Norainu: The Stray Dog Café
Delicious! This Peach Melba parfait is delightfulness squared—no, cubed! Am I in Ginza, visiting the famed fruit parlor Sembikiya?
Not even close. I am at a fishing port in Hokkaidō—Irifune Harbor to be precise, a small marina at the base of Mount Hakodate crowded with boats used by squid crews and divers in search of sea urchin and abalone. The café Norainu—literally “stray dog”—is a retro, arty hideaway that turned up unexpectedly four years ago like, well, a stray dog. Located in a renovated fishing tackle store garage, it has no telephone and does not take reservations.
Owner Shindō Masamichi was born on the Niigata island of Sado. He trained as a cook in Hokkaidō, Osaka, and elsewhere, then returned to his home in 2009 to open the original Norainu café in a converted company dormitory at the Sado Kinzan Mine. The shop’s name was inspired by the 1949 film Stray Dog directed by Kurosawa Akira and starring Mifune Toshirō. The café found many fans, not least for its soup curry made using local Sado ingredients. But Shindō and his wife eventually decided to move to her hometown of Hakodate.
Half an hour before the Norainu opens, a line starts to form outside, the waiting customers cooled by the early summer breeze and serenaded by a nearby bush warbler. There are seven or eight young women ahead of my wife and I. This is a small café—it seats just 10 patrons and turns away groups of three or more—but fortunately, we just make it in.
I take a big bite of my uncured ham and cream cheese sandwich, which is really something special. Next, I have that Peach Melba—available today only, and so delicious I want to leap out of my chair. Along with this I enjoy an original blend coffee. It is thick as an espresso, but goes down easy. This is a dining experience that fully satisfies.
The café recently celebrated its tenth year in business, spanning its opening in Sado and subsequent move to the quiet outskirts of Hakodate. According to Shindō’s wife, her husband since relocating has taken a liking to this sleepy fishing town.
Getting there: Two minutes on foot from the Hakodate Dock-mae stop on the Hakodate City Tram
(Originally published in Japanese.)