Layers of thick pork slices on top of rice, seasoned with a sweet and spicy sauce and served in a bowl – that’s Obihiro’s specialty “pork bowl”! The origin of this dish is from Obihiro City in Hokkaido’s Tokachi region. This pork bowl is also a commonly made home dish in the Tokachi district. As an item on mom's easy menu, it is everyday meal that gets the family to the dinner table quickly. This time, Saori from Tokachi who is accustomed to eating this delicacy daily recommended these three Pork Bowl Shops!
I went to the “original pork bowl” shop, Pancho, where I heard the secret story behind the birth of this dish.
The first place I visited was a pork bowl specialty shop in front of Obihiro station "The original pork bowl Pancho." Founded in 1933, it is known as the origin of this Hokkaido specialty.
The pork bowl is a dish originally created for stamina. Although the exact date is unknown, the dish first began when founder, Shuji Abe, went out to the river to fish every evening after he closed his shop. This was a time before Pancho had begun.
“My thought was to serve delicious and energy filled dishes to the farmers and pioneers who I would see sweating away in the fields on my way to the river," were the words of Shuji Abe says Sachiko Abe, as she tells the secret story of the birth of the pork bowl.
In order to create a cuisine for stamina, the idea was to use eel, but at the time eel was too expensive and difficult to obtain. So, because pig farming had been widespread in the Tokachi district, we decided to use pork as it was easily accessible.
Using a hint of eel sauce, pork was baked in a sweet and spicy sauce that we served in a bowl. This dish was well received and was soon after put on the menu. Although the shop was originally opened as a mass public eatery, eventually all other menu items were removed and the store continued on as a Pork Bowl specialty shop.
The pork bowl menu is divided into 4 types: "pine", "bamboo", "plum" and “flower”. The prices vary based on the amount of meat with "Pine" 4 pieces of meat (900 yen, tax included), “bamboo" 5 pieces of meat (1,000 yen, tax included), "plum" 6 pieces of meat (1,100 yen, tax included), and the highest grade "flower" with 8 pieces of meat (1,300 yen, tax included).
In general, pine tree bamboo is the most exclusive, right? However, "Plum" is more expensive than "Pine" because at Pancho, the name of the lady of the first generation was named Ume (plum) and so it seems that she is celebrated by ranking "plum" above "pine".
In addition the highest grade "flower" is something like an extra-large when compared with other shops. However, calling the dish an extra-large may discourage some female customers from ordering, so it was decided to call the dish the "Flower" so that women who enjoy food in plenty can feel free to order. So those who love to eat will have no problem ordering here!
The characteristics of the pork bowl offered at Pancho are charcoal grilled pork loin with a secret meat sauce. When it is grilled with a charcoal fire, excess fat drops and the meat becomes more tender. Their secret sauce is the same one used from the original creation with the recipe still protected to this day.
There is also a mellow richness in the sweet and spicy taste, with the smell of charcoal and the flavor of the secret sauce that linger in your scenes. Even after you finish eating, the pleasant aftertaste leaves quite the impression.
The original pork bowl is available outside of Obihiro station. You can order to go, so you can take it home or eat it on the train.
Ganso Butadonno Bancho元祖豚丼のぱんちょう
- Address 〒080-0011 北海道帯広市西一条南11丁目19／11-19, Nishi1-jominami, Obihiro-shi, Hokkaido, 080-0011, Japan
- Phone Number 0155-22-1974
Hours of Operation: 11: 00-19: 00
Closed: Mondays, 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month
(When a business holiday falls on a Monday, the following day will be closed)
Hageten Honten: Pork bowls and deep fried pork bowls!
This shop was founded in 1934, one year after Pancho opened, and is also a long-time established shop. It seems that the pork bowl also began to be offered around the time of the shop’s opening.
The pork bowl’s sauce is the foundation of the flavor.
The soy sauce used, even from the same manufacturers when produced at different times, will still cause minute differences in the flavor. When making sauce, it seems that the taste of the sauce is kept uniform by making fine adjustments each time, such as slightly strengthening or weakening the sweetness according to the flavor of the raw ingredients. This degree of precision comes with the intuition of cooks with many years of experience. That is how we inherit this traditional taste.
