ガンゲット・ダイマ — A daydream of interwar/postwar France

Guinguette Daima is one of my two favourite haunts in Sapporo. Situated in a small building down a narrow alley just behind the Nijo market, it’s the kind of place you will stumble upon by accident, and completely miss if you are looking for it.

Guinguette Daima has an extensive menu of drinks, specialising in liqueurs from France and Europe, which are also used as bases for a variety of cocktails. They stock one of my favourites, blue curaçao, which – in my experience – isn’t all that common in Sapporo. They also have a small and delicious line in western food.

By far the highlight of the establishment is the live music sessions. They have a monthly Gypsy Music Night (first Sunday), Ragtime session (third Sunday) and open night (fourth Sunday). There are also live music events featuring independent artists or groups, usually about once a month. The proprietors are both active musicians, and the establishment is pretty popular with musicians in the same genre – bal-musette, I believe.

The establishment itself is worth a visit just for the interior decor. The proprietors are in love with France and it shows. Stepping inside is like being transported to an amalgamated fantasy of interwar and postwar France. The music that plays is very French – stereotypically, even – and there are posters all over the walls referencing Jacques Tati films and hearkening back to the turn of the 20th century. It makes for a lovely little spot that will always have a place in my heart.

The establishment is run by Naomi-san and Kumiko-san. I first came across it by chance. While on a date at Kotobuki coffee, I picked up a flyer for a ukulele concert by a Dynamite Asano. That combination was completely irresistible, and the rest is history. I still have the little toy stamp he handed out to the audience that day. I”ve been going back ever since. The proprietors are always glad to see me, and always make conversation – with the help of Google Translate, since my Japanese is very far from good. Recently, I turned them on to board games, and they’ve gone so far as to organise a couple of game nights, including one the last time I visited Daima. I can’t wait to go back.

ガンゲット・ダイマ (Guinguette Daima)

北海道札幌市中央区南3東1丁目6 (6, South 3 East 1, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido)

18.00 – 24.00 (6 p.m. to 12 a.m.); Sundays and holidays: closed unless live event.

Rating: 5/5

Price: 1500¥ to 2000¥ a person.

Notes: Perfect place for a nice, quiet night. If you play an instrument, they would love to have you at the open night. And if you care for a board game, ask for Cluedo/Clue.

Website: http://www.guinguette-daima.com

Tabelog: https://tabelog.com/hokkaido/A0101/A010103/1005909/


山次郎 — Budget Ramen

Six months into my life in Sapporo, I started hearing about these giant ramen places – the ramen was huge, not the establishment. It wasn’t until sometime in late 2014 or early 2015 that a friend finally took me to one of these establishments.

Yamajirou is a budget ramen restaurant, with the best ramen I have ever tasted in Japan, bar none. For as little as 600¥ you can eat enough ramen to keep yourself full enough for a whole day. For 800¥, you can get so much that you won’t be able to eat for 24 hours or so.

The menu is quite small, with only four types of ramen – ramen (small and normal size), tossed ramen (和え面), tossed ramen with the house miso (みそ和え面) and miso ramen (ヤマジみそ). There are also a number of add-ons, such as, extra noodles, extra vegetables, spicy sauce, and others. So you go up to the machine, put in the cash, press the button and get a ticket. Simple.

The magic starts when you take your place at the counter. The noodles they use are prepared in-house, and are thick and full, nothing like the standard thin, yellow ramen. The entire preparation takes about 10 minutes. With ramen or miso ramen, there is the option to get a ton of toppings – vegetables (boiled sprouts and boiled cabbage), pork fat, and chopped garlic – free of charge. The first time I went, I ordered the biggest bowl of ramen, with extra noodles and all the toppings. Predictably, by the time I finished the toppings, I was beyond full. I managed a couple mouths-ful of noodles before accepting defeat.

The real star of the establishment is the tossed ramen. This is essentially ramen without the broth. Thus the flavour is much stronger, and the dish that much more delicious. Moreover, the fat and ginger are served separately, so they can be added in at your discretion. The tossed ramen has the flavour of sunny side up runny egg yolks in salt and pepper (one of my favourite tastes), despite the lack of eggs. For all that, I prefer the tossed ramen with miso, and the flavour is that much more exquisite.

山次郎 (Yamajirou)

北海道札幌市北区北13条西4丁目1‐5 クローバービル 1F (Clover Building, 1-5, North 13 West 4, Kita Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido)

11.30 – 15.00; 17.00 – 21.00 (11.30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.); Weekly holiday: Wednesday.

Rating: 5/5

Price: 500¥ to 1000¥ a person.

Notes: One or two people. There is a table that fits 4, but it may be occupied. Go early. Do not drink the all broth, if you value you stomach. If you can’t finish the bowl, retire gracefully.

Tabelog: https://tabelog.com/hokkaido/A0101/A010201/1029911/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/masimsai/

For a list of other places I’m reviewing, go here.


Tepp’s – at the top!

