Tuesday two weeks ago at 10:30pm, after spending the entire day putting together a 103-slide deck, it was finally time for dinner. At that time of the night, the only thing that still served food was the hotel bar, and this was dinner.
Well, what is there to say? At least the waiter was a nice guy…
While meals are only one component of travel, they really illustrate the difference in mindset between work travel and leisure travel. Theoretically, there’s really no reason why one can’t eat as well when travelling on business vs leisure. A meal is a meal. At 7pm, find a restaurant, go, and eat. Easy peasy, no?
In practice however, one really never eats as well while on business, despite the expense account. Business trips are always very tight on time, filled with meetings that require extensive preparations. And because these meetings are always arranged in a just-in-time manner, that usually means preparations begin on the flight. And on the ground, late night calls are the norm, going over the numbers with the local team and discussing t’s & c’s with the global centers. And during the meetings, the politicking and maneuvering of negotiations is enough to drain one of the desire to do anything other than to head back to the hotel for a drink (or to the airport to catch a flight home…). Naturally, all these factors conspire to rob one of the appetite to eat a nice meal; your mental state is such that spending too long eating takes away from finishing up the work at hand. In fact, this is why many road warriors tend to eat very unhealthily.
Aside from the food, the work itself is usually challenging and ultimately satisfying. The feeling of winning is great – nothing feels better than giving a well-received presentation, or getting one’s way in negotiations, or coming away with a signed deal. But the eating suffers…
On vacation, hey, you’re always just waiting to your next meal. No meetings in the morning to prepare for, no late night phone calls to locales where phone connections are staticky, no colleagues asking why delivery timelines are so short, no senior executives asking if margins can be higher… in short, nothing to harsh one’s mellow!
On vacation, you pretty much have a great appetite all the time. This why when Christina and I are on holidays, we have the ability to eat things at a frequency that would make the pre-subway-diet Jared Fogle (remember him?) proud.
So, with the above preamble, we head back to Sapporo where we would begin every morning with a full breakfast. Japanese hotels do very nice breakfast buffets, with Japanese selections consisting of rice, various types of fish and meats, pickled salads, miso soup, etc. plus continental standbys such as fruits, dairy products, cereals, salads, etc. The milk, this being Sapporo, was particularly good. Hokkaido milk is truly some of the best we’ve had. (If you like your milk bland and tasteless, you might beg to differ)
On this particular day, after having breakfast, we had a pretty full itinerary ahead of us. In the morning, after breakfast, we took a public bus to the Sapporo Beer Museum. Those of you who have broken bread with me know that I like my beer, so no surprise that I would drag Christina out there. Now having spent a lot of time in Singapore, I thought I knew what clean was. But the Japanese really takes clean to the next level.
The window sills of the public bus we were on was dust free. The rest of the bus immaculately clean. And the bus driver couldn’t be a nicer chap, despite our language challenges. And that really is a microcosm of Sapporo society. Oh, interesting factoid – you don’t pay when you get on the bus, you pay before you get off.
And after a short ride, we arrived at the Beer Museum.
Sapporo beer is still brewed in Hokkaido, but outside the city. The beer museum, as we found out, was never really a brewery. It was originally a sugar mill.
The tour was self-guided, and frankly, not the most interesting one I’d been on. Having been taken on walking tours of commercial breweries in Asia, the Beer Museum was somewhat of a let down. The most interesting thing were the collection of Sapporo beer bottles through the ages, as well as the series of posters used to market the products from the 1800s to present day.
A small section of their poster wall.
The plan was to spend an hour or so here, and then head over to the Sapporo bier garten for a quick snack. We finished the tour in 30 minutes, but that didn’t stop us from heading over to the bier garten anyway.
A very rigid napkin
The place had a German vibe about it, but you don’t have to look too closely to see that it is Japanese. The place was large and very smoky – not from cigarettes, but from the all-you-can-eat BBQ lamb that they were serving.
My wife was still feeling pretty full from breakfast, so she wisely sat out this meal. Me? I got the following:
Sapporo doesn’t get much fresher than this – very close to the source. Just as I’ve had the best Heineken while in Amsterdam, I had the best Sapporo in Sapporo!
