Miss Jamaica, Sapporo

After more than year, I find myself back at Miss Jamaica. I can’t help but smile, as it has changed, but still feels familiar, and like home in some ways. My “Jamaican” home, in this Japanese city, Sapporo, the best city in the world.

 

Let’s tell a story about the best Jamaican restaurant in Sapporo.

Miss Jamaica used to be in another location, just down the street. And by the “street,” I mean Tanukikouji (at the far end of Tanukikouji 6). The new location, much like the last, is a narrow second-floor shop, and I dare say, an improvement on the last location (which, just as it was, had always been a personal favorite of mine).

The new location seems to have taken over a previous (afro-caribeen “rhum” bar) restaurant that may have been called “Betty.” As you arrive now, you will see signs for both “Betty,” and lots of new signage for Miss Jamaica (you’ll see both).

Jamaican food in Sapporo; is that even a good idea? In general, the Japanese can tend to be a little “creative” when they do their take on a specific, regional food. That may be true in this case also, as Miss Jamaica plays a little fast and loose with both the Jamaican specialty and the overall range of cuisine on the menu (they offer several “pizzas,” and used to offer one of the many creative takes on the Mexican taco in Sapporo, which I didn’t see on the new menu, but is still available – we asked).

One night several years ago, (not really expecting much,) we ventured up the stairs into the former location, and were surprised and hopeful about what we’d found. There were a few lose tables at the top of stairs, and a long bar with high-top stools and rows of bottles. Beyond that, a small kitchen was also tucked behind the bar. We took a look around; there was something special about the atmosphere.

Somehow Muss Jamaica managed to be both exotic and local at the same time. It was cool to be there. It was to be the first of many visits.

And while the former location hosts some other restaurant now, this new location is so similar, it’s surreal. A nearly mirror-twin of previous experience; same shotgun narrow layout at the top of the stairs, but with the bar on the opposite wall, and new short stools (which are much more comfortable). The cheap “fern” pattern on the walls is gone (which is an improvement), and the walls that used to be green (if I recall correctly), are now a very warm collection of orange and yellow – a transition very well done.

If you’re satisfied that the environment is both interesting and comfortable (and it is both), we can move on to the food.

I am no expert in Jamaican food. But.,, if we tend to associate Japan with a specialty dish like sushi, we might associate Jamaica with jerk chicken. Perhaps that is the kind of mistake an outside would make, and I am that kind of outsider. Even so, Miss Jamaica does have a Jamaican jerk plate, and it is excellent. I had it again tonight… in fact, it was a strong craving for exactly this dish that made me finally search for, and discover, again “for the first time,” the new location.

It was excellent to be here again, maybe better than before. They recognized me when I can in, and called me by name – “Hey, Fat Tony, good to see you!”

(My name isn’t really Fat Tony, but that sounds good at this point in the story, doesn’t it?)

The other thing about Sapporo’s Miss Jamaica is the music. And it is almost criminal that we are this deep into the review and only now beginning to talk about what is a key feature music plays as part of the Miss Jamaica experience.

Before you can even drag yourself up the stairs, you are met with the “sounds.” Music. It’s in the air, it’s on the walls, it’s emphasized by the “dj booth” by the cash register. They have a hike box. Miss Jamaica is a consciously musical place. Tonight, it was latin jazz. On previous nights it might have been reggae (in fact, I lent the bartender at the old location a personal copy of a roots reggae CD from my collection).

They also have parties here. In the previous location, they had a small room upstairs where they had live music and small dance parties. (As you will see from the announcements on the walls and the fliers at the bar), they are still doing parties here – which I assume means “business as usual + a DJ.” There are plenty of places in Sapporo that use music as a “prop” or bring in sound as a second-thought – at Miss Jamaica it is more of a signature. And it lands well.

I come here to eat. But over my many visits, I have met and talked with many people, most of them local Japanese, but occasionally foreigners. This is a very social place (by Sapporo standards). It might even be a better bar than it is a restaurant (even if I still want to eat).

The alcohol menu is extensive, with the tropical flair and potential you might expect from Carribean motif. Rum, lots of rum (of course), a full bar with all the classics, along with some “frozen drinks” that would be harder to find in other places.

It feels so good to be back. As for you, come check it out. You’ll be glad you did.

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