Tepp’s. Ah, Tepp’s. If you have a limited amount of time in Sapporo and are not looking for Japanese cuisine, this is the place to go. After 4 years in Japan, I cannot eat Japanese cuisine anywhere else, as nowhere else is nearly as good. But Tepp’s has set the tone for my expectations of western cuisine.

For me, Tepp’s is first and foremost associated with bread. They have the best bread I’ve tasted since I left Germany. The last time I was there, a week before I left Japan, the bread platter comprised a buttery brioche; a scrumptious whole-wheat bread with raisins, figs and walnuts; and a delicious organic whole wheat bread with lees or wine sediment (not very clear which) as the leaven, in place of ordinary baker’s yeast. Heavenly.

Tepp’s also has a wide variety of wines – white, red and rosé, from wineries the world over. I’m not a wine person, but after Tepp’s – admittedly in the company of friends who know wine – I do enjoy wine like never before.

And finally. The food. Oh, the food. I you asked me to describe it in one word, that word would be ‘foodgasm’. The menu at Tepp’s is just two pages, and is deceptively limited. The food itself is absolutely divine. The tastes are subtle; the way it melts in the mouth, sublime. I’ve had the opportunity to sample a variety of the menu in my numerous visits, and not once has it failed to delight. I’ve even been moved to tears, something that – for all my love of food – rarely happens, if ever. The menu also includes few exotic dishes such as Hokkaido deer pâté. The food is by far the highlight of the establishment.

Tepp’s is run by Teppei and Mariko Kawase. I first met them in November of 2016, at the Hokkaido cider collection – a small cider festival in Sapporo. They gave me their card, and I thought I’d visit sometime. I may never have actually gone around, to be honest, except for a stroke of fortune (sort of). A friend was leaving Japan at the beginning of December 2016, and since he was a gourmand like myself, I suggested we go around. And I’ve been a fan ever since.


北海道札幌市中央区南3西7丁目6-5 タヌキスクエア 2F (Tanuki Square, 6-5, South 3 West 7, Chuo Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido)

18.00 – 24.00 (6 p.m. to 12 a.m.); weekly holiday: Monday.

Rating: 6/5

Price: 3500¥ to 5000¥ a person.

Notes: Small groups are best. I recommend not more than 4, or if you simply must, 6. The proprietors also organise events every month or so, which are totally worth the experience.

Tabelog: https://tabelog.com/hokkaido/A0101/A010102/1053578/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/teppsbread/

For a list of other places I’m reviewing, go here.

Tokyo! A metropolis I grow to love

Tokyo! With a population of over thirty-five million in the metropolitan area, this city would normally be at the top of my lists of places to hate, to visit but never to live, and all other lists in this vein. And truth be told, it did start out that way. I loathe crowds. And while I have now been in Tokyo over five times, it is only during the last two visits I’ve grown to appreciate, and even love, the city.

Sure, it’s crowded. But there is a surfeit of parks and greenery in the most unlikely of places, something I adore. And opportunities to partake of the culture are rife. Museums, theatres, concert halls and the like are spread across the city, rather than concentrated in one or two areas. There’s always something to do no matter where you are. And the twisting, turning inside lanes of the older parts of the city put me in mind of Europe. The quaint and quiet streets draw me in.

I’m here on business, sort of, but I always have time for pleasure. And this visit, pleasure was a dinner at a Yakitori (Japanese Barbeque) restaurant called 鳥元 (Torigen). While Yakitori is their speciality, they also serve soba (buckwheat) noodles, and I ordered that as my main course, supplemented by two skewers each of chicken gizzards and hearts, and a glass of 梅酒 (umeshu, Japanese plum wine) to wash it all down. I’m a fast eater and the food isn’t heavy, but I was almost satisfied by the time I finished. As a chaser, I ordered a skewer each of oyster wrapped in bacon, which was sublimely succulent; and avocado wrapped in meat, which was subtle. I left sated. The food was excellent, the ambience mellow, and the decor muted. I will definitely visit again should the opportunity arise!

Oysters wrapped in bacon and charcoal-grilled
Avocado wrapped in meat and charcoal-grilled

While in Tokyo, I am staying at a capsule hotel. It is far cheaper than any of the hostels I could find, and for the services offered, it is completely worth it. The sleeping cubicles themselves are far more roomy than rumour would have it, and quite cozy to boot. The only downside is that once the privacy screen in drawn, they can get a bit stuffy, even though the entire room may be air-conditioned. For the price and services, the Capsule Value definitely gets my vote!

The Saga of my Funny Knee

Back when I was in Class 10, I dislocated my knee at a wedding. I still have no idea how it happened. It was diagnosed as a recurrent patellar luxation. Which means that it is a dislocation that could occur again, if not treated right. I thought it was, even though in the following years I had repeated subluxations – near dislocations. All that came to a head about a month ago when I completely dislocated my knee again. And this time it was for the better.

I chose not to go to the doctor immediately, but I did go on the first working day following the dislocation. After a obligatory x-ray, the doctor told me that the knee-cap was not sitting in the joint correctly, and unless I got it treated, it would continue to dislocate on a regular basis and with increasing frequency. So I opted for the treatment which consisted of a knee-brace that I must wear for at least 3 months, and physiotherapy for two months.

