Sugalabo Pomme Hokkaido

This is decadence during a time when you least expect it. Caviar, I never quite had an answer of its origin, but as far as farmed caviar goes, the general quality is quite excellent throughout the globe. So what about the potatoes from Hokkaido? That’s coming but first a few words about Suga san, a Japanese chef who trained with Joel Robuchon and worked abroad and in Tokyo before opening Sugalabo.

Suga is slim-petite and a confident chef and has control over his forces in the kitchen. His menu is extensive and his open kitchen is quiet and very orderly. I understand his vision in using local ingredients from both his home town and from across Japan.

This dish uses Hokkaido pomme and heaps of caviar sitting on top a potato hollowed out with an egg yolk sitting inside. The cut oozes yolk onto a creamy green sauce, and the croutons add a crunch of texture.

The main clue as to when potatoes first entered Japan comes from its name in Japanese, jaga-imo. When the tubers, which originate in the Americas, were first introduced to the port city of Nagasaki in 1598, they were brought in by Dutch traders from Djajakarta or Jacatra, as Jakarta, Indonesia, was known at the time. Therefore they were called jagatoraimo (imo being the word used for all potato-like vegetables). The term was eventually shortened to the jaga-imo we know today.

The earliest record of its cultivation as a food crop dates from 1706, when it was grown in Hokkaido. In the late 18th through early 19th century, potato production was encouraged as a way to combat famine when the rice crop was poor, especially in northern Japan, where growing rice was difficult. There is also evidence that the indigenous Ainu people of the north grew potatoes, too, possibly influenced by contact with the Russians.

Large-scale potato production did not start until the Meiji Era (1868-1912). The Meiji government made the development and settlement of Hokkaido a top priority, to discourage any encroachment by the Russians, among other reasons. Large numbers of military settlers called tondenhei as well as regular civilians were encouraged to settle in the north and cultivate the land. Since growing rice was difficult in the cold, dry climate, potatoes were proposed as a viable alternative.

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