We arrived in Otaru from Shakotan in the late afternoon. We checked in to our hotel, Hotel Vibrant Otaru, and left our car there. Parking in Otaru is expensive, so we chose Hotel Vibrant Otaru because of its location between Sakaimachi and the Otaru canal area, making it the perfect base for exploring the most scenic part of Otaru by foot. (UPDATE: Please note that Hotel Vibrant Otaru has ceased operation from 16 Feb 2017.)
Our first stop was my favourite ice-cream shop, Kita No Ice, which was located right beside the hotel. Kita no ice is famous for its many strange flavoured ice-cream. I love their ice-cream because the taste of each flavour is very distinct and strong, yet at the same time the ice-cream remains smooth and creamy. They do not offer free tasting of the flavours, you just gotta buy it. We ended up buying eight flavours in total: Uni, rose (aka bandung), Japanese sake, squid ink, beer, Belgium chocolate and two fruit ones (can’t remember exactly what they were). It was a unanimous agreement among us that beer was the nicest among the above.
Armed with our ice-cream, we crossed the road to the Otaru canal to take photo of the temperature. It has become a ritual (for me at least) to take photo of the temperature while eating ice-cream every time I’m here.
We walked along the row of restored warehouses beside the canal which now houses various restaurants, including Otaru beer.
We visited Unga Plaza next, which is a souvenir shop cum tourist information centre housed in a restored warehouse.
We continued walking until we reached a cake shop called Le Quatrieme with many beautiful cakes on display in their window and decided to have some cakes there.
Well, this shall be the first and last time I visit this cake shop. Not that the cakes were not nice, but because of the way they clearly displayed their annoyance with us for occupying their tables and ordering only 2 slices of cake and 1 drink when there were 6 of us (including 2 kids and 1 elderly). Mind you, we were the ONLY customers who stepped into the shop the whole time and there was no lack of empty tables. There are plenty more cake cafes in Otaru that are much more welcoming, so nope, I’m not coming back.
After we finished our cakes, we walked back along the Otaru canal.
We reached Otaru Denuki where I bought some manju from a small little shop window facing the road for the kids because we were going to have sushi for dinner and I wasn’t sure if the sushi restaurant would have anything for the kids to eat. MY loved the manju here!
We walked towards our dinner place, Toppi sushi, browsing through the souvenir shops along the way. Toppi sushi is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant located along the canal. Otaru is well-known for their sushi and there is no lack of good sushi restaurants and everyone has their personal favourite. I like Toppi because it is more budget friendly than the *many* other sushi restaurants around Otaru. (I didn’t take a photo this time round, but here’s a photo of Toppi sushi taken during my earlier trip.)
We ate so much sushi, and the total bill was less than S$100, despite most of the sushi we ate being the most expensive ones. (In the photo below, the stack on the left is for the cheapest category of sushi and the stack on the right is for their most expensive category!)
Toppi sushi had cooked food like udon and chicken karaage which the kids could eat. The kids were also entitled to free drinks from the juice bar and they even received free toys! It was a great place to dine with kids.
It was raining so we went back to the hotel after dinner. If the weather was better, we had great plans to go to the canal area to take some photos when it’s dark, have some Otaru beer or go shopping near Otaru station. But it was too much hassle bringing kids around in the rain so we didn’t bother. We just stayed in the hotel where the kids had fun climbing up and down the double decker bed. -_-
The next morning, there was free bread and coffee provided at the hotel lobby, but I decided to pass because there was good food awaiting at Sakaimachi!
We left our hotel slightly before 9am and began our eating tour along Sakaimachi.
Just beside our hotel was the Otaru Canal Terminal which houses one of Otaru’s famous confectionary shop, Amato. It was not open yet, so we skipped it.
Many of the shops were not open yet, except for the shops selling seafood. I went into one of them and bought a steamed white corn.
It was a rainy gloomy morning and we were starting to get bored walking along the empty streets of Sakaimachi when we were hit by a strong smell of coffee roasting. We decided to go into the cafe, Kahisakan, for some coffee and tart. The coffee was not bad, albeit expensive, but the tart was not nice at all.
As we had our coffee, we saw bus loads of tourists and school students on excursion arriving. By the time we left Kahisakan, the whole street had transformed into a bustling lively street! Our next stop was Pathos by Le Tao.
There were giving free sample of their signature double fromage cheesecake. I LOVE their double fromage cheesecake! But they only sold the whole cake here and that was a bit too much. I made a mental note to visit their main store at the end of Sakaimachi to see if they sold individual slices (which I later forgot to do because I was too full). They do have a cafe selling super yummy-looking crepe and ice-cream drinks, which made me immediately regret wasting stomach space at Kahisakan.
There was also a bakery selling a danish pastry that can only be bought here. They do sell it in small slices, but hmmm, danish pastry is not my kind of thing (I prefer sweet, creamy, cheesy kind of pastries), so I passed.
Just across the road is a haven for chocolate lovers, Le Chocolat (also ran by Le Tao).
This store sells many chocolate products that is exclusive to them.
They were also pretty generous with their samples and we got to sample a few different types of chocolates. My favourite was the white rare chocolate, but as much as I like their chocolates, buying a big box was a bit too much for me and they were difficult to bring home since they required refrigeration. Instead, I bought a chocolate pudding that could be finished on the spot.
The kids finished the whole bottle between the two of them.. Bah.
