Other than the widely-known landmark of Otaru canal, the other key attraction of this small harbour town is the high concentration of popular confectioneries along the shopping street (known as Sakaimachi Street).
As expected, the small town is packed with lots of tourists making the area very touristy. The street is filled with shops selling glassware, seafood restaurants and souvenir shops.
We narrowed our ‘to-buy’ list to the few major stops focusing on FOOD.
Our first stop was Kitaichi Glass‘s Rainbow Soft Serve. Kitaichi Glass (北一硝子) manufactures and sells glass products but they are also known for their multi-layered colourful soft serve. They have several stores in Otaru itself but the soft serve is available at Kitaichi Glass Store No. 3 (北一硝子三号館). We chose the 8-layers soft serve which is priced at ¥580 (S$7). It was easy to identify the flavours (from bottom tier up): Vanilla, Chocolate, Melon, Lavender, Matcha, Strawberry, Choco-Vanilla (twist) and Melon-Lavender (twist).
The soft serve here is the most creamy version compared to the other soft serves that I tried (in Hakodate and Niseko). The jumbo size soft serve also drew lots of attention as we walked along the shopping street trying to finish it off.
Another point to note is this place also carries another famous ice-cream – Cremia in Japan. It’s the one at the bottom right-hand corner of my photo above. As we still have chance to try Cremia in Tokyo later, we went with the rainbow soft serve instead.
Further down the shopping street, there are 2 major confectioneries side-by-side: Rokkatei
(六花亭) and Kitakaro (北菓楼). Although these confectioneries also has outlets all across Hokkaido, they have relatively huge branches in Otaru. Visiting these branches will offer a bigger variety of products compared to the outlets housed within departmental stores. The downside would be the stores are absolutely packed!
I started my snacks haul at Rokkatei. Their headquarter is located in Obihiro, Hokkaido and their signature product is the Marusei Butter Sandwiches. Other than the signature product, several of their confectionery items are also extremely popular with tourists. So much so that they had special sets comprising of an assortment of their popular products in a gift bag/gift boxes, the small gift bag with 5 items retails from ¥530 (S$6.50). The assortment sets are ideal for folks who wanted to sample all of them.
I noticed that the same product can come in different packaging, naturally the more elaborated packaging will cost more. The boxes makes the snacks more presentable as gifts but also takes up substantial luggage space. As most of the snacks I purchased are for self-consumption, I chose the more economical packaging. Another point to note is these confectionery products have relatively short shelf-life, most of them to be consumed within 2 weeks except for chocolates that has a longer expiry date. The expiry dates are clearly printed on the packaging so do take note of that.
I shall start the introduction with their signature Marusei Butter Sandwiches. A layer of butter, cream mixed with raisin and white chocolate is sandwiched between two soft biscuits. The raisins have rum in it, so it is NOT suitable for Muslims.
The delicate butter cream is so soft that it turned slightly mushy even in Sapporo‘s cold weather when I tried it a day after my purchase. I can imagine that the butter cream would have melted if I brought them back to Singapore. I’m not a fan of shortbread cookies and I didn’t like the cream being too oily, so this star product didn’t rank highly on my taste test.
The second product I chose was the Simodatami biscuit. The biscuits used to sandwich the mocha white chocolate cream are crispy and light, dusted with fine sugar. This was superbly addictive and we quickly finished the 5 pieces that we bought! Should have purchased more of this since it is light and easy to carry. They are also available in boxes which can help to protect the fragile biscuits and they do not require refrigeration.
The third product was Hiroboro biscuits, was released in 2015 in celebration of the opening of Rokkatei’s Sapporo outlet. Guess it is so popular that they have continued selling them thereafter. Available in 2 flavours – chocolate and strawberry. The crispy biscuit is coated with either chocolate or strawberry outside. After taking the first bite, you can see that the biscuit is formed with multiple layers of puff pastry, hence it tasted like millefeuille (thousand layers of puff pastry). I loved the texture of this wonderful biscuit!
Last but not least, the Strawberry Chocolate (Milk/White). Crispy freeze-dried crunchy strawberries are coated in either white chocolate or milk chocolate. Pretty standard chocolate snack, but they are available in easy to carry small packs, good for munching during day trips =)
After our mini-shopping spree, we crossed to their next door neighbour – Kitakaro. Kitakaro’s star product is actually the baumkuchen (Singaporeans probably know them as the round kueh lapis cake), but we were actually more interested in their Cream Puffs. Unfortunately we underestimated the purchasing power of the crowd in Otaru and was disappointed that the cream puffs were sold out when we wanted to purchase them at 5pm. We had walked by the shop earlier shortly after lunch but didn’t want to purchase the puffs too early as we were still full. Thankfully we managed to purchase the cream puffs from an outlet in the food hall of a departmental store in Sapporo.
The gigantic cream puffs have to be kept chilled if you are not eating them instantly. The choux pastry has a nice texture – not too soggy and not too hard. The custard filling was rich and milky.
Another extremely common brand seen along the shopping street is LeTAO. There are numerous stores with different themes all selling LeTAO products. We went to the one right at the end of the shopping street not knowing that it is the Head Store. The store was also packed with tourists…The queue system was not clearly demarcated and seems slightly chaotic.
We purchased the Double Fromage cheesecake ¥1600 (S$20) which is sold frozen. The confectionery store developed the technology to freeze the cheesecake in order to facilitate delivery due to increase demand across Japan. Although the cake is sold frozen, when we purchase them from the store, it still needs to be packed with an ice pack. The cake has to be thawed in the refrigerator for 5 to 8 hours before eating. Staff was really attentive and asked if we needed knife and spoons to eat the cake. So we had no problems when we brought the cheesecake back to our hotel in Sapporo to have it for breakfast the next day.
The two-layered Double Fromage, made of baked cheesecake with a rich cheese flavor and unbaked cheesecake that is light and milky, was well-balanced. Making the overall taste rich yet not overwhelmingly cheesy. The two of us finished this cake by ourselves for breakfast! The melt-in-your-mouth texture was fabulous and I have no qualms to purchase it again if the quality of the ones sold in Singapore outlet is the same even though it is more costly. In fact, writing the post about this made me feel like dashing out to get one immediately!!!
LeTAO head store is housed in this building with a clock tower with bells. Whereas Kitakaro is housed in a relatively plain block structure.
You have reached the end of the shopping street when you see the Music Box Museum. Outside the music box museum is a steam clock presented by city of Vancouver to Otaru. We made a trip into the music box museum hoping to find a special music box to bring home but left after a short 10 minutes. It was too cramped and rowdy inside, packed with tourists who seems to be in rush for time…squeezing their way and shuffling about in the huge hall filled with delicate ornaments. I reckoned I could not find something in such situation.
Fans of Ghibli can visit Otaru’s only character music box specialty shop “Character House Yume no Oto” (梦之音) next to the Music Box Museum. The shop is not as packed and you can find many character products. Notably, the entire 2nd storey is dedicated to Ghibli characters. I was kinda tempted to bring home the Totoro one though I’ve not seen the film before…
Although we spent 2.5 hours walking from Otaru canal to the end of the shopping street, we had only managed to cover the major FOOD places along with 2 music box shops.
Tourists who had joined tour groups appeared to be shepherded along the shopping street with not much time for them look around. This resulted in many of them being impatient and rushing about when making purchases at the stores.
While I was happy with my snacks haul, I didn’t enjoy the overall experience of visiting the shopping street which was markedly spoiled by the behaviour of the grouped tour members.
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