We also had lamb sausages with some pickled cabbage (not, it’s not quite sauerkraut) and Dijon mustard. The sausages were nice and greasy, a little sweet on the palette, and pleasingly gamey.
The star almost reminds one of Heineken.
Snack eaten, we bade the beer museum farewell and made our way to the fish market. On this short journey, we got to see more of Sapporo’s public transit system, which was clean, efficient, and unexpectedly inexpensive. The subway ticketing systems were very intuitive and exceedingly user-friendly, so much so that we got the hang of it within 30 seconds. The subway trains pull into the station at breakneck speeds, like so:
Subway train arriving at the station. Note the half-height safety barriers – the trains stop in such a way that their doors are aligned with the safety barrier doors.
The train interiors are spotlessly clean. Also, the Sapporo subway trains have cloth upholstered seats, which are comfy and impossibly clean. How do they keep it so?
We made two train transfers and then got off at a station that was on the outskirts of downtown. This place was a bit more industrial, yet no less clean. It was a little bit of a walk to the fish market, which isn’t really one large market. Rather, it’s a street where seafood vendors have set up shop, with quite a few vendors vying for the shoppers’ seafood dollars. We got there a little late, and many of the businesses were already washing up, preparing to shut down for the day. However, there were one or two large stores, obviously well-prepared to handle tourists, that were still going full-tilt.
A cute little pickup used for delivery. In the background, you can see the colorful signs of the seafood vendors.
We walked into one of the larger seafood stores and gawked at the impressive variety of seafood on offer. One of the fishmongers walked up to us and starting speaking in rapid-fire Japanese. We smiled at him politely, patiently waiting for him to come to the realization that we didn’t speak the language. But he was a loquacious one, and kept on gabbing away. And then, all of a sudden, he realized we weren’t responding, which was when he started laughing, shaking his head, and asked what could only be “Oh, you don’t speak Nihongo?” in Japanese.
And then he put his arms around my shoulders, starts pointing at my wife and begins with his rapid-fire speech again. He was nodding, making the thumbs-up sign, and I caught the words “Nihonjin” quite a few times. I think he was saying my wife looks Japanese (it’s not the first time we’ve heard that). And then he gave me a friendly slap on the arms, and with more thumbs-up in Christina’s direction, gives me the universal “You lucky dog” smile that men the world over all understand. Who said the Japanese are reserved?
There was a restaurant attached to that store, which we recognized from one of the TVB food programs that we’d watched. One of the walls was covered with testimonials from previous visitors, and we recognized one from Leung Man To. Well, with references like that, how could we not eat our third meal of the day there?
Spartan but clean surroundings. The wall with the tuna drawing was covered with testimonials from previous “famous” visitors.
One side of the picture menu. Prices here weren’t cheap.
The other side of the menu.
Self-serve tea and eating utensils.
And here’s what we ordered.
A chirashi bowl with ika (squid), amaebi (prawn), maguro (tuna), awabi (abalone), uni (sea urchin roe) and ikura (salmon roe). This was AWESOME. I don’t know how we ate it all up, but we did. Everything was good, but ikura was a revelation. The ikura we get in Vancouver is a bit cloudy, but the ones in Sapporo were ruby red and very clear. And in your mouth, each globule pops and releases a burst of fresh, rich, salty goodness with a slightly sweet finish. Nothing I’ve eaten outside of Sapporo have tasted this good.
After our third meal of the day, we walked around the store contemplating buying some seafood to eat back at the hotel. Here’s some of the items on sale at the store:
King crab legs
Air dried fish
Uni. I think Uni wasn’t in season yet, for the roe was pretty small in size.
Hokkaido hairy crab
Spiny king crab
King crab. Mmmm… King crab. All packed for travel and ready to go.
The friendly Japanese guy snapped a couple of photos of us, and we were on our way. Some of you might know that I’m a huge car nut, so I took several photos of cars that I found interesting.
For instance, in Japan, this Legend is properly labeled a Honda. “Acura” is a brand made-up purely for the North American market. What’s wrong with calling a Honda a Honda?
In a land where small cars are the norm, it’s always hilarious to see something like this Chevy Suburban. All blinged up with 22 inch chromed rims too…
Next post, snacks and the best sushi we’ve had to date. Keep watching this space…