Saturday, 29 July 2017

Hokkaido Travelogue: Day 2 - Hakodate & Onuma Park

I know this Hokkaido travelogue is taking a long time, but I'm trying my best at it, so please bear with me!

And of course, with the Hakodate Asaichi (Morning Market) within walking distance from our hotel, we planned for some fresh seafood breakfast for our day 2 in Hokkaido! But because the BF preferred to drive (even for the 10 minutes walk), so we did. Parking is not an issue at all as there's a huge open space car park right in front of the market. :)
That huge BBQ scallop on shell was just AMAZING, so thick, chewy and flavourful. Not digging the uni (sea urchin) though. For those who says uni sashimi tastes just like butter, what's wrong with y'all?!

The trick to getting the best out of the morning market is to walk in further! I realised that not only the donburi just get cheaper and cheaper, so did the cut melons! 
So remember, walk through the entire street before backtracking and deciding on exactly which eatery you want to go for. Their menu are almost exactly the same, just perhaps the portion sizes and pricing. :)

And of course, being the ever-so-budget person, I settled for the cheapest kani don I managed to find towards the end of the street. It was semi-disguise as a fruit stall, so do keep your eyes open for the "mismatched" donburi signboard beside a fruit juice bar. 

As I'm hardly a sashimi person, I was pretty much left with NO choice other than the kani don, which was just a bowl of white rice and topped with a generous portion of shredded cooked (real) crab meat and topped with some seaweed and tamagoyaki. Very basic, but still pretty tasty! 

Almost all the reviews I've found online highly recommend the kanijiru (crab miso soup) and I was so glad I ordered it! If I were to describe it in the most exaggerated, dramatic way I would say, "I tasted the ocean in this little bowl of soup."
It's basically a miso soup base, but packed full of the sweetness of the seafood (crabs, scallops and shrimps) that's added inside. 
And you know what's even better? This eatery serves kanijiru FREE with their donburi. 
Service desu!

There was also a "market" located right in the middle of the morning market street, which you can find cooking ingredients (fresh produce, seafood, dried goods), fruits and dairy products but mostly at a rather expensive price (compared to SG). 
I have to say I was pretty disappointed with their (lower end priced) strawberries as they're mostly neither sweet or sour (pretty tasteless). But I did overhear a group of Taiwanese (Chinese?) tourist gushing over the premium priced ones (almost $20 SGD for a punnet) saying it's super sweet and nice. 
The BF also bought a 500ml of yoghurt drink (thinking that it was milk) that tasted really good too! 

Hakodate Asaichi is located beside Hakodate JR Station and is opened daily from 5am (6am in the winter) to 2pm. 

 So after filling our tummies at the morning market, we headed off to one of the (supposedly) must-visit in Hakodate. The Goryokaku Park/Tower!

You can get up the Tower to the observation deck at an admission fee of 840 Yen to see the special star-shaped layout of the park. 

-credits to Travel Hakodate-

Like this. But of course, you can "view" it across all seasons on google search. I'm thinking the view would be a whole lot more worth your penny in winter (when everything should be covered in snowy white) or during the sakura blooming season (when everything will be PINK!). 
But since we went when absolutely nothing non-green is growing, we decided to skip the tower and save the money. 

Within the park lies the Hakodate Magistrate's Office, a restored building that was once used as a government office run by Samurai. A 500 Yen admission fee will allow you to enter and explore the rooms, which we obviously didnt. 

The park was quite a disappointment (for May-June season) as nothing was really growing other than trees, grass, and leaves (ALL GREEN). The park was really big, but nothing specifically interesting (eg. architecture etc) or "instagram-worthy". 
But we did grab a Hokkaido Milk softserve and did some puppy-watching before leaving the park for our next destination. 

Goryokaku Tower is opened from 8am - 7pm (spring/summer) and 9am to 6pm (autumn/winter).
Magistrate Office is opened from 9am to 6pm (5pm during winter) and last admission is 15 minutes before closing time. 

