We have been to Hokkaido many times but have never visited Obihiro. The closest thing to Obihiro that we have encountered is the Buta Don which you can find throughout Japan. But, it is usually found on a menu alongside a gyudon or teriyaki chicken don. This is not the case for Butahage where Buta Don takes centre stage.
Butadon might seem like a simple dish of grilled pork on rice but, just like sushi, it is in the simple things that attention to detail matters. The quality of the pork loin, rice, secret sauce, and how it is grilled all contribute to a satisfying gustatory experience.
Butadon was first created in Obihiro, Hokkaido
Butadon’s origins can be traced back to a restaurant in Obihiro City in the early 1930’s. As the story goes, a proprietor concocted a dish comprising a bowl of rice adorned with charcoal-grilled pork, drizzled with a sauce reminiscent of broiled eel. He had wanted to create a dish to provide a hearty meal for hardworking farmers and laborers toiling with vigor and sweat.
The original idea was to serve unagi don but eels were too expensive even back then. However, there was a thriving pig farming industry in the Tokachi region that ensured a ready and accessible supply of pork so Obihiro’s iconic Butadon was born which eventually attained widespread fame across Japan.
Founded in 1934, Butahage has been delighting its guests with their Buta Don for generations. The restaurant is currently helmed by Hitoshi Yano San whose grandfather founded the restaurant. Butahage has since expanded to Hong Kong and Singapore. We are told that it is the owner’s intention to share Obihiro’s culinary heritage and attract visitors to the region.
Butahage Signature Butadon
The signature bowl at Butahage is the Obihiro Meibutsu Japanese Pork Loin Don $23.80 (for large) where you get six pieces of Hokkaido pork loin which has been glazed with their specially created sauce on a bed of Nanatsuboshi Rice which is also from Hokkaido.
Each slice of pork loin comes with a fat cap which gives flavour and texture to the lean meat, The owner also insists on having 5 green peas in each bowl. The peas don’t contribute much to the taste but serve mainly to make the don more attractive.
Don’t ask why 5 peas and not 4 or 6. Lisa has a theory that the owner in his exacting ways, experimented with the different permutations and decided that 5 – which forms a star, is the most aesthetically pleasing.
The pork is not pre-marinated but quickly dipped in their signature soy sauce just before grilling. The sauce is slightly sweet and smoky. The meat is grilled over high heat to quickly char the outside without overcooking the inside. What results is a tender and juicy slice of pork with that lovely sweet and tasty soy sauce glaze.
So which would you choose? Hokkaido or Spanish Pork?
Butahage also offers the same butadon using Spanish Chestnut pork instead of Hokkaido pork in order to give patrons the option of a more economical version of the butadon. We tasted both and quite frankly, it is not easy to tell the difference unless you eat them side by side.
Both are high quality pork loin that comes with a layer of fat at the top. Best is to order both and decide for yourself. If you are dining alone and don’t wish to order two butadons, you may have a side order of the pork on its own. ($7.80 for 2 pcs of the Spanish Pork and $9.80 for 2 pcs of Japanese Pork)
There is also a Canadian Pork Belly version available for those who prefer a more unctuous slice of meat.
Aside from the butadon, they also serve tendon which also uses the sauce specially imported from Japan. We found the tempura quite standard. It was light and crispy and drizzled with a savoury sauce that paired well with the batter. It is served of course, on perfectly cooked Nanatsuboshi Rice.
For $16.80, it comes with 3 pieces of black tiger prawns, lotus root, scallop, squid, salmon, enoki and french beans tempura. It also comes with a bowl of miso soup and their in-house pickles; as with all their main dishes.
Additionally, they’ve crafted dishes specially for the Singapore market, such as the Salmon Mentai Avocado Don. The homemade mentaiko sauce, paired with sashimi salmon and avocado, creates a heavenly combination which locals would be familiar with.
What makes the dish stand out for Lisa is the bed of seaweed between the aburi mentai salmon and rice. It is slightly sweet, yet salty and it very addictive!
For those wanting a snack, you can opt for a slice of grilled pork belly served in a bun. It was nice, but it would have been better if the buns were a little bigger so you can get a more satisfying mouthful.
While numerous Japanese restaurants offer grilled pork on rice, Butahage stands out as the sole establishment where the Butadon is the signature dish. It’s a dish that’s been passed down through three generations.
You may enjoy authentic Butadon at any of these Butahage outlets:
Butahage at Suntec City
3 Temasek Blvd, #01-625 / 626, Singapore 038983
Daily | 11am – 10pm
Butahage at Century Square
2 Tampines Central 5, #01-11A, Singapore 529509
Daily | 11am – 10pm
This post is written in partnership with Butahage. Opinions expressed are that of our own.