12 Must-Try Local Hokkaido Dishes in 2023: Soup Curry, Hokkaido Ramen, Kaisendon, and More!
Looking for what to eat in Hokkaido when visiting? Blessed by bountiful nature, the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido is a foodie's paradise home to an enormous bounty of fresh vegetables, meats, and seafood of impeccable quality. Here are 12 iconic dishes and must-eat Hokkaido food to try during your trip to Hokkaido!
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1. Soup Curry: Full of Opulent Ingredients and a Satisfying Spice
Hokkaido’s soup curry bucks the thick conventions of Japanese curry with a soupy base brimming with slices of local produce. While there are outlets offering soup curry all over Japan, there’s nowhere better to try it than its homeland of Sapporo, where a unique take on the dish is around almost every corner. Generally speaking, soup curry is filled with fresh, thickly-sliced Hokkaido-grown vegetables, culminating in an exciting, chunky dish. Also available is soup curry with pork cube slices, spicy chicken, beef tendon, fish, and more.
2. Chan Chan Yaki: Nutritious Teppanyaki and a Local Favorite
Chan chan yaki sees salmon and vegetables flavored with miso and fried on a teppanyaki grill. Once eaten predominantly by local fishermen, it is now adored across the island as a homely family feast. While there aren’t many restaurants exclusively specializing in chan chan yaki, it’s a staple item in izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) around Sapporo and elsewhere. If you love fish and veggies, don’t miss out!
3. Hokkaido Ramen: From the Thick to the Thin, A Satisfying Dish!
While it’s easy to simply picture ramen as a nation-wide dish, most regions of Japan actually boast their own distinctive ramen style - with some more sought-after than others. One of the most renowned ramen regions in Japan is Hokkaido, with numerous variations in taste and ingredients cropping up between localities. In particular, the cities of Sapporo, Hakodate, and Asahikawa are celebrated as Hokkaido’s top three ramen cities. So, what makes them so special? Let’s take a look!
Sapporo Ramen: A Luscious Blend of Miso and Butter
With an influential reputation across Japan, Sapporo ramen has a broth generally flavored with miso and butter and topped with corn. Variations are also popular, with many outlets also offering soy sauce and salt flavors. The broth is made from boiled pork bones, with some chefs combining it with chicken or seafood to double the intensity. The noodles are generally chewy, wavy, and medium-thick in size. If you’re in Sapporo, definitely make time for a bowl or two!
Hakodate Ramen: Light and Thin Salted Soup
Most Hakodate ramen consists of a lightly-flavored pork or chicken broth with salty tare sauce and straight medium-fine noodles. The ingredients often includes char siu, spring onion, bamboo shoots, and slices of narutomaki fish cake, all of which are carefully selected to pair with the delicate soup. Within the three big ramen, Hakodate ramen is considered to be the simplest in both taste and appearance, making it ideal for those who prefer their dishes light.
Asahikawa Ramen: A Soy Sauce Broth Brimming with Lard
Most ramen in Asahikawa boasts a pork or chicken broth flavored with soy sauce, which is often complemented by additional seafood or vegetable broth. However, the most impact comes from the ample lard in the soup, which helps to slow down the cooling process and warm the bodies of the local residents, allowing them to combat the brutal Asahikawa winters. The wavy noodles are medium-thick and the toppings range from classics like char siu, bamboo shoots, and spring onion to more complicated renditions such as fried vegetables.
In addition to these ramen, a swathe of other equally tantalizing varieties exist across the prefecture. This includes ramen with crab, scallop, and all other types of Hokkaido-esque fresh seafood, along with the beloved curry ramen of Muroran, and plenty of others! It's the perfect repeat destination for any ramen fan!
4. Jingisukan: Succulent Lamb Doused in Exquisite Sauce
Jingisukan is a Hokkaido specialty consisting of mutton or lamb grilled together with vegetables on a specially-designed hotplate. While the dish can be found in Tokyo or other areas of Japan, those served outside Hokkaido tend to be expensive and possess a peculiar odor. As there are numerous restaurants within Hokkaido competing for the ultimate jingisukan, the overall quality is high and lacks any odd tastes or textures. The succulent mutton and lamb is low in fat and packed with protein and vitamin B, making it a nutritious alternative to other meats. The generous helping of vegetables also makes it the ideal dish for those conscious of their health. The finishing touch is a sweet, rich tare sauce that many consider the highlight.
