The Beer Factory

Posted By: Kimberly

We got into Kitami late the night before, and wandered around like lost sheep for a bit (because we WERE lost) before we pulled into our pasture for the night. Awaking this morning, we realised heyho, it's MONDAY and thusly postponed our Okhotsk outing for a day.
For those of you who are not with it on the Japanese schedule, Monday is the fashionable rest day for most things of touristy interest. Which means any attempt to make a trip to the very obscure museum (more on that later) might potentially end up a wasted one. As it was, we decided to toddle around Kitami to see what we could see.

Lo and behold, the Tourist Information Counter (TIC) at JR Kitami confirmed our suspicions. "Well, it's Monday... so... everything is closed." Yay. However, after having had our spirits tested by Toyama and Takaoka, we figured this town couldn't possibly be as bad. After all, it had a functional TIC, and with one sweet lady who spoke wonderful English no less! So we fudged around about where to go and what to do, when suddenly she mentioned that we ought to try the local speciality if we had the time. YES WE DID and we are very glad for it!

Following her precise instructions, we arrived at the recommended restaurant:
The decor was simple, but quite lovely - of course this opinion comes from someone who has been eating primarily streetfood and convenience store stuff here, but still. It has a number of seating areas, able to suit anyone's whims, from glass-fronted sunny patio type seats to raised stage-area seats, second floor seats and regular restaurant seating. They led us to a strategically positioned table on the raised stage-area, where we got a nice view of the entire restaurant floor as well as the beer brewing window. Plus, it was positioned in such a way that we were able to plonk servings from the freeflow table to ours. (YAY!)
We ordered separate items after deciding to skip dinner (the price of a lunch like this, alas). ZsupCreator got dibs on the local speciality, shio yakisoba (salt fried noodles), while I picked a beef stew with rice (Hokkaido beef, Japanese style).

Our spirits lifted when we were told we could make free with a little table of goodies - hot onion consommé, onion-laden salad, onion pasta salad and fruit cocktail (no onion). Also free flow of tea and coffee. Wondering about my emphasis on onions? Well, you guessed it... the local star produce is ONIONS. And peppermint, actually.

Those who know me would know I usually shun this vegetable. However, Japan is turning out to be a wonderful place for plant-chomping me. The raw onions tossed into the salad was more sweet than pungent, with hardly any of that nippy taste that usually makes me avoid it. I had several helpings of everything on that table... would blame it on my Singaporean background, but really, it was THAT good. None of the usual cheapozoidal squishy cocktail either. The stuff was firm in texture and just right in sweetness, Del Monte, I believe?

The dishes we ordered arrived in due time, and I have to say I rather like the fried noodles. Served on a hotplate ringed with metal to look like a regular dish, it came with caramelised fried onion and lemon juice for toppings. This was very easy to polish off between the two of us and well worth the 880yen price tag.

When I first saw my beef stew though, my heart sank a bit. Stew, to me, means a healthy helping of soupish portions. The splatter on a plate hardly sufficed. And it was a flat plate, at that, rather than a deep dish... However, the first taste just blew my doubts out of the water. We could hardly believe that the meat in the dish was beef - it was fatty and soft, more like ter bak than gu bak. The taste was all COW though. Tender and just enough to chew on so the teeth can squeeze the tasty juices out into the rest of the mouth. At 1000yen with rice on the side, I felt pain for my wallet, but this was worth forgoing dinner and supper and tomorrow's breakfast for.

Of course, with the restaurant being named as it was, I could hardly pass up the opportunity to try their unfiltered ale. It went very nicely with the stew, although I can't really say it would be good with the noodles. Pilsener for that, perhaps?

Thumbs up to the Kitami TIC for the great recommendation. This was a clear winner - in our two hours there we saw a constant stream of people coming in for the shio yakisoba and beer, though most left before us (we attribute this to their inability to down multiple helpings of salad/dessert/soup/tea/coffee). All Japanese, incidentally... Kitami is a little bit off the main tourist map, I believe?

Anyway, if anyone is traipsing around Hokkaido in future and doesn't mind a little detour for some fantastic food, The Beer Factory in Kitami is the place to be!

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