Tropical Botanical Garden near Yunokawa Onsen, which was about a 30 to 45 minutes drive away from Goryokaku Tower. 

And the main reason for my visit was: FEEDING MONKEYS... IN ONSEN!

But it ended up being quite a disappointment and rather depressing as the monkeys were kept in a pretty bad condition. No monkeys bothered dipping in the "onsen" even though the weather was chilly, and a handful of monkeys laid at the corner of the concrete enclosure, obviously waiting to die (didn't snap pictures of them because it was too depressing). 

Some monkeys have learned to do "tricks" (eg. clapping hands, twirling around in circles) to catch tourists' attention to get more treats, while some gets bullied and failed to get fed all the time. We tried desperately to feed the "skinny and small ones" but the food ALWAYS get snatched away by the big and fat ones. :(

Anyway, there's also an ashiyu (foot onsen) at the corner opposite and monkeys' enclosure, which we didn't check out because there was someone else there when we visited, and a botanical garden with tropical flowers (everything you can find in Singapore).

The Tropical Botanical Garden is open daily from 930am to 6pm.

The next destination planned out was actually Daiso, which was supposed to be quite near Yunokawa Onsen, but somehow it was forgotten and we headed off to Onuma National Park / Onuma Lake instead, which was a good 2 hours' drive away. 

Do drop by the visitor's centre first to pick up a map and some discount coupons, which you can use to get discounted rates when you rent a bike or a boat tour (or some other kind of small boat for you to go out to the lake). As the park closes by 5pm (ish), and we arrived pretty late at nearly 3pm (it was an impromptu visit), we could only choose 1 out of the 3 choices made available to us (cycle, boat, or explore the park on foot). 

And, we chose to rent a bicycle and went on a good 14km (if my memory didn't fail me) ride around the entire Onuma Lake, which was mostly on the main road rather than literally around the lake. 

There's numerous photo-taking point stops along the route, which gives you scenic view across the entire Onuma Lake and the majestic dormant volcano, Mount Komagatake. 

And of course we didn't forget our "cuppa"! But this wasn't that good, I'll highly recommend sticking to Mount Rainer's Deep Espresso (blue cup) or  No-Sugar Caffe Latte (green cup).

You can't find the Deep Espresso everywhere though, only certain conbini (convenience store) carries it. 

It's highly probable that because we visited during an off-peak season (nothing colourful was growing, other than pure green), the entire route was nearly deserted throughout our full 2 hours' ride.  We only encountered 2 more cyclists along the way and NOBODY at the pit stops while taking photographs. 14km might sound a little daunting, but it's definitely doable within 2 hours (inclusive of stopping by every single pit stops and taking tons of photos). 
We got back to the bicycle rental shop right on the dot at 5pm sharp as they closes for the day, and quickly headed back to Hakodate for dinner (as it's going to be another 2 hours' drive back).
I'll say for the attractions we visited around the Hakodate area, Onuma Park was the place I enjoyed the most, so I'll highly recommend that you do proper planning (no short, impromptu visits like me) and give this place a good day's worth of your time to check it out properly. It's a shame I didn't get to explore the park on foot. :(

Onuma Quasi National Park is open daily, 9am to 5pm (Google states 4pm now, but when we're there around end May, we were told they closes by 5pm). 

Dinner for the day was planned to be Takahashiya Ramen, which was popular for their rich and oily Spicy Miso broth unlike the rest of other Hakodate's ramen establishment that specialise more in light, shio broth. But, we only found out that they closes by 3pm daily when we get there!
Do the Japanese in Hakodate do not ever eat ramen for dinner? :(

Anyway, we managed to find a private parking lot in front of a really pretty hair salon (the distinctive white-blue santorini theme) that's diagonally opposite the ramen shop for a little rest (for the BF, he was the one driving, not me) before deciding to head back to Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse to find some dinner at their beerhall. 

And of course, their red brick warehouse makes excellent background for some #ootd shots!

