That doesn’t mean they go badly, though.

On his journey through Japan’s frozen northern prefecture of Hokkaido, our Japanese-language reporter Seiji Nakazawa found himself in the prefecture’s capital, Sapporo, on a cold, snowy night. Longing for a piping hot bowl of delicious ramen to warm his body and soul, he hopped into a cab…but he wasn’t exactly sure where he wanted to go.

Recently, we’ve taken to asking taxi drivers for their recommendations for the best local restaurants, and they haven’t steered us wrong yet. With Sapporo being especially famous for miso broth ramen, Seiji figured his cabbie would know a good place or two, especially since ramen restaurants being open late into the night makes a viable meal option for cab drivers working similar shifts.

So Seiji could practically taste the ramen already when he said to the cab driver, “I’m here on vacation, so I don’t know the town very well. Could you take me to a ramen restaurant you recommend?”, but the response he got was:

“Ramen…ramen, huh…hmmm…”

With ramen being so widely popular in Japan, it’s easy to fall into the assumption that everyone likes it, and Seiji realized he’d just assumed the driver did too. “Oh, sorry, are you not a ramen fan?” he asked, but that wasn’t the problem, as the driver replied “No, I like ramen as much as the next guy…hmmm…but there’s not any place in particular I can recommend. There’s not, like, one place that’s the best.”

“Oh, that’s OK,” Seiji reassured him. “Just someplace that you particularly like is fine…is there a ramen restaurant you particularly like?”

“…naw, not really,” the driver answered. With his apparently open-minded attitude that most ramen restaurants are pretty good preventing him from being able to name one specifically, Seiji decided to change tactics and asked “Ah, in that case it doesn’t have to be ramen. Any restaurant that you particularly like is fine, like, say, a place that has sushi rice bowls.”

“Sushi rice bowls…hmmmm…” the driver murmured. But just as it seemed like the pattern was going to repeat itself, he said “There’s a place I like for Genghis Khan.” To clarify, the taxi driver was not recommending that Seiji eat a 12th century warlord. Genhgis Kahn, or jingisukan, as it’s pronounced in Japanese, is a dish of grilled mutton and onion, somewhat similar to Mongolian barbecue.

“Yeah, that works!” Seiji enthusiastically replied, since jingisukan is another food that Hokkaido is famous for, and away they went.

▼ Along the way, they passed by a free hostess bar guidance center that, for some reason, has co-opted plausibly deniable silhouettes of Great Detective Conan.

After a short drive, the driver stopped the cab in front of Daruma, a restaurant that shares its name with a historical Buddhist monk (who’s also known as Bodhidharma) and Japan’s spherical good luck dolls.

Daruma is a local chain that’s popular with Sapporo residents and tourists alike. “If you’re craving jingisukan, Daruma is the place that pops into mind,” the cabbie explained, “and their food really does taste great.”

Though you can find jingisukan restaurants in other parts of Japan, they’re not particularly common. This was actually Seiji’s first time to ever eat it, so he was happy to find that Daruma’s menu is pretty simple, with just three classes of mutton, listed as “Mongolian barbecue,” “quality meat,” and “fillet.”

▼ In addition to Japanese, the menu also has English, Chinese, and Korean translations

Seiji decided to splurge and try all three. Since jingisukan is a cook-it-yourself-at-the-table kind of dish, after the waitstaff brought his plates of meat and onion to the table, Seiji got to grilling.

The standard Mongolian barbecue meat is priced at 1,078 yen (US$9.40) a plate, while there’s a bit of a price premium for the quality meat and filet, which are 1,375 yen each. To Seiji, though, it’s all a matter of personal preference, and he actually liked the leaner, meatier flavor of the standard and fillet more than the quality meat, which felt a little gamier to him.

That said, each and every type was delicious, and because Seiji was able to try all three, he left with not only a full stomach, but a fairly comprehensive understanding of what to expect from a meal at Daruma. As a matter of fact, a return visit is definitely going on his itinerary the next time he’s in Sapporo, so even though he didn’t get his miso ramen fix that night, he’s got no complaints.

Restaurant information
Daruma (4.4 branch) / だるま(4.4店)
Address: Hokaido, Sapporo-shi, Chuo-ku, Minami 4-jo Nishi 4
Open 5 a.m.-11 p.m.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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