Food Tour Japan! sea & shell in Hokkaido

Food Tour Japan! sea & shell in Hokkaido
Food Tour Japan! sea & shell in Hokkaido

Little had I guessed the Lord would welcome me back to Japan within six months of saying my good-byes. This week I am beyond blessed to tour the agricultural powerhouses of Hokkaido and Tohoku, as a guest of the JFOODO tours: a government initiative to share Japan’s lesser-known cuisine with the world.

Alongside twenty other alumni of the JET program, I will zoom to nearly a dozen different locales over the next five days. Our mission? Sample fresh shellfish, tour whiskey distilleries, pair sushi with wine, practice chocolate-making, pick strawberries, and devour plate after plate of Japan’s best dishes. It’s the adventure of a lifetime, the journey of my dreams.

After a night in Tokyo, to gather from five continents and greet each other over a sumptious buffet, our tour commenced at Funka Bay in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost island. Framed in snowy mountains, the gleaming water marks the birthplace of a pioneering technique in cultivating scallops. We studied the scallop life cycle and introduced ourselves to the fishermen responsible for the day’s catch, but not until we had sampled the goods ourselves.

Our expert hosts served us sashimi-style (fresh from the sea) and grilled in Hokkaido butter (medium-rare), accompanied by crisp tempura. We debated which to favor — the creaminess of raw scallop or the richly flavored grilling? — and decided the only way to settle the question would be eating another one… or three.

Our chef further impressed with a lecture on scallops’ growth from eggs as fine as sand grains to the mature three-year-old shells — with a hand-sewn plushie to model the creatures’ anatomy. The black dots lining its shell act as eyes: sensing light as the scallops compete with oysters for plankton.

Fishermen string hundreds of shells by hand on 15 meter ropes, dangling them like a curtain in the waves. Submerged but free-floating, the scallops flourish in the water’s natural minerals. They reach maturity twelve months faster than the typical scallop, and they digest less sand — offering diners a smoother, purer taste.

The itinerary hadn’t warned us that we would be trying our hands at scallop fishing ourselves. Game show-style, five of us took the stage at a time in 3 minute rounds of desperate coaxing to reel the scallops from their tanks. With eight captures apiece, two of the men faced off for a final round … and the resident Hawaiian triumphed. To sharpen the excitement, TV crews from two local news channels roved throughout the visit — documenting our delight and nabbing the more fluent of us for interviews.

For dinner, our guides treated us to an eight-course banquet of delectable crab meat: horsehair crab, matsuba crab, crab miso soup, deep-fried crab cakes, tempura crab, crab in rice porride, and sorbet flavored with … no, not crab. Yuzu, an Asian citrus, perfectly concluded the feast.

We rise at 5am on Tuesday for our visit to the Sapporo wholesale market — for a breakfast of seafood bowls!

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