Hokkaido Food: Top 6 Must-Eat Dishes from the North of Japan
Whether or not you’re from Japan, the country’s northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido holds a special allure. It’s a snow paradise in the winter with skiing, snowboarding, and incredible ice sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival. It’s also a temperate heaven in the summer, offering a variety of outdoor activities including camping and fishing—but year-round, the best part is the food! Read on to find out why Hokkaido cuisine tops the rest.
Taste the Best of Hokkaido Food with These 6 Picks
If you have the chance to visit this northern island of Japan, make sure to try the wide variety of vegetables, seafood, and dairy products that Hokkaido has to offer. From its fresh and surprisingly sweet seafood, to its hearty soup curry and nabe, to its fragrant and milky rich ice cream, Hokkaido food is quite unlike anywhere else in Japan. If you’re visiting Hokkaido for the first time, here are the top 6 heavenly Hokkaido dishes that you won’t want to miss.
Kaisen-don (Hokkaido Seafood Donburi)
Kaisen-don is a donburi, or bowl of hot rice, topped with fresh seafood and sashimi. Common toppings include fat salmon, juicy crab legs, shiny ikura (salmon caviar), sweet scallops, and creamy uni (sea urchin)--and if you think you don’t like uni, just wait until you try it in Hokkaido! Of course, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Hokkaido seafood. As you’ll see, there’s also plenty of freshwater goodness to be found within Hokkaido’s rivers.
Ishikari Nabe (Hot Pot)
Ishikari nabe is a hearty local hot pot dish named for the Ishikari River, the longest river in Hokkaido. This rustic dish is served in a clay or cast iron pot and features a miso-based broth with winter vegetables, salmon, and tofu. It was originally a simple fisherman’s stew that was often cooked on the beach after catching salmon at the mouth of the Ishikari River. Nabe is especially popular in the wintertime, and most people eat it at home a few times a week to fight off the cold.
Hokkaido ramen is a mix of many different styles, each delectable in its own way. In Sapporo, you’ll find miso ramen with thick, wavy noodles. It’s topped with local ingredients such as Hokkaido butter, sweet corn, and even fresh scallops—proof that seafood finds its way into most great Hokkaido cuisine.
In Hakodate, you can enjoy shio ramen, which has a salty chicken broth sometimes with an added touch of pork. The noodles are thin, straight, and served a bit soft.
Asahikawa is known for its shoyu ramen, a soy-based broth made with chicken, seafood, and pork bone topped with a thin layer of oil that floats on top of the soup. The noodles are thin, wavy, and chewy and are made with a lower water content so they can soak up more ramen broth.
In recent years, curry ramen from Muroran city has also become popular thanks to the city’s promotional efforts. Curry ramen also features thick and wavy noodles that are a tad chewy.
In addition to curry ramen, Hokkaido’s soup curry has also gained great popularity. It’s a Japanese-style curry combined with a rich soup broth and served with rice. The soup is loaded with fresh herbs, spices, and large slices of vegetables, making it somewhat healthier than curry ramen. Many soup curry shops will even let you customize your soup, from the spice level to the vegetables and toppings.
Jingisukan ("Genghis Khan" BBQ)
Unlike other parts of Japan, Hokkaido is a large consumer of mutton and lamb. One of Hokkaido’s most famous dishes is the whimsically named “Genghis Khan”, which consists of lamb and vegetables like kabocha pumpkin, cabbage, and bean sprouts cooked on a helmet-shaped grill and dipped in a special sauce. Some people say the name comes from Mongolian warriors who would grill meat on their helmets.
Genghis Khan is a delicious and quintessential Hokkaido food staple that can be enjoyed indoors or outdoors. Some shops even offer a picnic service that includes all the fixings, a portable grill, and a picnic sheet to sit on.
Hokkaido Ice Cream
Hokkaido’s cold climate and expansive countryside make it ideal for dairy farming, and Hokkaido is famous for its delicious milk, cream, and butter. This high-quality dairy is the secret to Hokkaido “soft cream”, or soft serve ice cream, which tends to have a milkier flavor than other ice creams due to the use of fragrant farm-fresh milk and rich, pure cream. Hokkaido soft cream comes in a variety of flavors--both traditional, such as vanilla and chocolate, and unusual, such as black squid ink and uni. Whatever flavor you decide to go with, you can be sure that the texture will be smooth, rich, and creamy like no ice cream you’ve tried before. It goes perfectly well with other staples of Hokkaido cuisine—before or after the main meal!
Ingredients Are Key to the Goodness of Hokkaido Food
Thanks to the influence of Western farming techniques in the 1800s, Hokkaido food has developed its own unique culture that’s different from the rest of the country.
While innovations from abroad are certainly part of why Hokkaido is often referred to as the gourmet heaven of Japan, first and foremost it’s the ingredients that ultimately make Hokkaido food so amazing. The prefecture is rich in agriculture, growing 25% of Japan’s food despite having only about 4% of the population. It’s also surrounded by bountiful northern seas, teeming with a variety of fish and shellfish, not to mention rivers. So as has already been made abundantly clear, Hokkaido is the place to go in Japan for fresh vegetables, high-quality dairy, beer and sake, and incredible seafood.
Now that you know about Hokkaido’s culinary cornucopia, all that remains is to tear away from the ski slopes and try some Hokkaido food for yourself!