The northern island of Hokkaido in Japan is known for its variety of fresh seafood and agricultural produce– and is therefore known as the “Kingdom of Food”. When I visited Hokkaido, the one thing I knew I had to do was eat, eat and eat! From a variety of popular local favorites like ramen and ice-cream, to its freshly-caught bounty of crabs, fish and sea urchins; I was spoiled for choice.
Different areas in Hokkaido offer different local specialties; however, there are a couple of dishes and products that you shouldn’t miss while visiting the island. I have never had seafood as fresh, and local dishes as delicious as those I had in Hokkaido– so here’s sharing my Top 10 favorite food to eat in Hokkaido. Don’t miss them when you visit!
Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup dish, with wheat-based noodles served in soy sauce or miso flavored broth. It is usually served with slices of pork, seaweed and bamboo shoots. Ramen is a specialty of Hokkaido, and the popular version is the miso ramen that is mainly found in the capital of Sapporo. However, during my visit, I also dropped by the Kamikawa district that is famous for the special Asahikawa soy sauce ramen.
There are tons of ramen shops all over Hokkaido, and for most of my trip I had ramen everyday! Every restaurant was just as good as the other; but for clusters of well-known ramen restaurants in one place, head on to the Ramen Village in Asahikawa and the Ramen Yokocho in Susukino, Sapporo.
You cannot go to Hokkaido and not have kani (crabs). The island is renowned for them, as the cold waters surrounding it offer the best conditions for high quality and fresh seafood. Plus, the Hokkaido crabs are relatively cheap and absolutely delicious. There are usually four kinds of crabs found in the region– hanasaki crab, king crab, horsehair crab and snow crab.
During my visit, I had a plate of boiled king crab leg. The king crab is so huge that restaurants offer just the leg as a dish– and one leg was more than enough for me. The flesh of the crab was sweet, tender and succulent; it was so fresh, the meat just fell out of the shell. For those with bigger appetites, there are crab buffets in Sapporo, where you can sample all the kinds of crabs as much as you want.
3) Uni and Ikura Donburi
We know that Hokkaido is famous for its seafood– and other than crabs, the other must-try’s are the uni (sea urchin) and ikura (salmon roe). These seafood are highly celebrated, and the best way to sample them is by having them all in a donburi (rice bowl) for breakfast.
I arrived in Sapporo late in the morning, and the first place I headed to was the Nijo Fish Market. There is no better place to get a donburi than at a fish market– it is usually filled with small restaurants serving this dish. I ordered my donburi topped with fresh uni, ikura and salmon; but there are choices of other fresh seafood like hotate (scallop), ika (squid) or even crab meat.
4) Curry Soup
Curry is pretty popular in Japan; and in Hokkaido, their local Sapporo specialty is the curry soup. The curry has a sweet and spicy taste– and it is filled with a choice of meat (chicken or pork) and Hokkaido’s fresh produce like broccoli, melon, carrots, aubergines and mushrooms; and eaten over rice.
I had my curry soup at Lavi, a restaurant with several branches all over Hokkaido. There are a few steps to follow when ordering the dish– starting from the choice of ingredients, to the spiciness level, to the optional toppings, and the size of the rice. My curry soup had pork slices with additional cheese and egg toppings, and I went for the extra spicy. Yum!
5) Genghis Khan (Jingisukan)
Genghis Khan, locally pronounced as Jingisukan, is a grilled mutton dish that is popular in Hokkaido. The meat (either fresh or frozen) and vegetables are grilled over a dome-shaped metal skillet in the middle of the table. Once the meat is done, it is dipped in a soy-sauce based dip and eaten straight off the grill. The meat has a rustic and hearty taste.
I had my Genghis Khan at the beer hall at the Sapporo Beer Museum; and I believe that this huge atmospheric dining room is the perfect place to have this signature dish. Friends and family were gathered around the tables, talking and laughing out loud– it felt like I was transported back in time to the era of the Mongols (thus the name of the dish). I ordered the all-you-can-eat menu and topped it off with mugs of cold beer.
6) Soba Noodles
Soba translates to buckwheat in Japanese, but we know it as the Japanese thin noodles made from buckwheat flour. It is famous in Japan and all over the world– and Hokkaido is the biggest buckwheat producer in Japan. So where better to have soba, than in Hokkaido?
Some people like their soba served cold with a tsuyu (sweet soy sauce) dipping sauce; but I like my soba in a hot broth. I had my bowl of Hokkaido soba on a cold windy autumn’s day in the onsen town of Sounkyo, and even though it was a simple bowl just topped with an egg, it was the perfect bowl. And the best way to eat it is to slurp it out loud so that the cook in the kitchen knows you’re enjoying his/her cooking!
Hokkaido is famous all over Japan for its dairy products, thanks to its vast countryside and farmland. So when in Hokkaido, go crazy over the milk, the yogurt, the cheese, and especially the soft serve ice creams. They are smooth and creamy, and made from raw milk and pure fresh cream. Ice cream stalls can be found almost everywhere on the island, and they come in different flavors– make sure you do not miss the milk and melon flavors.
My most memorable ice cream moment was when I had milk ice cream served on top of half a yubari melon. It was absolutely divine.
8) Yubari Melon
Hokkaido produce is just as synonymous to Hokkaido as its dairy products. With extensive farmland, quality soil and favorable climate, the region is known to grow the freshest produce like wheat, corn, potatoes, asparagus and melons.
Though the fresh corn and potato products are delicious– I am absolutely in love with the yubari melon. It is the sweetest melon I have ever tasted, and despite it costing about ¥2900 (US$24) per melon and ¥400 (US$3.5) per slice, I couldn’t help buying a few slices every time I came across a stall selling it. The yubari melon is one of the things I will miss most about Hokkaido.
9) Sapporo Beer
Beer is popular in Japan, and the birthplace of beer in Japan is Hokkaido. Sapporo Beer is the oldest and most popular beer brand in the country, first introduced and brewed during the Meiji period in 1877. So for an introduction of the history of beer in Japan and the brewing process, as well as a taste of Sapporo beer straight from the tap, head on to the Sapporo Beer Museum.
There is a beer hall at the end of the museum tour, and visitors can sample the three kinds of Sapporo beer in the market–Kairakushi, Black Label and Classic. I personally liked the Black Label most, as it has a more fruity taste. Of course, Sapporo beer can also be found anywhere in Hokkaido, and the whole of Japan. And while you’re at it, why not try some local sake too.
10) Hokkaido Snacks
Due to the popularity of Hokkaido’s agricultural and marine products, they have also been made into delicious confectioneries and snacks to be enjoyed anytime of the day. Make sure you get your hands on the local Shiroi Koibito white chocolate cookies, Royce chocolates that are manufactured in Hokkaido, Jaga Pokkuru potato chips, Yakitokibi corn crackers, as well as yubari melon flavoured jelly and snacks. These are my favourites!
Hokkaido snacks make the best souvenirs to bring home for family and friends, and to remind you of all the delicious fares you had in Hokkaido.
*She Walks the World was on Air Asia X’s inaugural flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hokkaido on the 1st October 2015. Air Asia X flies between the capital of Malaysia to the New Chitose Airport 4 times a week.