At the morning market in Hakodate (函館朝市, Hakodate asaichi), Hokkaido you can catch your own squid, have it cleaned and turned into sashimi for your breakfast. In the video above you’ll see how that works.
Hakodate is the third largest city in Hokkaido, the most northern prefecture of Japan. It lies at the foot of Mount Hakodata from where you have a wonderful view of the city and its surroundings. You can drive your car all the way to the top, or take a cable car.
Architecture in Hakodata sometimes seems very Western, it reminds you of Greenwich in Engeland. Or Philadelphia. You’ll notice it in the Motomachi area and in the harbour. You’ll see a lot of red brick, which you won’t see in the rest of the country. Cruise ships doc at Hakodate daily. The many tourists who spend a day on shore go to the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse, to shop for all kinds of souvenirs. But what Hakodate is really known for is its market and its fish: tuna, squid, salmon roe, sea urchin and – often gigantic – crab.
Hakodate morning market
At a one minute walk from the station of Hakodate (JR Hakodate, not the bigger Shinkansen station at Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto!) you’ll find the morning market which is open from 5am until 2pm. There are some 300 stands with food and a lot of fresh fish in particular. Look for the stand where you can fish for your own breakfast, you can’t miss the large acquarium full of squid.
Catch your own squid
Buy a ticket and you are given a rod and then you can do your thing. Some catch one within seconds, but if you are unlucky, it can take a while. Once you catch your squid, staff will offer a bucket to drop your squid in. She will take it to the table where a professional is filleting your catch. It’s a fascinating and somewhat gruesome process because the squid keeps moving even though its head has been chopped off. The tentacles may wander off by themselves. Within a minute your squid is handed back to you on a plate as slippery, rubbery sashimi. You can sit down at one of the tables to eat it. There are chopsticks, soy sauce and ginger on the tables. Even on your plate, parts of the dead animal keep moving, the soy sauce triggers convulsions. These are automatic reactions to the salt in the sauce. The cells in the muscles that react to electric impulses are still working despite being disconnected from the brain. It’s a little creepy. What does the super fresh raw squid taste like? Primarily like the sea.
Eating a plate of shivering limbs is nice, but the real party starts with the bowls of donburi that you can order from the many restaurants at Donburi Yokocho Ichiba, the food hall part of the market. Donburi is warm rice topped with another ingredient. Can be anyhing. Chicken or beef, tempura, and so on. But this is Hakodate and we’re at the fish market, so we’re talking kaisendon here. Kaisondon is rice with sea food: gorgeous salmon roe, creamy uni (the stuff that comes from sea urchins), plump sweet shrimp and crab meat, rounded off with s shiso leaf and a squeeze of wasabi. Yum.
Uni is an acquired taste. It can be bitter if its kept too long. No such thing in Hakodate. Straight from the sea in my bowl, it tasted salty, briny and a little sweet.
So you don’t like fish? Try Lucky Pierrot (ラッキーピエロ), Hakodate’s over the top answer to McDonalds. Their hamburgers are tasty and the restaurants have their own peculiar look.