"If you order for two, we recommend you order one regular pork bowl and a deep fried one. This way you can enjoy both dishes," says Saori. “At Hageten Honten, pork bowls are delicious, but the deep fried pork bowls are just as good!"
The pork bowl and the deep fried pork bowl, are both prepared with pork loin meat from Hokkaido-raised pigs. They carefully select the marbled meat using the meat closer to the head in the pork bowl for a heavy texture while using the meat near the tail for the deep fried pork bowl giving it a crispier texture.
A tingling sensation of spicy black pepper in the pork bowl is a great accent for a tasty flavor. While the meat is thick, it is so tender you can chew right through it - which causes some to devour this dish quickly.
There are also pork bowls made with an extra crispy flavor served only at lunch. Perhaps it may be somewhat heavy for lunch, but it may be just right for those seeking something filling.
Eat the deep fried pork bowl with a little bit of sauce. Since it is deep fried, you may think that it will be greasy, but it has a surprisingly light taste. It has been compared to like eating tempura with dashi.
Eating a pork bowl with secret sauce or eating a deep fried pork bowl with tempura sauce it is so hard to pick. Which would you choose?
Hageten Hontenはげ天 本店
- Address 〒080-0011 北海道帯広市西一条南10丁目5-2／10-5-2, Nishi1-jominami, Obihiro-shi, Hokkaido, 080-0011, Japan
- Phone Number 0155-23-4478
Hours of Operation: 11: 00-21: 00 (L.O. 20: 30)
Closed: irregular holidays (New Year's holiday)
The popular new place that has locals lining up
The last shop to introduce is Tonda Pork Bowl, away from the downtown area, about a 10-minute drive from Obihiro Station. Compared to other shops, it is a relatively new, but it is known as a spot where the locals line up.
The predecessor of the shop was a butcher. When selling face to face with various customers, he noted how the preferences of meat varied depending on the person, such as people who like or dislike fat, or people who like or dislike fillet meat. That is how, he says he has acquired the ability to choose meats for the desired taste.
The experience of this butcher's time is utilized in the now pork bowl restaurant that stands in its stead. A common pork bowl in the Tokachi district uses pork loin, but in addition to this, there are also pork belly and fillet meat options in this store. A spot where you can choose your favorite meat according to your taste – that’s Tonda’s key selling point. Additionally, all the meat here is sliced not by machine, but by hand. While looking at meat quality, the human aspect allows the meat to be cut in a way that is easy to eat.
We compared the taste of the pork belly and filet bowls as they are hardly found in other shops. The pork belly option is high in fat content with a strong umami taste. Those who enjoy food high in fat are sure to enjoy this option.
The pork filet is said to be the exact opposite when compared with the pork belly. Since the fat content of the filet is low, it has more of a raw meaty texture. However, some people enjoy this meaty taste and is their favorite option at the store.
In every pork bowl, sauce is served in a small bowl on the side. Everyone has their own preference when it comes to sauce, so here people can add sauce to their desired level. This sauce was created by the butcher and previous owner and the ingredients remain a secret to this day. This sauce has been around 30 years and this sauce has never been shared with anyone.
These photos were taken at Tonda prior to the shop’s relocation so the actual shop appearance may differ.
Tonda Pork Bowlぶた丼のとん田
- Address 〒080-0810 北海道帯広市東十条南17-2／17-2, Higashi10-jominami, Obihiro-shi, Hokkaido, 080-0810, Japan
- Phone Number 0155-24-4358
Hours of Operation: 11: 00-18: 00 (L.O.18: 00) ※ Will close when stock runs out
Pork bowls have been a familiar home-cooked meal that has been enjoyed by the Tokachi people for generations. In recent years it has attracted attention as a local cuisine and is now a popular choice among tourists. What kind of pork bowl would you try? Even the same pork bowl, at different stores, has a completely different taste, so be sure to try many and compare to find your favorite!
Written by : Nobuhiro Kawashima
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.
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