Most of us grew up being scolded about cleaning our plates at dinnertime. Some of our parents used enticements like dessert to get us to eat all our food. Others used guilt, talking about the starving children in Ethiopia. But chances are you never had to pay a fine for leaving a few morsels of food uneaten. But that is exactly what will happen if you don’t bring your big-boy appetite to Hachikyo, a seafood restaurant in Sapporo.
Blogger Midori Yokoyama at Gold Rush went to check it out and filed this report:
About three minutes’ walk from Susukino Station in Sapporo, there is a restaurant called Hachikyo. I heard that they served overflowing bowls of ikura, the salty salmon roe sometimes called the rubies of the sea.
I had originally intended to have lunch at the restaurant but then discovered that they are only open in the evenings, so I came back another day at around 11 p.m. when it had cleared out a little and I was able to get a seat at the counter right away. Apparently, it is usually impossible to get a seat without a reservation, so Lady Luck must have been smiling on me that day.
The owner is a man with a close-shaven head who, in order to make his staff appreciate the hard work fishermen do, actually sends them to do training on a fishing boat. Perhaps due to that exposure, the staff impressed me with their cheerful and up-beat style.
The menu was packed with various different seafood options, but I didn’t even think twice before ordering the “tsukko meshi,” a bowl of rice piled high with as much salmon roe as you want. The young waiter then explained to me that they could only serve the tsukko meshi to customers willing to agree to their rules.
According to the explanation in the menu, the working conditions for fishermen are harsh and so dangerous that it’s not unknown for lives to be lost. To show our gratitude and appreciation for the food they provide, it is forbidden to leave even one grain of rice in your bowl. Customers who do not finish their tsukko meshi must give a donation.
Truthfully, I had just come from eating a bunch of motsu nabe, a miso hotpot with vegetables and offal, and I was a little nervous about this point. A waitress smiled reassuringly at me and said, “Hardly anyone leaves their tsukko meshi unfinished.” Anyway, I resolved that any restaurant that cares so deeply about their ingredients must be delicious, so I agreed to the rules without reservation.
First, they bring you a bowl of rice. The amount is not all that great, compared to an average salmon roe bowl, so I began to feel like eating everything wouldn’t be a problem. While you are waiting for the salmon roe to be piled on, it is another rule that you cannot touch your rice. If you push down your rice or start eating it, your tsukko meshi will be revoked!
After a short wait, the energetic staff called out, “Let’s get started!” Then they began parceling out refills of salmon roe to the waiting customers, all the while calling out a kind of sea shanty that customers must repeat. This performance lent a real maritime authenticity to the experience, and it is something you will definitely want to see.
And here is the finished tsukko meshi:
The bowl is completely red. Usually, you can see rice around the edges of a little mound of salmon roe in the middle, but this was a masterpiece. Just a field of red ikura.
The first overflowing spoonful had very little rice in it, and as the eggs burst into salty deliciousness in my mouth, I really felt the luxuriousness of the meal. The roe already has soy sauce mixed in it, so you can eat it without adding any additional sauce and the flavor is great. One taste and you’ll want to gobble it all up!
Your order also includes a bowl of miso soup, and that was so good I made short work of it as well.
Whoops! Normally you could call this finished, but there are a few tidbits left, and I remembered that simply wouldn’t do, so I picked up my bowl and licked it clean like a cat.
And all that ikura can be yours for just 1,890 yen (about $20). That’s clearly a reasonable price, and if you are crazy for salmon roe, you will be able to eat your fill and be totally satisfied.
After finishing, I spoke a while with the shop owner, Hitoshi Sugita. He said, “This shop has been open for about eight years, and at the end of this April, I will be opening a second shop in Tokyo, so definitely come check it out!”
If you are in the Tokyo area, you will want to take him up on that.
Miyako building 1F
South 3, West 3-chome
And as an added bonus, check out the shanty and Gold Rush’s quirky masked reporter here:
Source, images and video: Gold Rush