Tour Day Two! drinks, sweets, sushi

Tour Day Two! drinks, sweets, sushi
Tour Day Two! drinks, sweets, sushi

A caravan of taxis awaited at 5a.m. on Tuesday morning, bearing us away to the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market. The staff treated us to a presentation on the market’s hidden role at the center of the city’s food distribution. Farmers and fishermen arrive with their wares long before the city has woken up, where brokers and wholesalers bid to claim the meat and produce. They repackage and resell the goods to grocery stores and restaurants, who prepare and serve it to us.

We hung over the rails, marveling at the turret truck drivers zooming past and gasping at the speed of the auctions. The four tuna on sale today (a reduced number, due to rough seas) found their buyers in less than a minute.

The market regularly welcome visitors, with a viewing gallery and tiny museum. I nabbed ten polished beans in a chopstick contest, beating out two of my tourmates… and a Japanese native!

After touring the market, we retired to our breakfast: a generous bowl of rice topped with top grade sushi. The king of tuna, fatty salmon, sea urchin, giant prawns, and other delicacies crowned the sweetly vinegared grains. My tablemate and I could hardly eat for admiring it.

In the ground floor shop below, chests of ice boasted the day’s catch, including a crab so massive that it might have subbed for a soccer ball.

Our charter bus collected us to climb the snowy forested highway to Nikka Whisky’s Yoichi Distillery, its elegant grounds a tribute to the visionary founder as well as a fully functional operation. Masataka Taketsuru journeyed to Scotland in 1918, where he discipled himself to the art of whisky-making and married his wife Rita. The site preserves their home together, along with his intricate methodologies. We witnessed a solemn craftsman shovel coal by hand into the oven heating the copper stills, re-appearing at regular intervals to finetune the heat.

Retreating from the frigid snowflakes, we retired to the tasting room, where vintage ads dating back to the 1940s played: an elegant couple aboard a cruise ship, a pipe-smoking bear rendered in stop motion. We mixed our own highballs with Singlemalt Yoichi, Super Nikka, and a superlatively sweet apple wine.

We could hardly believe our ears when the guide directed us to assemble for the next leg at ten a.m. After a red-eye start, five hours of touring had barely carried us into mid-morning. Despite the full day, everyone found room for lunch: Michelin-winning sushi, paired with Hokkaido wine of local vintage.

Snow buries the Hokkaido vineyards every winter, with vines rising like Lazarus to bear grapes that have claimed international distinction. Wrap-around video screens transported us to the annual transformation, rosy purples sweeping over the dense greenery as autumn claimed the valley. The company also showcased its up-and-coming innovations: smart pesticide spray, directed by AI; and a harvester robot, manufactured by Japan’s own Toyota and equipped with (naturally) a Sony camera.

Our midday repast defies description. We dined in an arched vault not unlike a wine cellar, with a selection of the company’s vintage available for viewing. Champagne bottles gleamed in buckets of snow scooped from the fields outside. At each place, a glittering set of glassware invited us to sample sparkling wine, rosé, a deep red, and a sweet dessert. Manning the helm, a chef once crowned best in Japan crafted two dozen sets of the finest sushi I have ever tasted.

The course commenced with a bento box like none other: crab and sea bass on beds of exquisite vegetables to savor with the sparkling, scallop snuggled with delectable potato for the rosé, and smoked oysters complementing the red. A savory broth soothed us with its bouquet of vegetables and savory dumpling.

Then the sushi arrived on stone trays. Prime tuna, seared trout, steak topped with sea urchin and caviar serenaded us with a symphony of flavors. “You are the pioneers,” our hosts annouced — the first to sample this master chef’s innovation of sushi and wine pairings.

Dazed with delights, we dashed off high spirits in the whimsical museum of the Royce Chocolate Town. Cacao beans ornamented every room, from a gallery of solemn marble sculptures to the lifesize reconstruction of the South American rainforest where the company collects the colorful pods. The charming displays immersed us in the labors of harvesting, meticulous hygiene controls, and the futuristic production line. For the cherry on top, we joined a chocolate-making worshop.

We celebrated a day of abundance with Genghis Khan soul food at the Sapporo Beer Garden, searing strips of succulent lamb on grills embedded in the table. Foaming steins clinked as we raised a Japanese toast: “Kanpai!”

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