Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago, is known for its vast expanses of farmland and sumptuous local foods and produce, making Hokkaido food famous around Japan. It is said that the best way to experience a culture is through its food, and boy, does Hokkaido have a lot of it!
Hokkaido is consistently number one on the ‘want to visit’ lists in Japan, beating the popular cities of Tokyo and Kyoto year after year. The likely reason? Its delicious local food, of course. From king crab to milk, this island has it all. Let’s check out seven Hokkaido foods that people love.
Why is Hokkaido Food So Good?
Hokkaido is at the top of Japan, very close to Russia. In stark comparison to the southernmost parts – the sun drenched tropical islands of Okinawa – Hokkaido is a lot colder than the rest of Japan.
This means that the summer months are milder and it is easy to grow and farm during these times. In contrast to this, the winters are extremely cold, reaching temperatures of -30 degrees and lower. As a result, time inside is very important to Hokkaido people, and they have a lot of downtime to spend perfecting new recipes.
The fresher produce is in part thanks to Hokkaido’s size and location. Hokkaido is also so expansive that there is ample space to use for farmland. And being an island means that there are plenty of towns close to the sea to get that fresh seafood from local fish markets. In other words, Hokkaido has an abundance of local ingredients to make their iconic foods.
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Seven of Hokkaido’s Most Delicious Local Foods
A coffee shop in Sapporo, the biggest and most famous city in Hokkaido, is credited with creating Sapporo city’s most famous dish in the 1970s. It is said they used a medicinal soup from China or Korea for the base and added spices commonly found in Sri Lankan, Thai, and Indian curries.
This Hokkaido food is basically what it says: a curry soup. The flavorsome, spicy soup is served with a choice of ingredients on the top, ranging from fried chicken thighs to friend pumpkin, and even roast potatoes. It then comes with a separate plate of rice, often topped with half a hard-boiled egg,
The best thing about soup curry is that it is totally customizable. Not only are the toppings customizable, but also the soup base itself and the level of spiciness are variable! Soup bases range from a standard tomato soup to coconut to shrimp.
Jingisu Kan (Genghis Khan)
Otherwise known as Mongolian barbeque, this mutton dish is rather bizarrely named after the 13th century Mongolian warlord, Genghis Khan. The reason for this is that pre-war Japanese people believed that Mongolian soldiers ate a lot of mutton lamb.
Get a host of Hokkaido people round for a BBQ and chances are at least one of them will bring some Genghis Khan along.
Genghis Khan is mutton cooked over a BBQ, traditionally in a skillet made in the shape of a helmet, further adding to its name. Often, bean sprouts, cabbage and other vegetables are added around the edges of the skillet, so the vegetables can soak up the lamb juices which are released during the cooking process.
Melon is perfect for the whole family to enjoy, and Hokkaido has two famous types of high quality melon.
Yubari melon is a gala-type grown in the Hokkaido province of Yubari, and is famous for its rich, honey-like flavor and decadent orange color. Any passers-through will be able to savor a slice at many local service stations. Yubari Melon is so juicy that once the flesh of the melon is eaten, the skin can be squeezed into a cup for a cupful of melon juice.
Yubari melons can be sold for up to $200 for one!
The other type of famous Hokkaido melon is Furano melon, a honeydew type, with a delicate flavor and light green flesh. Furano melon is soft with a melt-in-your mouth texture. It is often bought as a gift because its name is so recognizable.
Ishikari Nabe is a miso (Japanese fermented soybean)-based hot pot that was invented in the coastal area of Ishikari, originally as a meal for fishermen who received parts of salmon as rewards for a prosperous day of fishing. In other words, it is not just a Hokkaido food, it is a part of Hokkaido culture.
The fishermen chopped up the salmon and popped it straight into a miso-based soup with vegetables, making a delicious hot pot.
Traditionally, with either salmon or trout, this stew is designed to be slow-boiled and eaten communally. Aside from salmon or trout, various vegetables are also added to boost the flavor and add to that umami (savoriness). In fact, there is a special national day of ‘Ishikari Nabe’, celebrated every year on September 15th.
Hokkaido Soft Cream
Hokkaido is famous for its dairy products and is responsible for producing 60% of Japan’s milk. The local people are known for adding butter to everything, even ramen, and one of their most famous souvenirs is the Press Butter Sand, raisins and butter sandwiched between two biscuits.
Hokkaido dairy is more than just butter and milk as Hokkaido ice cream and its soft serve ice cream are also famed around Japan. This beautifully creamy ice cream can be found in many places across the region, each with its own inventive flavors.
Remember Furano melon? Well, Furano is also famous for its lavender fields, with rows upon rows of purple stretching as far as the eye can see. Locals and tourists alike flock to the Furano lavender fields for that perfect picture and for one more thing… Furano Lavender Soft Serve, one of the unforgettable ice creams from Hokkaido.
Another funky ice cream flavor to try is Aoi Ike (blue pond) ice cream, found in the Biei area of Hokkaido. It is bright blue!
In Eniwa city, close to Chitose Airport is another interesting flavor. Kabocha (pumpkin) Soft Serve is actually delicious, and anyone will recommend it if you get the chance.
Hokkaido is surrounded by the sea and many major towns are within a stone’s throw from the seafront. There are two particular dishes that seafood lovers must try.
The first is Hokkaido sushi from Otaru, a quaint port town and popular tourist spot, even for locals. The area is famed for its delicate glassworks and old-style charm.
Otaru’s close proximity to the sea means that all the fish served in Otaru sushi is super fresh, and many sushi shops in Otaru see lines of customers desperate to try some of Hokkaido’s fresh sushi starting from mid afternoon.
Another Hokkaido seafood specialty is a seafood donburi (rice bowl). A donburi is basically a rice bowl with a hearty topping.
In this instance, the rice bowl is topped with a variety of local, freshly caught fish. It can also be called ‘kaisen-don’ literally meaning: ‘freshly caught fish rice bowl.’ The Hokkaido version normally features sea urchin and salmon roe, and is best eaten with a sprinkling of soy sauce. Delicious!
For many Japanese people, when they hear Hokkaido food, one of the first things they think of is ramen (Chinese-style wheat noodles). Hokkaido loves ramen and there are two particular types which are especially well-known: Asahikawa Ramen and Sapporo Ramen.
Asahikawa Ramen is predominantly flavored with soy sauce which is added to a broth that has been slow cooked with chicken, pork, and fish bones. The noodles are traditionally wavy and thick to soak up the heavy, oily soup.
Sapporo Ramen is known for a slab of butter on the top, best washed down with a Sapporo Beer! Sapporo Ramen also features a miso-based broth and wavy noodles. In fact, Sapporo was the first place in the country to use miso broth, so there has been plenty of time to perfect the flavor. Sapporo Ramen often comes with bean sprouts and onions on the top.
As Hokkaido is so vast, a great way to experience as much of the Hokkaido local foods is to travel either by train or on a road trip. The spectacular scenery, encompassing mountain ranges and vast farmlands, alongside relaxing hot springs and towns, all serving amazing local food all year-round. make for a rewarding trip. We can see why Hokkaido is at the top of many travellers’ lists!
Let us know if you’ve tried any of the foods listed, or even if you’ve been to Hokkaido yourself.