The next stop was Kitaichi Sangokan (北一三号館). While Kitaichi was famous for their glass, we were there for food. Inside Sangokan (三号館), you can find Kitaichi hall, a beautiful dining hall decorated with glass lamps, which serves proper meals as well as drinks and desserts.
We ordered their giant chou cream which was bigger than the kids’ faces!
Watch how the kids tried to eat a chou cream bigger than their faces.
Well… It was more fun than tasty. The jumbo chou cream frankly tasted crappy. It was a waste of my precious stomach space.
At the end of Kitaichi Sangokan, there is an ice-cream kiosk selling six-flavoured soft serve. We just had to try one.
It was pretty yummy, except for lavender flavour. Nobody liked the lavender flavour. Look how the kids managed to work their way around the soft serve, carefully avoiding the lavender flavour.
We also bought their fried squid which turned out to be quite nice. A tad salty, but nice. Perfect kind of food to go with beer. So we bought a bottle of Otaru beer to go with it.
Here’s a quick tip: If you are buying food from Kitaichi Sangokan (e.g. a rice or a noodle), you will get a discount for a subsequent purchase of an ice-cream or drink. So remember to buy the cooked food first, and get the discount coupon.
By now, I was starting to feel a bit full (thanks to the jumbo chou cream), and we still haven’t reached my favourite store!
Next, we reached Rokkatei (六花亭), a place so sweet that it attracted butterflies!
Personally I’m not a fan of Rokkatei. Furthermore, we were planning to visit their main store in Obihiro later on in the trip, so we didn’t waste time (or stomach space) here.
Just beside Rokkatei is my favourite store along the whole stretch of Sakaimachi – Kitakaro main store (北菓楼)! This store is perpetually packed with people. They have a counter selling freshly made chou cream, baumkuchen and soft serve and there’s always a long queue. I especially love their chou cream and it gets sold out by late afternoon.
They had three special anniversary products when I was there but two of them were already sold out! Sad….
Needless to say, I bought the last one which was chocolate chou cream. Check out the cocoa powder and rich chocolate cream! Yumz!
They have a seating area for dining outside the store, but it was raining so I hid in the store to eat my yummy puffs.
I’m not a fan of baumkuchen but my friend liked the one at Kitakaro so much that he bought one back to Singapore. (Their whole baumkuchen can be bought from their store at Chitose airport.)
Another reason I love Kitakaro is because they are so generous with their samples! I love their cookies, it’s a bit like shiroi koibito but they have more flavours, and you can sample all the flavours in the shop!
By now, I was stuffed silly, so we walked towards the Marchen intersection, skipping Le Tao’s main store and cheesecake lab.
At the Marchen intersection, you can find the symbolic old lighthouse and one of the world’s two steam clocks. Every 15 minutes, the steam clock would chime, puffing out steam from the top. At 12 noon, Le Tao’s clock tower also chimed right after the steam clock.
My friend went in to the Music Box Museum to take a look while I stayed outside with the kids, since bringing *itchy-handed* kids to the music box museum was a bad idea.
While waiting, we checked out the shops around the Marchen intersection. There were some shops selling character goods, stuffed toys and a Lover’s sanctuary where couples could buy a lock and sign on it before locking them to the tree.
At Marchen intersection, there was also Gin no Kane (銀 の鐘), another popular confectionary store from Otaru. Since their name means silver bell, they have a silver bell at the entrance.
They serve tea sets using Otaru Hello Kitty cup and saucer which you can bring home! I was so tempted! But my marginal utility for sweets and confectionary was already negative, so OKAY… next time I come Otaru, I shall start from the Marchen intersection and walk down Sakaimachi in the opposite direction.
After my friend came out from the music box museum, we slowly made our way back towards the canal for *ahem* lunch. Yes, we were still going to eat. We couldn’t leave Otaru without another sushi meal. Anyway I have 2 stomachs: one for proper meals and one for sweets and desserts. The proper meals stomach was still empty.
Our lunch place was Masazushi, located right opposite Otaru canal. It was recommended by my friend who lives in Otaru, who told me only tourists go to sushi dori (a famous street in Otaru lined with sushi restaurants) and to come to Masazushi for real good sushi.
The last time I was here, we sat at the counter and my Otaru friend (who’s a regular) ordered ala carte seasonal fishes for us and I remembered it being marvellous, although I had no idea what I was eating. Without my friend this time round, I decided to stick to the standard sets offered in the menu and not try to embarrass myself with my sub-standard Japanese.
Hubby said the sushi here reminded him of 将太的寿司 (a Japanese drama about a guy learning to make sushi). The sushi doesn’t fall apart when you pick it up with your chopsticks, but once you pop it into your mouth, the rice falls apart and the fish melts and the flavour of the fish just blends together perfectly with the warm vinegared rice. Mmmmmm…
We also ordered their signature dish, ika somen. You’re supposed to take the uni, mix it with the egg mixture and eat with the ika ‘noodles’. I’ve had ika and uni separately and never knew they could go well together, especially with their special egg mixture which added to the sweetness.
After lunch, I popped over to Otaru Denuki again to buy some of those yummy manju for the kids who couldn’t eat sushi.
With everyone fully satisfied, we bid farewell to Otaru and drove to Sapporo.
Summary: Itinerary Outline for Hokkaido Self-Drive with Kids (June 2014)
Part 1: New Chitose Airport, Lake Shikotsu, Lake Toya, Hakodate
Part 2: Onuma Koen, Niseko, Shakotan
Part 3: Otaru (You’re here now)
Part 4: Sapporo
Part 5: Furano, Biei, Tomamu, Obihiro, New Chitose Airport