Road Tripping in Furano, Hokkaido, Part 2

Farm Tomita (ファーム富田)

When you visit Furano, a popular tourist destination is Farm Tomita. Tomita Farm is renowned for its lavender fields, which it has farmed since the late 1950s, as well as its cantaloupe melons, which sell at exorbitant prices, and people are more than happy to pay through the nose for them. I’m not kidding, one of these melons would set you back around 45 quid or more (given current exchange rate).

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Melon Soft Cream

But if you still want to sample this premium melon then, happily, the farm sells them by the slice for you to try. They also offer melon choux crème, melon parfait, and a host of other melon-flavoured goodies. We tried the slice of melon as well as melon bread and then pigged out on melon soft cream. In the farm’s defence, the melon was delicious. I could have easily had another slice, but 45 pounds is too big a spend for my budget! (sorry about the pictures, we forgot to take any of the melon or bread in our excitement to eat them…)

 

 

 

Farm Tomita also has a perfume distillery and small workshop where they create lavender essence products, from perfumes, to room sprays, essential oils and bath care. You can watch workers in their labs as they create new items through large glass windows. Needless to say, you can also eat lavender flavoured ice cream. The great thing about these flower farms is that they are all free to visit (at least all the ones we went to were). Places like Farm Tomita instead make money off of merchandise and food and drink outlets.

As mentioned in my other post Road Tripping Furano Part 1, the lavender season was not quite upon us when we visited, but this didn’t stop us from enjoying the other flowers and scenery either!IMG_8097 - Version 2

IMG_8094 - Version 2

We also visited the Takushinkan Photo Gallery, in Biei, during a heavy rainstorm. This gave us the opportunity to see Furano at different times of the year (namely when it wasn’t raining). The gallery holds many works by celebrated Furano-based photographer Shinzo Maeda and is free to enter. The photos of Furano throughout the seasons are breath-taking, and if you have time and/or it’s hoofing it down with rain outside, it’s definitely worth a visit!

The day’s travel was followed by some damn good nosh. Now, I’ve already covered the mouth-watering Hokkaido speciality Jengis Khan in my first post, and now it’s time to talk about nabe.

Nabe, nabe, nabe!

Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love a good nabe. Nabe, in my opinion, is the king of all Japanese foods. I love the way it really brings people together. Sushi, ramen, and soba are all noble foods, but I believe that nabe is the social heart of Japanese cuisine.

Typically, nabe (best described as a hot pot) is eaten in the colder months. Families will gather around the kotatsu: a superior invention of a table with heating element and quilt attached to trap all the heat. On top of this, the nabe is boiled on a small gas stove, and the family cook together and eat together. It’s the loveliest thing.

If you’re wondering why anyone would need a kotatsu in the first place, then did you know that in winter Japanese homes are FREEZING? When I first moved here I was surprised at how thin the walls of my apartment were. I was also surprised that nearly all the houses were made out of wood. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there was no central heating in my apartment whatsoever. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a rather good reason for all this, after all, in such an earthquake prone country it’s better to build your houses with materials that can give a little bit. And there are some houses with under floor heating (Hokkaido), but in the winter, good lord is it cold! Of course, nowadays I think a lot of people just use the air conditioner to warm the room, but give me the kotatsu over an AC any day!

During our recent four day trip to Hokkaido we indulged and had nabe twice and I’m not the least bit repentant for it!

The nabe shops we visited were actually run by brothers. The smaller branch, called Sanjin (山人) is popular with the locals, whereas the larger shop, Kumagera(くまげら), is set up close to the station, has a wider menu, and is targeted at foreign tourists. English menus are of course available here.

Both places offer the ‘Sanjin Nabe’, although Kumagera offers a special version with venison (if you’ve a mind to try) as well as our personal recommendation, the raw wagyu beef rice bowl. Which, incidentally, if you mention to any local, brings a smile to their face of recollected bliss. It’s THAT good.

Kumagera’s Sanjin Nabe

As we had been strongly urged to try the Wagyu Beef Rice Bowl we shared a one person Sanjin Nabe with venison, before ordering a beef bowl between us.

Kumagera Deer Nabe
Kumagera’s Sanjin nabe with venison

This nabe is very similar to the Sanjin nabe served at Sanjin, the smaller, local joint near to the hostel we stayed in. That one, as did this one, came with duck, but this one had the added novelty of sliced deer meat too. I ate deer meat twice whilst in Hokkaido; once as a steak, and the second time in this nabe. It has a very strong flavour, and the meat is a little tough. As it turns out, the locals aren’t such big fans of venison. When I asked them to recommend food for the local area, not once was venison mentioned, despite the fact that the region is well known for its deer meat. For me, I’m certainly glad I tried it, but I definitely preferred the duck nabe.

The nabe is delicious, but heavy. It’s a rich, oily nabe (thanks to the duck), and although the recipe used at Kumagera is pretty much the same as the one used by its sister restaurant, we both agreed that the nabe of Sanjin bested it.

Kumagera’s Wagyu Beef Rice Bowl

The beef used in Kumagera’s rice bowl is local wagyu. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the term, wagyu is a supreme variety of beef in which the fat content is much higher than usual, giving the meat its signature marbled look. The fat also has a very low melting point. If you touch raw wagyu the heat from your fingertips is enough to melt the fat on it! Most of you will have heard of Kobe beef- that is also wagyu beef too. The high fat content of the meat means that as soon as you put it in your mouth it just melts away…

Kumagera Wagyu Beef Don
Kumagera Wagyu Beef Bowl

For Kumagera’s beef bowl the wagyu is served sashimi style on top of the rice. The heat of the rice is enough to cook it through to the right consistency and, coupled with a soy sauce dressing, serves to make a little piece of heaven in your mouth. If you don’t order this dish you will regret it!

Sanjin’s Nabe

At Sanjin, the nabe doesn’t include venison, I guess because local demand is very low. Instead the shop has either a duck or crab nabe. We tried the duck and it was wonderful! As mentioned before, the soup is the same as the one used in the larger branch Kumagera, but somehow it tasted better. I’m not sure that it can’t be attributed to the cosy log cabin setting, with sweeping views of the mountain ranges in the distance, and a good local sake to swill it all down with. Sanjin is also particularly popular with locals for its fried foods, such as tonkatsu (a pork cutlet in bread crumbs) and tempura, just to add to your temptation!

In any case, try the wagyu beef bowl at Kumagera near the station, and then head to the local’s choice, Sanjin, another day for the duck nabe. Venison is overrated anyway!

Getting there

Farm Tomita

Farm Tomita is open everyday from 8:30am to 5:30pm. If you haven’t got access to a car, then you can take the train to Lavender Farm Station which is a 7 minute walk from the farm itself or take the Kaisoku Lavender-Go Bus from JR Furano Station. http://www.farm-tomita.co.jp/en/

Kumagera, Furano

Kumagera is open everyday from 11:30am to midnight. It is within walking distance of JR Furano station, and there is parking available nearby.  http://www.furano.ne.jp/kumagera/en/top.html

Sanjin, Furano

Lunch time is from 11:30am to 3:00pm, with the dinner service starting from 5:00pm to 11:00pm. Sanjin is closed on Wednesdays. If you are driving please be aware that parking is limited to three spaces. There are a number of hostels and hotels in the nearby area so you may be within walking distance, depending on where you stay.

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