What do butadon, pork steak and tonkatsu have in common? They are all pork dishes. You would think Hokkaido is all about seafood. Well, in my 2 weeks there, I barely ate any seafood, mainly because my family’s slightly allergic to crustaceans (Hokkaido is famous for crabs and scallops) and the sashimi was not as good as those we ate in Tokyo and Osaka.
Thank goodness my family love pork. And we discovered some great places which I’ll be sharing in this post.
1. Butadon No. 1 – Tsubetsu Seiyouken 西洋軒
Seiyouken is a family run business in Tsubetsu, a small town on our drive from Sounkyo to Lake Akan. This place serves an assortment of pork dishes. We tried the curry, katsudon (pork cutlet with egg) and their famous butadon (pork on rice). They offered 2 types of butadon. From gestures we figured that one uses lean meat, the other fatty meat. Turned out both were pretty fatty. But strangely the fats did not taste oily. It was still too much for me but the rest in my group loved it. We noticed that unlike the other butadon restaurants later in our trip, the chef stir fried the pork slices in a wok.
Verdict: Forget about the other dishes, go for the butadon. Great for those who love fatty meat with sweet sauce.
2. Butadon No. 2 – Kumaushi
After visiting Lake Mashu and Mt Iozan, we headed towards Kushiro on Pilot National Highway 243. And along this highway on the right is a butadon specialist, Kumaushi. Here they serve only one type of pork but you can choose to have a smaller bowl of butadon with a bowl of soba. And there was butadon with cheese special which my husband ordered. Noticed the charred bits on the pork? The chef grilled the pork slices over charcoal so there’s a nice burnt taste.
Verdict: Meat is nicely charred, is less fatty and the sauce is less sweet. Go for the soba combo. It adds variety to the meal.
3. Pork Steak – Ukifune
One of the challenges of planning a free and easy self-drive holiday is finding nice places to eat along the way. And it’s tough with a language barrier. Many thanks to websites like tabelog, kimi-tourguide and good! hokkaido! who provide recommendations in English. While researching for a lunch venue on route from Kushiro to Obihiro, I read about Ukifune on good!hokkaido!. The description and pictures were so enticing that I decided to make a slight detour to Honbetsu just to try the pork steak. And it’s one of the best food decisions of the trip.
The restaurant only serves pork steak. You can choose to have it with either ginger sauce, garlic or demi-glace sauce. And if you need more carbs, you can order rice to go with your steak.
Verdict: Look at the last picture. It’s that good.
4. Butadon No. 3 – Pancho
Obihiro is said to be the birthplace of butadon. Google “Obihiro butadon” and a list of restaurants will pop up with Pancho being sited most often. I wasn’t expecting to visit this popular place because with a group of 10, finding seats at the same time would be near impossible given the small area. But with all free and easy itinerary, things change. My family found ourselves alone while the rest shopped in a mall, so we took a short drive to Pancho and got a table for 4 almost immediately.
The menu is simple – choose between 4, 5, 6 or 8 slices of pork with your rice. Then pick either seaweed or mushroom miso soup. The butadon is served covered. Open the lid and you’ll find a few peas sprinkled over the pork slices. Looks wise may not seem appetizing but once you’ve taken a bite, you’ll realise why Pancho is tops. The texture of the meat, the marinate, the sauce, all come together perfectly. No wonder the place was packed and there’s a constant queue while we’re eating.
Verdict: Must try.
5. Tonkatsu – Tazumura
There were lots of choices when it comes to tonkatsu at Sapporo. I narrowed down to 3 near my hotel – Wako @ Stellar Place 6F, Maisen @ Tokyu Department Store 10F and Tazumura @ Daimaru Department Store 8F. Having read that Tazumura is good, and I’ve already tried Wako in Kyoto and Maisen in Tokyo, we decided to go for something new.
My older girl ordered her katsudon as usual. My husband, younger girl and I ordered millefeuille (thin sliced), aged pork and skewered pork to share. Well, the pork tasted normal, a tad too fried though. Cabbage was coarsely chopped. And the soup was standard. The only thing I liked was the sesame seeds. They were especially fragrant.
Verdict: Should have gone to Tonkatsu Wako. Really missed the finely chopped and sweet cabbage, and the clam soup. But that was at Isetan, Kyoto Station. Not sure if the quality is the same in Sapporo.
6. Butadon No. 4 – Butadon Ippin
We didn’t plan to have butadon in Sapporo. But since we fell in love with it throughout our trip and our family friend highly recommended Butadon Ippin, we visited its branch at Stellar Place for dinner. The pork is grilled so there’s the charred taste and it’s served covered like Pancho. Instead of peas, they garnish with radish. And you can order pork soup with onsen egg. Well, the overall taste is good. But it’s not as good as the other 3 we’ve tried. Perhaps it would have been better at its main shop at Obihiro. The plus point is they retail the sauce. My husband bought a bottle to make his version of butadon.
Verdict: A place to get your butadon fix when you’re in Sapporo.
7. Butadon No. 5 – Butadon Meijin
Our 5th and final butadon was at New Chitose Airport. My family just couldn’t get enough of it. So when we discovered Butadon Meijin on the directory, we marked that as our lunch venue. Spot any difference between the 2 bowls of butadon? The 1st is lean meat while the 2nd is pork belly. As for taste, Meijin’s sauce has a strong ginger taste which my husband like but not me. Of the 5 butadons, this would rank last for me.
Verdict: Final chance to eat authentic butadon before leaving Hokkaido. And if you like the taste, you can bring home pre-packed butadon and sauces.
That concludes my gastronomical pork journey. Would have loved to try more butadon. It may be a simple dish of pork on rice but each establishment has its way of cooking and its own secret sauce, which makes each bowl of butadon unique.
I’m looking forward to my post-Christmas butadon meal at Butahage, Liang Court. It’s currently the only place in Singapore that specialises in butadon. Let’s see if it will change my present ranking – Pancho, Kumaushi, Seiyouken, Ippin, Meijin.