“You must try the Genghis Khan,” exclaimed our trusty guide when we informed her that we would spend two nights in Sapporo. Genghis Khan, why him? I said chuckling to myself. What has the great Mongolian got to do with Japan? Well, tales of how he cooked his food seem to have influenced a dish best served with cold beer. So, on a wintry evening we decided to go about reminiscing the Mongolian warlord in an old German factory…
To get there is pretty straightforward. We took a train from in front of our hotel to Sapporo Station from where a bus (route 188) dropped us directly at Sapporo Beer Garden. From the bus stop, a few hundred meters away against the dusky sky and white snowy surroundings, we saw what looked like an old but well preserved building. It seemed to be constructed using red bricks. Its colonial grandeur seemed to beckon to us to enter.
Right across this building, along the pavement stacked with shovelled snow, a metallic gleam caught our eyes. It looked like a huge copper dome. “What do you think it is?” I whispered to Rosemarie.
Wife: No idea. Looks interesting though.
Me: Do you think it’s a UFO that fell here sometime in the past?
Wife: Don’t be silly!
Me: (muttering to myself) – What could it be?
Wife: Instead of gawking at it and forming downright foolish opinions why don’t we go see what it is?
We crossed the road and headed off to this huge copper dome that was peeking at us through large mounds of snow. No, it was not a UFO but a beer-brewing kettle! It was impressive nonetheless. There was something written below it that I couldn’t read. But I assume it must have brewed a lot of beer for several years, quenching the thirst of several generations in the past. Generations?
Yes, generations because that ancient red building with its majestic splendour has been around since the late 18th century. The Sapporo Breweries Limited is the oldest brewery in Japan that was founded in September 1876 (also known as year 23 of the Meiji era). A very passionate brew master Seibei Nakagawa who had just returned to Japan from Germany was appointed with the task of brewing Japan’s first beer. Using high quality local ingredients he skilfully brewed Japan’s oldest beer called Sapporo Lager.
A Night at the Sapporo Beer Garden
It was a dark night and it was slightly snowing. The great red building was bathed in the glow of the streetlights. Some spotlights that were strategically placed illuminated the walls in such a way that the building looked intriguing. A large chimney with a large red star towered in the background. A lone brightly lit tree stood among other trees bereft of leaves jutting out from piles of snow alongside the pavements. The ambience was enchanting. Hurriedly we crossed the street and entered the building through its large doors. After the customary courtesies’ at the entrance, we were led to the great hall within. They call it the Genghis Khan Hall.
The colossal hall is astounding. Everything inside is wooden and brown. The ceilings are high and a thousand people can sit inside easily. It’s bathed with golden light and ambience inside transports you into the early 19th century. We stood at the entrance for a bit, trying to acclimatize our senses before being led to our seats in a cosy corner on the far left hand side of the wall across the entrance.
A very sweet natured waitress soon appeared. With a large smile on her young face she tried her best to introduce the menu to us in English. She knew just a few words in English, but we could understand every single word she said. Her enthusiasm and her cheerful spirit more than made up for her English skills. In any case we didn’t have to say much, we were here to try the famous Genghis Khan and Sapporo Beer.
In 100 minutes, you can eat and drink as much as you want and sample a large array of delicacies. But let’s get straight to discovering what Genghis Khan (Jingisukan) is all about.
Jingisukan is a fresh, frozen or marinated mutton/lamb dish that you grill on a convex metal skillet. This convex metal skillet is in the middle of your own dining table. You get several generous sized pieces with each serve of fresh, frozen and marinated lamb. The marinade is of a semi-sweet sauce.
The skillet is heated and you are supposed to grill the meat yourself. The size of the tender lamb pieces is roughly about 2-3 mm and it’s unbelievably mouth-watering. I am not a fan of non-marinated meat, but even that was delectable, as we got to taste the earthiness against the smoky, charred flavours of grilling. I was washing it down with large gulps of the special Sapporo beer. The beer was a bright golden filtered beer with a sweet aroma that left a slightly bitter finish on the palate.
Jingisukan is named after the ruthless 13th-century warlord because it’s believed that the Mongolian warriors under his regime used their helmets over hot coals to cook meat. Mutton was their preferred choice. The dish is popular in Japan but there seems to be a dispute over where is first originated in Japan. Some say it was in Hokkaido, others claim it was Tokyo. Disputes don’t interest us. We were quite happy that it was available here in Sapporo and that we were sitting in the best restaurant to enjoy it.
We gorged on a lot of dishes that night including, crabs, fried chicken, pizza, soup rice, sausages and more! We chatted away, laughed heartily, smiled at other diners, took pictures and generally had our spirits uplifted. A hundred minutes later we left satiated. It had stopped snowing outside and we walked to the bus stop and past the copper kettle with a satisfied smile on our lips. It was a great evening, one that we would do again, if we ever came back to Hokkaido in the future. Something tells us we will…