We’ve gotta say, there’s no way we would’ve thought this remote-looking location would turn out to be such a hidden gem.
Sometimes when we travel to a new town in Japan and need to find a place to eat, travel guides and online sites just don’t have the information we need.
You see, we like to eat way off the beaten track, at places frequented only by clued-in locals, and when you’re looking for that kind of information, the best person to ask is often a local taxi driver.
So on a recent trip to Noboribetsu in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture, our reporter Seiji Nakazawa headed over to the taxi stand in front of the station, where he saw a cab driver ready and waiting for business.
▼ The cab driver, Mr Masanori Ishida, who works for Muroran Hire Company, was so accommodating he even stood by his vehicle so Seiji could snap a photo before their journey.
Getting into the vehicle, Seiji asked Mr Ishida to take him to the best seafood restaurant in the area, preferably one that only locals know about. Without missing a beat, Mr Ishida replied, “Well, then, let’s get you to Tacchan Shokudo.”
Placing his full trust in the driver, Seiji sat back and enjoyed the 20-minute ride as Mr Ishida drove him to Kojohama, where Tacchan Shokudo is located. Along the way, Mr Ishida explained that Kojohama is a fishing town where fishermen who work at Noboribetsu’s fishing port live, and Tacchan Shokudo is run by the head of this group of fishermen.
Seiji’s stomach rumbled in hunger and excitement at the glowing reputation of the place where it was headed, and when they arrived at the joint, Seiji was surprised to see it looked like an abandoned warehouse.
▼ If Seiji hadn’t met Mr Ishida he would never have thought to visit a place like this.
The restaurant was just on the other side of this lot, in what looked more like a residential home or small office building.
After paying Mr Ishida and thanking him profusely for the recommendation, Seiji stepped out of the taxi and into the eatery. He had to hide his grin at what he saw, as this was exactly what he had in mind for a local spot — casually dressed locals happily shovelling morsels of food into their mouths, in an unashamedly no-frills setup.
The dining room was even more bare bones than some of the other secret finds Seiji has walked into over the years, as the foldable tables and chairs made it feel more like a temporary setup at an outdoor festival. Seiji got talking to one of the staff and they told him this space used to be an office, so it seemed that the tables, chairs and cabinets had simply been repurposed for a dining room setup.
Putting the ambience aside, the menus showed a good variety of options, with a number of different seafood “don” (“donburi” or “rice bowl“) dishes, which tourists often seek out on a trip to the island of Hokkaido, which is renowned for its fresh seafood.
There were at least nine seafood rice bowls (丼) to choose from when Seiji visited, along with a seafood curry and a karaage set meal, with prices starting at 880 yen (US$6.52) and going up to 2,200 yen for the Salmon Roe Don and 3,300 yen for the Salmon and Salmon Roe Don.
During Seiji’s taxi ride to get here, Mr Ishida had recommended the Tacchan Ramen (830 yen), which he praised for its incredibly delicious broth. Searching for it on the menu, Seiji found that it was one of the recommended items, and it seemed to be very popular with locals in the neighbourhood.
Seiji’s stomach was eager to be filled, so he decided to order the Tacchan Ramen, with a side of Madachi Ponzu, and splurge on “Today’s Special Donburi” as well.
▼ Today’s Special Donburi turned out to be well worth the 3,500 yen price tag.
The special donburi is limited to only 10 orders a day, so Seiji felt lucky to be able to order it. It contained the freshest looking seafood he’d ever seen, with all sorts of special treats like tuna, crab, surf clams, salmon roe, salmon, and even abalone.
▼ There was so much seafood in the bowl that Seiji couldn’t see the rice beneath.
▼ Every piece was surprisingly large, and so delicious Seiji had to hold himself back from crying out in delight at every bite, like an enthusiastic TV presenter on a food show.
The surf clams were the biggest Seiji had ever seen, and the crab pieces were irresistibly fresh and juicy. He couldn’t pick a favourite out of the bowl, as every piece was fantastic, and the combination created a harmonious rainbow of colour, both in terms of presentation and flavour.
After finishing the bowl of seafood, Seiji resisted the temptation to order another one, instead tucking into his Madachi Ponzu (800 yen). Madachi (Pacific Cod Milt) is a famous specialty of Hokkaido, and if you’re wondering what “milt” means…it’s the sperm-filled reproductive gland of a male fish. While this might sound off-putting to first-timers, it’s actually a popular dish, and Seiji found it to be fresh, voluminous, and melt-in-the-mouth delicious, especially when paired with the citrus-soy ponzu sauce it was served with.
Finally, Seiji moved on to a hot dish to end his feast — Mr Ishida’s highly recommended Tacchan Ramen (830 yen). Looking around, Seiji had seen many other diners eating this, so he was curious to find out what made it so popular.
When it arrived at his table, Seiji could see this was a very rare-looking ramen, with a translucent broth and unusual ingredients such as prawns, squid, and scallops in their shells.
▼ You won’t get a ramen like this at a big-name noodle chain.
Taking a sip, Seiji closed his eyes in bliss as his taste buds were treated to the rich taste of seafood. Though the broth looked light in colour, it was full of flavour, and absolutely delicious! The fresh seafood broth was seasoned with a natural saltiness that needed no other garnishing, and the noodles were equally fresh and delicious.
Mr Ishida had told Seiji that he often recommends Tacchan Ramen to ramen lovers, and everyone he’s recommended it to has unanimously praised it for its flavour. Seiji is yet another diner who’s fallen in love with Tacchan Ramen, and he too recommends it to noodle lovers as well.
It was a good choice to finish with the hot ramen before heading out into the cold again, and if Seiji lived in the area, he would definitely be eating here every day. The quality you get for the price is truly outstanding, so if you ever find yourself in the area, be sure to hop in a taxi and ask them to take you to Tacchan Shokudo. It’s now the third local recommendation we’ve received from a cab driver in Hokkaido, and they haven’t steered us wrong yet!
Tacchan Shokudo / たっちゃん食堂
Address: Hokkaido-ken, Shiraoi-gun, Shiraoi-cho, Kojohama 69-3
Open 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.
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