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Food & Drink

What is Hokkaido Butter Ramen? History & Where to Buy

Jenna Wilson

Jenna Wilson


Ramen has become a popular Japanese culinary export, along with sushi and Kobe beef, but did you know that each prefecture has its own style? From Tokyo to Fukuoka to Hokkaido, there is an incredible variety of this noodle dish, and more are being created all the time. In recent years, the northernmost prefecture of Hokkaido’s spin on the meal, Hokkaido butter ramen, has risen to prominence along with its international reputation for high quality ingredients and rich flavors.

Sapporo ramen can have a wide variety of toppings and the most recent additions are corn and butter, both regional specialties.

Ramen History: From China to Japan

Although ramen is now firmly entrenched in Japanese culinary culture (both the fresh and instant versions), the dish is actually Chinese in origin from the word lamian (拉麵) and means “pulled noodles”. While Japan has been heavily influenced by China for centuries, this particular dish only made its way into the country in the mid 19th century via Chinese immigrants. It is believed that the first ramen was made and sold by Chinese laborers in Yokohama’s Chinatown, located just south of Tokyo, and it took another 50 or so years before ramen shops began to pop up all over the country.

Did You Know?
Ramen was originally called shina soba until the 1950’s, which literally means “Chinese Soba”. Nowadays you can still see the word chūka soba (中華そば) being used instead of ramen from time to time, as the word “shina” has developed a somewhat negative connotation.

Post WWII Popularity

Ramen rose to popularity in postwar Japan when the country was reeling from both the destruction of World War II as well as a terrible rice harvest in 1945. From 1945-1952, Japan was under American military command and the market was flooded with cheap wheat flour to help alleviate the food shortages. The wheat flour eventually made its way into ramen noodles and the dish became instantly far more affordable.

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A New Ramen Style from Sapporo

Sapporo is the origin city of miso broth ramen, made by using soybean paste for flavor instead of the traditional pork bones.

Otherwise known as Hokkaido ramen, this variation when first introduced was a big change from the traditional pork bone-based broth that was commonplace. The man credited with creating this new version, Morito Ohmiya, wanted to create a style of ramen that was healthier and had less oil. After much experimentation, he found a way to create a miso based broth that was still rich and delicious, and added in vegetables to help soak up the excess oil. Once the recipe was perfected, Ohmiya opened his first ramen shop called Aji no Sanpei in Sapporo, and later on added more broth types, such as soy sauce, salt, and crab, which were quickly picked up by ramen restaurants across the country.

Hokkaido is the northernmost and coldest prefecture with long winters, so adding butter to ramen was developed as a way to keep the broth warmer for longer.

And while miso ramen is now available across the country, there is a newer version of Sapporo ramen with one more factor that makes this dish quintessentially Hokkaido cuisine: the additional toppings of sweet corn and butter. Both corn and dairy are Hokkaido specialties that feature in a wide variety of dishes, and the butter serves two purposes: flavor as well as adding more fat to keep the soup hot longer. Perfect for a prefecture that is famous for long winters.

Where to Get Sapporo Ramen

Ramen Alley in Sapporo (otherwise known as Ganso Sapporo Ramen Yokocho) is a popular spot for ramen fans to grab a bite to eat.

There’s only one way to get authentic Sapporo Ramen, and that’s visiting the prefectural capital. Should you ever be lucky enough to visit Hokkaido and are a ramen fan, here are few top spots that are guaranteed to leave you feeling satisfied:

  1. Menya Yukikaze

Famous for its super thick and rich miso broth, this shop only opens at 6pm but always has a long line of hungry patrons waiting to get in.

2. Aji no Sanpei

The original shop that started it all is still running and making its delicious miso ramen topped with vegetables and ground pork.

3. Baisensha

This shop creates a beautifully flavored miso broth by blending two types of Hokkaido miso for a truly local dish.

Have you ever heard of Hokkaido or Sapporo ramen? Would you like to give it a try? Let us know in the comments below.

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