standing on the snowdrifts around these sculptures.

While I had seen and marvelled at the gigantic snow sculptures in Odori Park, these smaller but very detailed ice carvings were no less impressive.  

This was one of my favourites. Now where can I get that giant can of Sapporo beer?

Viewing all these original and creative ice sculptures finally took its toll on us.  We were hungry, thirsty and yes -- we needed to get in from the frigid night air.  Thankfully, we finally arrived at our dinner destination.  Here are my colleagues in front of Aji no Hitsujigaoka -- one of Sapporo's best places that serves a local favourite ... jingisukan.

A narrow flight of stairs led us to the second floor where the restaurant was.  There was just one long counter good for about 20 diners -- and because we had reservations, we were able to grab the last few seats.  

These domed hot grills have blazing charcoal briquettes inside and are the basic cooking implements for jingisukan.  Interesting factoid -- the dish is named after Genghis Khan, the great Mongolian warrior.  Jingisukan is essentially grilled mutton -- a meat that was associated with the Mongolian tribes, hence the name.  It is also said that these skillets look like the helmets that were used during Genghis' time. 
At the restaurant, these skillets are placed in front of the diners as jingisukan involves cooking your own meal.

To spare diners' clothes from splatters paper aprons are de rigueur at jingisukan restaurants.  

Here's how the aprons looked like, as modelled by my colleagues Hashi san and Okamoto san.

Nothing goes better with grilled meat and barbecue than a mug of cold beer.  And when in Sapporo, it must be  Sapporo Classic -- a beer sold only in Hokkaido.

We ordered mutton to start off with.  The lady behind the counter lined the sides of the hot grill with assorted vegetables --  bean sprouts, slices of bell peppers, cabbage pieces.  She left space in the centre -- this was where the meat would be cooked.

Aside from the vegetables and the meat, another key ingredient of jingisukan is sheep lard -- that's the white chunk in centre of the grill.   The  charcoal embers rendered the lard which then coated the metal and kept the meat from sticking to the grill.  The sizzle coming from frying lard and meat gave off such a tantalising aroma.

 We cooked our mutton on the hot grill and the meat juices slid down to the vegetables, making them even more tasty.  Mutton does not need a lot of cooking time -- medium rare is the best way to enjoy  it.  The mutton at Aji no Hitsuijigaoka was tender and not at all gamey.  Even if mutton has very little marbling compared to beef,  each cooked piece was juicy and tender and it was oh so easy to eat slice after delightful slice.   I was in the throes of mutton mania!

 We had a bit of  space left in our stomachs so we ordered  sausages.  They were quite mild and not as spicy or strong flavoured so perhaps they were made of lamb and not mutton -- which is the meat from older sheep.  The sausages were excellent  and  went very well with the beer.

 We certainly ate a lot of jingisukan that night at Aji no Hitsujigaoka.  Genghis Khan would have approved.  Stuffed with sheep lard and meat,  faces warmed from the beer and the hot grill,
we stepped out of the restaurant, ready to face the frosty February night.
But first,  one last "group-fie" before we ended our most satisfying last night in Sapporo.

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