These dome-shaped grills, as the story explains, resemble a Mongolian warrior’s helmet. And in Genghis Khan’s time, his soldiers would use their helmets to grill muttons and lamb meat.
These dome-shaped grills, as the story goes, resemble a Mongolian warrior’s helmet. And in Genghis Khan’s time, his soldiers would use their helmets to grill muttons and lamb meat. This is how the association between the conqueror and the dish came into being. Anecdotes aside, grilled mutton has been a staple of Hokkaido since the early 20th century.
Hokkaido was in turn designated as an important region for sheep farming due to its abundance of suitable land. Soon, sheep became a major component of Hokkaido’s agricultural production and locals started to adopt an increased consumption of grilled lamb and muttons. This diet pattern continued to this day as Genghis Khan became a popular menu option for social gatherings and outdoor celebrations.
This shoulder-to-shoulder intimacy creates a sort of camaraderie amongst the patrons as if heading to war together after the meal is the only logical next step.
Restaurants also experiment with different slice thickness as they impart different flavour and texture. Many famed Genghis Khan restaurants are known not only for their meat quality, but their cuts and especially the secret ingredients in their sauces.
Daruma Honten is one such restaurant specializing in the non-marinated Genghis Khan. Located in Sapporo, this eatery is established in 1954 with 16 seats packed in a 4.5 square metre wooden room. The short stools surround the outer rim of a giant U-shaped counter resembling a horse hoof. On the counter sits the round charcoal stoves used to heat the dome-shaped grills.
Eating the Genghis Khan is a no-frills affair – grill the muttons, add the onions, and wash it down with beer. That is all there is to it, essentially. After the server replaces the charcoals in your stove, he will place a piece of lard on your grill plate. Let it melt to grease the grill. As the plate starts to sizzle, line cabbage and onions along its side. Then, start layering the meat in the centre of the plate and flip when the exterior is browned and crisp. Aim for medium rare, then dip it in the sauce. Done.
Grilling meat in charcoal and lard naturally impart a bold flavour, calling for an equally forceful counterpart to balance its thickness. This is where the rustic bed of grilled onions come into play.
This is where the grilled onions comes into play. Its pungent sharpness heightens the tenderness of the hot mutton, prepping it with the final punch – Daruma’s secret sauce.
At the end of the meal, put the remaining sauce on the rice and mix it with the hot tea given by the server. This hearty side dish warms the body with its thick texture – a nice closure.
The meat burst with oozing hot liquid and screaming richness, its thickness and sauce are perfected to a T. They make no attempt to beautify the whole process, serving it as it is. Simple and unabashedly bold.
Rising demand for grilled mutton led to the expansion of many established stores, most of them from Hokkaido. Daruma, for example, is one of them. Honten stands for “the original store.” They currently have four in operation, all in Sapporo.
The only downside is the wait time. Try queuing for an hour in the snow and you will come to grasp the allure it holds for the poor devotees standing outside in the cold.