With only a rough sketch of a map and instructions from an elderly gentleman I spoke to at a supermarket along the way to "Go straight, then turn right then left" (Which turned out to be accurate, only I got where to turn right then left completely wrong.), it took a fifty minute hike and getting hopelessly lost around the snowy streets of Furano before we finally found Kumagera, which came highly recommended for its nabe (hotpot) offerings.
We were ushered to a small room just off the entrance, where there was a sign saying they were hiring part-time waitresses. (No waiters in the place at all. If you see the photo they have by the doorway of all the staff it's literally rows of ladies surrounding one guy. Who he is I still don't know, but it was quite a cute picture.) There was more than enough room for the 7 of us around the large wooden table we were shown to, which also comfortably housed all the pots of shabu shabu we ordered.
It was dark and rather homey in our private dining area, and even though we seemed shut off from the rest of the restaurant, service was attentive. (The head waitress was a little old lady who deftly poured out cups of sake with a flick of the wrist so each cup was filled to the brim in a convex meniscus without spilling over. It was amazing to watch.) Though the waitresses generally don't speak much English, they do try their best, and there's also an English menu where they look at the corresponding picture of whatever you're ordering. We ordered a few side dishes, but the main thing we were there for was beef hotpot, so that was what we got.
This was the serving for three. When Da jokingly asked the head waitress why there seemed to be so little beef (Well, to be fair it was mostly some smiling and a lot of exaggerated mime), she swept out of the room and into the kitchen and came out bearing an extra plate of beef that she settled before us with a flourish, like we'd impugned upon her honour by implying that they were being stingy. We were totally stunned (We were literally speechless while we processed what had just happened) but very grateful for the free plate of beef. It really was good stuff and we were being greedy since you can't get this stuff back home without paying an arm and a leg, so we ended up ordering even more helpings over the course of the afternoon. (Yeah. We stayed at the restaurant for absolute ages just talking and eating. It was great.)
We tried their cheese tofu, which is made using their own special recipe. It was jiggly, delightful stuff with more than a hint of soft cheese. The morokyu (Japanese cucumber sticks with fermented bean paste) was decent, but no-one else around the table was much interested in cucumber so I finished the plate on my own.
It was on the menu and I couldn't help myself, so I indulged in ikura (Salmon roe) in soy sauce. I used to think of it as overkill with all that salt on salt, but when you get the good stuff it's easy to pick out the sharp brine in contrast to the fermented sweetness of the soy, and the saltiness comes in layers instead of overwhelming you all at once.
When we finally left, stuffed to the brim and waddling out in our many layers, we saw this adorably passive aggressive little sign in the parking lot across from the restaurant, which basically tells you all you need to know about the restaurant's popularity.
|You can feel the exasperation.|
3-22 Hinodemachi, Furano, Hokkaido Prefecture, 076 0025