5. Ishikari Nabe: A Heart-Warming Hotpot Packed with Salmon and Vegetables
Winters in Hokkaido are notoriously long and cold, which is why the locals adore hotpots. One of the most unique is the Ishikari Nabe, which sees a soup made from kombu seaweed flavored with miso and packed with raw salmon, daikon radish, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, onion, tofu, and more. While found all over Hokkaido, this one-of-a-kind hotpot is best relished in its hometown of Ishikari. Eating it on those unforgiving Hokkaido winter days will warm your body and heal you from the cold.
6. Ikameshi: Chewy Squid Soaked in Salty-Sweet Sauce
Ikameshi is made from the body of squid stuffed with rice and boiled. The rice used is the same chewy variety used to make mochi, although renditions with regular non-sticky rice are also popular. Flavored with a simple salty-sweet tare sauce with a soy sauce base, the dish allows you to fully savor the character of each ingredient. Portable bento box versions are also common at train stations, allowing for an easy taste of Hokkaido on the go!
7. Rui-be: Melt-in-Your-Mouth Sashimi!
Rui-be is a traditional preserved food developed by Hokkaido’s indigenous Ainu population. Made from frozen salmon or cod, it is thinly sliced and served frozen—a process that removes any excess water and captures the essence of the fish. After the initial crunchy bite, the fish will slowly melt in your mouth, creating two different textures entirely separate from regular sashimi. There are lots of izakaya in Hokkaido with rui-be on the menu, so definitely give it a try!
8. Butadon: A Mouthwatering Bowl of Pork!
Hailing from the city of Obihiro in the Tokachi region, an area renowned for pig farming, the butadon pork bowl is a beloved local dish. While the ingredients, flavoring, and cooking style differ between stores, most renditions see thick slices of pork loin roasted on charcoal and flavored with a soy sauce-based salty-sweet tare sauce. The ravishing sauce, juicy pork, and fluffy white rice is a match made in heaven - and a great pick-me-up for ravenous travelers!
9. Jaga-Bata: Hot Potatoes Drenched in Luscious Butter
Jaga-bata is a simple, heart-warming bowl of boiled potatoes doused with butter and salt. Relishing one in Hokkaido, which is responsible for close to 80% of Japan’s potato production, transforms this everyday meal into an exceptional gourmet experience. Accounting for over 50% of Japan’s total dairy production, the quality and character of Hokkaido’s thriving diary industry is perfectly exhibited in its rich, flavorful jaga-bata butter. While it may seem like a basic meal you could get anywhere, an authentic Hokkaido jaga-bata is like no other!
10. Escalope: Western-Style Pork Cutlet with Flavored Rice Makes for a Filling Meal
Consisting of a pork cutlet dressed with demi-glace sauce resting upon ketchup-flavored or buttered rice, this Hokkaido escalope originated in the far-eastern city of Nemuro. Originally developed by local cooks as a hearty dish aiming to satisfy the large appetites of local fisherman, it has since become a staple food found all throughout town. There are dozens of restaurants within Nemuro serving escalope, making the perfect meal for tired, starving travelers!
11. Teppo-Jiru Soup: A Luxurious Miso Soup Packed with Crab!
Teppo-jiru is a miso soup flavored with fresh Hanasaki crab caught around Nemuro City. The name “teppo” comes from the Japanese word for “gun” due to the act of picking the crab flesh out from the legs with chopsticks resembling the act of cleaning out a gun. The savory crab melts into the miso soup, culminating in a deeply rich umami flavor. This dish is often savored at izakaya and sushi joints across Hokkaido.
12. Kaisendon: Hokkaido’s Legendary Dish! Fresh, Healthy, and Tastes as Good as it Looks!
The Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Sea of Japan - Hokkaido is surrounded by three different seas, all boasting a bounty of seafood hauled in fresh at dozens of local markets everyday. One of the best ways to make the most of this unparalleled variety is with a kaisendon (seafood bowl). Bursting with delicacies such as sea urchin, salmon roe, tuna, salmon, scallops, shrimp, crab, and more, it presents a colorful smorgasbord symbolizing the wealth of Hokkaido’s oceans all in a single bowl.
We hope this showcase of Hokkaido’s rich food culture has convinced you to visit! From seafood to meat, dairy, vegetables, fruits, and more, the unrivaled freshness and sheer deliciousness found within Hokkaido’s borders is undoubtedly second-to-none!
Hokkaido Gourmet: Crab Edition
Hokkaido Gourmet: Shrimp Edition
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.