They do have a few interesting shops and dessert cafes around here, but do note that they ALL closes early (by 7pm?) with the exception of the Beer Hall (about 9pm) and the huge Lucky Pierrot branch located beside the row of warehouses. 

We spotted some nice look cakes over at one of the cafes but didn't think of double-checking their opening hours and ended up missing it because they've closed for the day after we're done with our Beer Hall dinner. T.T

Not going to bore you with the food pictures, but the food choices here are generally fusion (Japanese, Western and even a bit of Korean) and not the cheapest you can find.

But while you're here, I highly recommend that you try their local draft beer (kanamori) as it was soooooo good!

For all you unagi lovers our there, you can find very affordable anago (saltwater eel, supposedly better hence always more expensive) sushi here, as compared to the prices we get here in SG.

And so, this marked the end of our Day 2 in Hokkaido (because as I've said, everything else was closed after we were finished with dinner).
If you haven't read about my Day 1 experience, check it out HERE.
Day 3 in Lake Toya and Sapporo is now up HERE

Till then,
Mia Foo

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Mia's Recipe: Baked Oreo Cottage Cheese Cake

Well, I'm personally not a fan of cheesecakes in general (but I do enjoy eating those Hokkaido baked cheese tarts) but since it's the BF's birthday and the boy loves cheesecakes, I decided to bake some healthier options of cheesecake for him.
But well, in the end I still dumped in tons of Oreo cookies, so it wasn't that healthy after all. But hey, it's his birthday, we should both indulge. HEH!

To make these baked oreo cottage cheesecake (serves 18), you'll need:

15 pieces Oreo Cookies
200g Cottage Cheese (I've used 97% fat free)
25g plain Greek Yoghurt (I've used low fat)
25g melted butter
30ml honey
1 tbsp baking stevia 
(you may omit stevia and use a total of 45ml honey)
2 medium eggs
20g cake flour (or top flour)
18 pieces Mini Oreo Bites

First up, separate the cream filling and biscuits of the oreo cookies. Divide the filling into half (I got about 16g separated out) and crush up half the filling along with the biscuits in a food processor, along with the melted butter.
Your crushed oreo mixture should be of wet sand consistency. 
Pack the crushed oreo mixture into the bottom of your tin (I got both of mine from Daiso). I got about 2:1 cake to base ratio, but you can tweak the thickness as you wish. Perhaps just pack all into 1 tin if you're those type who loves a thick base crust. 

Then, back at the (clean) food processor, add in all the ingredients except for cake flour and blitz until you get a smooth mixture. Pour the mixture into a large bowl and fold in the sifted flour with a balloon whisk. 

Pour your cheesecake mixture over the oreo base crust and top it up with mini oreo bites.

Send to bake for 25 to 30 minutes at 180 degree Celsius.

Wait till they're cooled completely before removing them from the tin and slicing them up. 

The insides were still moist and soft while the edges slightly crisp. I guess as compared to a cheesecake baked with cream cheese, using cottage cheese gives your cheesecake a rougher, grainy texture and also greatly reduce the calories per serving. 

If you're on a strict diet, you may do away with the oreo base to further reduce the calories and sugars per serving (53.9 calories, 3.6g sugars, 2.5g fat and 2.3g protein).


Till then,
Mia Foo

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Hokkaido Travelogue: Day One - Hakodate

Oh yes, finally I'm getting really started with my Hokkaido travelogue series! It might take a while for me to document my 10 days spent in Hokkaido, but I shall see this through!

Well, the actual first day of the trip was spent on Thai Airways, so I shall fix the 2nd day as Day 1. And guess what? My shoes woes was back to haunt me! My lovely yellow boots (bought in Taiwan, yet again) decided to abandon its mission the minute I stepped onto Japan's land. Like, seriously. The sole dropped off even before I cleared customs. Thank goodness I'm fully aware of my "luck" with spoiling shoes on trips and I packed an extra pair. So... yup, a change of shoes right after collecting my luggage from the belt, and let's move on!

