Hokkaido’s cuisine relies on the simplicity and natural flavours of its ingredients. Crab, scallops, and salmon are local specialities and restaurants specializing in these delicacies are common across the island. Other local delicacies not to be missed include Genghis Kahn barbecue, Ishikari-nabe hotpot, ramen noodles and Sapporo Beer. Founded in Hokkaido’s capital in 1876, it still brews locally along with other major national brewers; Asahi, Kirin and a host of local microbreweries.
Tourists are attracted from all over the country to Hokkaido's rich variety of fresh fish and processed seafood. This delicious bounty includes crab, scallops, sea urchins, salmon roe, salmon, herring, flounder, cod, arabesque greenlings, squid, octopus, shrimp, abalone, surf clams and kelp. Harvested from the northern seas, these seafood products have exquisite taste and flavor, and are rated among the best of their type.
The crab in particular is exceptional. Depending on the season and location, you can enjoy Queen crab, Horsehair crab, Red king crab or Blue king crab. When in season, they are heavy for their size and rich in flavor whether boiled in brine or prepared as sashimi. The sea urchins feed on kelp and the sashimi is so delicious you must try it at least once. You will not find such rich and mellow sweetness anywhere but in Hokkaido.
We recommend visiting one of the markets where you can eat fresh food on the spot. There are restaurants that provide reasonably priced samples of unique seafood, such as donburi meshi or a bowl of rice topped with a generous amount of sea urchins, salmon roe or scallops.
Ishikari Nabe (Ishikari Stew)
Ishikari-nabe is a typical dish of Hokkaido, making use of fresh salmon from head to tail. The name comes from the Ishikari-gawa River, famed for its salmon catch, and the same dish is known as tokachi-nabe in the Obihiro area. Chunks of salmon are stewed with vegetables, tofu and konnyaku (devil's tongue) in kelp stock flavored with miso. Locally produced potatoes and cabbage add to the delicious flavor of this hearty dish, so you can indulge in the tastes of Hokkaido from both the sea and the land. The origin of ishikari-nabe is a salmon and vegetable stew cooked by the Ainu people in the 17-18th centuries, with miso introduced with the arrival of Japanese people from the south.
Genghis Khan (Barbecued Mutton)
One of Sapporo’s most popular dishes is Genghis Khan BBQ (Jingisukan), which consists of grilled lamb or mutton and vegetables grilled on domed iron plate, together with special sauce (unique to each shop). Lamb and mutton are always a part of a Hokkaido barbecue. There are basically two ways to have Genghis Khan; either you grill the marinated meat or dip the grilled meat in sauce. Lamb and mutton are not commonly eaten meats in Japan, so it is a distinct speciality of Hokkiado. Another reason for its popularity is that Genghis Khan goes well with beer! Good places to try it are at Sapporo’s beer halls, for example, the Sapporo Bier Garten or Kirin Beer Garden.
No street or block in Sapporo is complete without a ramen shop, the internationally acclaimed noodles in miso, soy, or salt- flavoured soups. Indeed some streets have nothing but ramen shops like the famous Ramen Yokocho or Ramen Alley, where signatures of past and present celebrities adorn the walls of the shops that line either side of the narrow passageway.
There are three key destinations for noodle-lovers in Hokkaido:
- Sapporo: Miso Ramen – A combination of miso, garlic and wiggly noodles. Big slices of barbecue pork are also famous in this dish.
- Asahikawa: Soy Sauce Ramen – It’s famous for its broth made from soy sauce and fish stock.
- Hakodate: Salt Ramen – Hakodate is said to be Japan’s premier ramen destination. Salt ramen is famed for its lightly salted broth.