A stone’s throw from our accommodation is a very cosy izakaya. Raku . In Japanese its kanji symbol 楽 means easy, comfortable and cosy. It’s also the kanji that you see in the word tanoshii 楽しい which means fun and ongaku 音楽 which means music.
A quick look at its extensive menu board. It’s easy to see why this izakaya is so popular. Raku specialises in local produce. Serving hokke, scallops, squid and sashimi from the seas around Hokkaido, whole grilled chicken and sweet corn potatoes and mushrooms from the Niseko area.
Step inside. This little bar is certainly a cosy, happy place. Another attraction? A very wide selection of Japanese beers and spirits. Sake, shochu and umeshu. Here is my very brief and western understanding of these alcoholic offerings. Sake is brewed from rice wine and is universally recognised as a traditional Japanese liquor. Shochu is very similar to sake and is made by fermenting grain or sweet potato. Both sake and shochu are delicious served hot or cold. Umeshu is a liqueur made from steeping unripe fruit in shochu. A basic interpretation I know. But it serves its purpose.
In Japan “Kampai” means cheers and is most appropriately used when drinking. Especially in bars and izakaya. One cardinal rule to remember. Never pour your own drink, if the glass is empty usually the host will pour it.
Last night we spent a very pleasant night at Raku. Farewelling one family and welcoming another. We started our evening with the house specialities Yuzu and mandarin sake served icy cold from the giant bottles pictured above. From the bar by a very obliging, always smiling bartender. I adore yuzu. It’s a Japanese citrus fruit. It’s tart and bitter, citrus-like, tangy and fresh, all at the same time. Wonderfully unique and incredibly refreshing.
From icy cold yuzu flavoured sake we moved on to local Niseko rice wine served warm from flasks. Chosen from a rather extensive regional menu.
Only to be matched by an equally impressive offering of local shochu.
Of course in true izakaya style we washed down our sake and shochu with a selection of little dishes of local Hokkaido specialities.
Huge scallops grilled with butter and shoyu.
Tender chargrilled squid.
Meltingly tender char grilled Hokkaido chicken with an avocado salad.
Unbelievably fluffy Hokkaido potato croquettes filled with melting Camembert cheese. Thanks for your recommendation Ernesto. They were delicious. As was the chicken. We had two servings if I remember correctly.
Char grilled pork skewers. And more of those plate sized scallops.
And last but not least grilled eggplant with a spicy, ginger dressing.
All in all we had a fabulous night. Fortunately, after eight straight days of skiing we knew we were having a rest day tomorrow. Most definitely a wise decision.