And as mentioned in my prelude post, I've rented our car with Budget Car and has arranged to pick the car up at 930am.

Which is why I gave up on this.
Stumbled upon Doraemon Cafe at Shin-Chitose airport while searching for the car rental booth, but they open only at 11am. Anyway it was Shizuka-chan's birthday back then!

Anyway picking the car took a while, as we need to wait for their shuttle bus to pick us up from the airport and drive us over to the actual rental store, which is about 10 to 15 minutes drive away. After which we spent another 30 to 45 minutes going through a short briefing from the staff and an introduction to our car (Toyota Passo) before really setting off for our first destination of the trip, Jigokudani (Hell Valley) at Noboribetsu!

You'll know you're reaching Jigokudani when you see this big statue at the road junction. 

Jigokudani is a valley just above the town of Noboribetsu Onsen, displaying hot steam vents, sulfurous streams and other volcanic activity. It is a main source of Noboribetsu's hot spring waters. From the valley, there are a few walking trails that will lead you through the wooded hills above Noboribetsu. Following them will get you to Oyunuma, a sulfurous pond with a surface temperature of 50 degree Celsius and a smaller, even hotter, mud pond nearby. 
Following Oyunumagawa, the river flowing out of Oyunuma, for a few hundred metres will get you to a natural foot bath (ashiyu) along the way.

I was really pumped up for the walking trail and ashiyu at the end, but due to bad, rainy weather, we abandoned mission and headed down the street for lunch instead.

Lunch place on the itinerary is Sobadokoro Fukuan! Even though soba doesn't top my list of favourite Japanese noodles (I even prefer udon over soba, to be honest), this soba place has earned pretty itself a pretty high ranking on tripadvisor and other travel sites, so I guess it's a must try! 
Moreover, the area is actually pretty quiet and there really isn't much choices of food anyway (there's a ramen-ya nearby too, if you'll prefer that). 

Ebi Tempura Soba

Now, this is definitely a good (and affordable) tempura soba! Though I would personally prefer the ebi tempura to be all soaked in the broth (and soggy), the prawns were still fresh and springy, and the batter half crispy. Well, literally half crispy because only half of the ebi tempura gets dipped into the broth so if you're quick enough, you can still get half of it crispy.
The broth is flavourful and savoury, and complements the distinctive, subtle sweetness of the soba noodles very well.

Chanced upon a Hokkaido Milk Soft Serve Shop on our way back to the carpark and picked up a caramel-hokkaido milk mix. SUPER YUMMY!

And even after lunch (and soft serve), the rain just wouldn't ease up (and actually got slightly heavier) and so we gave up on the walking trail and ashiyu, and embarked on our 2.5 hours' drive down to Hakodate instead.

Pension Puppy Tail is a small, quaint hotel nestled at a 5 minute walk away from JR Hakodate Station. Decorated in a homely vintage style, it comes with either western or traditional Japanese rooms, and either ensuite or shared bathroom. There's also free wifi in the rooms and a free-to-use microwave in the lobby. 

And of course, I went for the western ensuite room that came well equipped with the basic necessities like toiletries (shiseido products), hair dryer, a mini fridge and a pretty small TV set. Bath towels, yukata (pyjamas) and comfy yukata jackets are also provided, so fear not if you do not do well with cold weathers. 
The hotel also provide free parking and is conveniently located next to a petrol kiosk (gas station) that closes by 9 or 10pm. Other than being very near to the JR station, the Hakodate Morning Market is also easily accessible by foot (just perhaps another 3 to 5 minutes walk from the JR station). 
There are two owners (father and son?) manning the reception, and they're both really friendly and chatty. While I conversed with the younger male wholly in Japanese (hence I can't tell if he speaks good English), the elder male does speak decent, basic English.

And shortly after settling down at the hotel, we set off for Hakodate Yama (Mount Hakodate) for sunset!