But wait, you say, why would you write about this in a blog highlighting your experiences of different cultures? Because this is about the awesome Japanese medical system! First, almost everything is covered by the National Health Insurance, and I have to pay only 30% of all my medical costs, even for the rather expensive knee brace. And the doctors and staff are really helpful and cheerful. I went intending to use my broken Japanese to explain the problem, but the doctor did his best to explain the issue in English. The physiotherapist assigned to me does his best to speak English, while I do my best to answer in Japanese. Most of all, I can actually see the improvement in my knee – nothing is quite as awesome as that. One of the methods they use is electric stimulation, which causes my muscles to contract. When I first did it, I couldn’t stop snickering, as it reminded me of nothing more than how frog legs are used to demonstrate the relation between electricity and muscle contractions.

Board-/Card-gaming in Japan

Well, here I am again after another long hiatus – surprise surprise – and thus, we can certainly establish that I now how to procrastinate. Rather than ramble on about all that I’ve done in the last 6+ months, today I shall talk about a topic that is of renewed interest to me. I have rather recently started attending a couple of game circles and have also visited a game café here in Sapporo, and overall the experience has been stellar. I cannot wait to go back for more!

I have bought and otherwise acquired a few games over the course of the last half year or so, but I’ve never really had anyone to pay them with. I had previously looked up board game cafés in town, but I’ve been leery of going to them because of the language barrier. Also, at the one gaming store I have been to, on multiple occasions the small playing area was populated almost exclusively by Magic the Gathering players, with not a single board game in sight.

I did actually find a list of a few board game groups that meet at monthly intervals in Sapporo, and this last month I finally bit the bullet and attended one. It was a lot of fun! Yes, almost all the participants are not even remotely close to fluent in English, but that suits me just fine as I want to learn Japanese anyway! And there were so many games! In addition, one of the guys there runs his own game group and I was invited to attend. So that’s already two game groups, with the next session this Sunday.

I also went to a tiny board-game café this past weekend. It was a little expensive… not terribly so, but not something I can afford to do regularly. The reason I went is that they organise 1-day game events. When I first learnt about them, I was very taken by it. But since I didn’t know whether I would enjoy it, I went to the café to see what it would be like. And it was totally worth it. Again, everything is in Japanese, other than some of the games proper, But I have been more than a year now so that is becoming less and less of an issue.

In the following posts I will detail experiences at each individual game group and at the 1-day event. And whenever I travel I will make a special effort to find and play with the game groups.

For my Birthday, I got the same thing as Christmas

Here I am again after a rather long hiatus. Last I posted was at the end of November 2013, when I visited a really cool café/pub close to the University. A lot of water has flown under the bridge since then, and I shall give a synopsis thereof in this post

I’ve been busy in Japan with research and leisure. I find my area of work interesting and fun, and it also helps that I can get solid results with just four to six weeks of work. There’s little chance of me losing motivation in such a scenario. I’ve had my ups and downs, of course, but mostly all ups.

For Christmas I went out drinking with friends, and then to karaoke. I don’t know exactly what happened but between the drinks and the karaoke, we were joined by a group of total strangers. It doubled the fun. On 29. December, I went to a club in Japan for the first time ever. I don’t remember much on account of being completely plastered before I even set foot out of the house, and then dancing all night. For the New Year, a group of us went to a lounge, which in all honesty was rather disappointing because it was actually a lounge, and a rather small one at that. These two events, combined with a cold and the New ear holidays, completely rodgered my internal clock.

In January, I went home to India for a few days for my cousin’s wedding. It was a grand affair, and frankly I will use it as the archetype for mine. Whenever that is. It was a whole lot of fun, and I was wired due to lack of sleep for most of it. I didn’t really pay attention to the wedding, in truth, as I was busy catching up with a number of college friends. And this quick trip didn’t help my internal clock any.

And then there was the trip to Bremen. I returned to complete my (second) Master Degree and graduate. That was the official reason, And it was something I was determined to do but I really wanted to return for other reasons. I even had a list of things I wanted to do while in Bremen, but I only actually did two of them. But the most important reasons I went back – to hang out with two good friends, one my best friend – were successfully overachieved. And though I graduated with an average grade, I’m more than happy because it was my presentation that was at fault more than my work.

I returned to Japan about a fortnight ago, and immediately launched into my work. It’s not particularly busy at the moment, but starting next week, I will be. Since my cells, some of them, will finally have grown enough.

On the evening of 10. April I went to the recruitment of the canoe club (北大カヌー部). It was either that or the Cycle club, but since I can cycle by myself to any where and any time (and since I’ve cycled so long that I can kick like a mule) I chose the canoe club. I don’t quite know how things work here, but it appears that the students shop around until they find a club they like. On the other hand, I went because I really want to join. I’m the only foreigner (non-Japanese) there, so I can definitely work on my Japanese – and it needs a lot of work.

I’ve scheduled this to post on my birthday, which is the reason for the title: for my birthday, as for Christmas, I got fat.