You may get to the observatory via a 3 minutes ride on the ropeway (cable car), bus, taxi, or self-drive. A round trip on the ropeway will cost you only 1280 Yen, which isn't that expensive. 

The observatory has an indoor viewing area (with a souvenir shop, a small snack shop and two restaurants/cafes) and an open air rooftop area for you to get an even better view. Even though we visited during the very end of May, it was still pretty cold (single digit Celsius temperature) with strong gusts of wind blowing at your from every single direction possible. 

And because it's so friggin' cold, the indoor seating area was packed and we had no choice but to brace the cold to wait for sunset.

We were there at the rooftop at about 5 plus and loitered around for 1 hour plus before the sun finally set at about 630pm.

And if you want to snap a picture of the famous Mt Hakodate night view, you probably have to do it before the sun fully set because the best angle to take this shot will be "reserved" by the phototaking booth. They came around 630pm to start chasing visitors away and sending them up to the viewing stand on the other (higher) side, which won't be able to give you this head on, frontal shot.
And of course, by hogging the best angle, they will charge you at quite a sky high price for a few shots.

So shortly after the sun set, we headed back down to the indoor area and picked up a few hot & cold snacks. Only managed to snap a picture of just 1 out of the 4 snacks we bought, but I do highly recommend trying out their ice-creamy cheese tart (??). 
Sorry for being a superficial bimbo when it comes to snacks/desserts. I chose to take a picture of this mediocre tasting ice cream puff with a cute bunny face on it instead of the true winner of taste (that cheesy tart) and so I cannot remember what is it called exactly. But it's sold at the chiller section (along with tons of other desserts) in the souvenir/gift shop, so do check it out!

And after filling our empty stomachs with a little bit of food, we headed back up to the rooftop, intending to check out the night view and was stunned to find it packed to the brim with tourists. There was so many people, that it's impossible to see any kind of view. It's just countless back-of-someone's-head, really. So if you're bent on taking a beautiful, unblocked view of Mr Hakotdate's night view, I highly suggest you brace the cold wind and "reserve" your spot before the sun set at 5 plus, 6pm and just wait it out until the darkness sets in. 
There's no other way.
And of course, we abandoned mission yet again and went off to find dinner instead.

For more information on visiting Hakodate Yama, visit their website HERE.

Dinner set on the itinerary was Lucky Pierrot, a fast food joint that's unique to Hakodate. So yeah, you can't find this anywhere else in Japan or even other parts of Hokkaido. ONLY HAKODATE!
There's TONS of Lucky Pierrot branches in Hakodate. And with such a fanciful, near crazy shopfront, you can never miss it!

Love their clown logo, but not that much of the milk tea. It was pretty washed down. 

The BF decided to go with their Ninki No. 2 (2nd most popular choice), the Lucky Egg Burger, which is a hamburger (beef patty) topped with a fried egg. He can be quite a food snob at times and he totally food-orgasmed at first bite, mentioning that the sauce was fantastic. 
Best of all, this was only 390 Yen. 

No wonder we hardly see any McDonald's around Hakodate. How to fight, like that? 

I went for their Ninki No. 3, the Tonkatsu Burger that cost slightly cheaper at 380 Yen. The tonkatsu was super crispy on the outside and still quite tender on the inside. I only wished they've chosen a leaner cut of meat for me instead of this piece with a glorious, nearly 1.5cm wide, strip of pure FATS at the side. 

After a hearty (and fatty) dinner, we decided to take a stroll to the nearby (and very nearby, about 5 minutes walk) bay area and found yet another (and bigger) Lucky Pierrot.

With a huge-ass hamburger for patrons to sit on,

This bigger branch also sells some snacks, cooking condiments and other novelty stuff like hamburger shaped pouches and so on. So do visit this branch instead if you'll prefer a fancier looking branch.

You can check out Lucky Pierrot's Menu HERE

And this marked the end of our Day 1 in Hokkaido! Day 2 is now up HERE so do check it out!

Till then,
Mia Foo
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