As I was drafting this list and looking out for commonalities to talk about them, I realise there are two: first, the food is mostly rich and strong, suitable for cold weather. Second, most dishes are rather inexpensive, so you can go crazy. Of course, mutton and crab are expensive everywhere, so those are the two exceptions.
1. Hokkaido Sweet Corn and Sweet Potato
Hokkaido grows their own produce and they take so much pride. Hokkaido sweet corn these days can be found vacuum-packed in fancy supermarkets but nothing beats eating it freshly in Hokkaido. They have it on the streets so there is no recommended place for it. But if you can find the white corn, go for it. Locals say it’s so sweet you can eat it raw. We had a corn at a fish market and it was the sweetest and juiciest corn ever. I hate corn but I love this.
Also as a bonus, if you’re there in the winter, they have small vans along the streets–don’t worry, they are not kidnap vans–which open at the back to sell sweet potatoes. While in Hokkaido, we saw a tv programme talking about their homegrown sweet potatoes. So it’s worth getting one or two hot potatoes for comfort in winter.
2. Yubari King Melon
Yubari King Melon must be one of the must expensive fruit ever. In 2016, a pair of melons were auctioned off successfully at ¥3 million. Yubari itself is a town not far from Sapporo, so you may want to visit the farm.
But you can see it selling in slices at most supermarkets and fish markets. If you are visiting a few places in Hokkaido like we did, eat the melon at Hakodate! We compared prices and the melon is cheapest at Hakodate for about ¥350; the other cities are selling it for ¥400 or ¥450.
Kaisendon is simply thickly slice sashimi (or roe) on rice. If you visit many Japanese restaurants outside of Japan, you’d hear that scallops (hotate) and uni (sea urchin) are from Hokkaido. So take this chance to eat lots of them. We went to three fish markets and ate and ate.
4. Hokkaido Butter Corn Ramen
Different regions in Japan are known for different types of ramen. In the cold north Hokkaido, their ramen has to keep them warm, so they add butter and corn to the broth. There are 50 Bib Gourmand ramens in Hokkaido and we went to two that locals like: Ippontei 一本亭 at Lake Toya and Ramen Shingetsu ラーメン 信月 at Sapporo.
5. Milk, Ice Cream, and Other Milk Products
Please target to drink a small carton of milk a day, like I did. They are inexpensive compared to NTUC’s Hokkaido milk at S$8 a carton. The milk is amazing, rich and flavourful. Just walk into any convenience shop and buy any brand. By the way, I realise that the best tasting milk isn’t the most expensive.
Also target to eat a soft-serve everyday.
If you happen to be Niseko, you must visit Milk Kobo which serves cheese tarts and cream puffs. And they have award-winning yogurt which is fantastic. It’s fluid so you can drink it and it is well-balanced, not too sour. You can buy this yogurt at convenience stores around Niseko.
6. Jingisukan (“Genghis Khan” BBQ)
You probably may hear of yakiniku (Japanese BBQ beef) before. Jingisukan or “Genghis Khan” BBQ or Mongolian BBQ is similar except that the main highlight is lamb/mutton. Recommended:
–Hitsujino Oka ひつじの丘
–Hitsujitokumono Oka 羊と雲の丘
–Loft Club Loft倶楽部
–Shiretoko Jingisukan Sora 知床ジンギスカン そら
–Shirokuma Sapporo Honten しろくま 札幌本店
7. Soup Curry
Soup curry is different from the usual thick Japanese curry. Soup curry is drinkable like soup! The spicy level usually can be customised. It has some meat (chicken or beef) in it and, at the side, there is a bowl of rice. You can add the soup to the rice and eat it like a porridge, or you can eat them separately.
–Bem Bera Network Company ベンベラ・ネットワークカンパニー (7丁目 Minami 2 Jonishi Chuo-ku Sapporo Hokkaido; 北海道 札幌市中央区 南二条西 7丁目 エムズスペース 1F; +81-11-231-5213; 11.30am-3pm, 5.30pm-9pm)
–Curry Zion カリー ザイオン (1-4-21 Hanazonocho Rumoi Hokkaido; 北海道 留萌市 花園町 1-4-21; +81-164-42-2297; 11am-2.30pm, 5pm-9pm, Closed Monday)
–Dominica メディスンマン (1F, Daini Mitani Bldg, Minami 1 jo Nishi 6 chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo; +81-11-231-0974; Weekdays 11am-2.30pm, 5pm-8.30pm, Weekends 11am-8.30pm)
–Medicineman メディスンマン (1-18 Minami 12 jo Nishi 10 chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo; +81-11-552-5456; Weekdays 11.30-3pm, 5pm-9.30pm, Weekends 11.30am-9.30pm)
8. Sapporo Beer & Nikka Whisky
The locals are very proud of their world-renowned alcohol. We visited two such facilities. We wrote about Nikka Whisky whose founder was the first Japanese to to study the art of making whisky. The distillery here also gives out free shots of whisky.
The two facility we visited was the Sapporo Beer Museum. No free beer here but Hokkaido is the birthplace of beer in Japan. Sapporo Beer, one of the oldest and most popular beer brands in the country, has been brewed in Sapporo since 1877. The Sapporo Beer Museum (サッポロビール博物館, Sapporo Beer Hakubutsukan), which was opened in 1987, is standing in the place of a former brewery.
At the end of the free museum tour, there is a beer hall where I drank their original recipe from 1877. (Can’t remember how much we paid per half pint. But if you want, there is a restaurant, Garden Grill, where you can have a liquid and solid buffet, all-you-can-drink beer and all-you-can-eat mutton BBQ.
9. Ishikari Nabe
Nabe means hot-pot, Ishikari is the name of a town where they have the longest river in Hokkaido named Ishikari-gawa, famous for their salmon. Ishikari nabe is usually eaten in winter. It uses a miso-based broth and has vegetables, salmon, and tofu.
10. Hokkaido Crab
Hokkaido has mainly three types of crabs: snow crabs, king crabs, hairy crabs. Of course, crabs are expensive so perhaps it is best eaten at fish markets. However, if you’re on a budget, look at for rice bowls that include crabs. It’s most value for money.
If you are willing to splurge—we didn’t—you can try one Michelin starred Katsukanino Hanasaki 活カニの花咲, which specialised in crabs.
You may be interested in…
–Asari しゃぶしゃぶあさり, Hakodate Hokkaido: Sukiyaki Chef-Owner Says, “I Want to Open a Shop in Singapore!”
–Oyado Kiyomizuya 御やど清水屋, Noboribetsu Hokkaido: Onsen Ryokan at Hell Valley (And the Best Kaiseki Ever)
–Otaru Rakuten らく天: Fantastic Izakaya with a Michelin Bib Gourmand
–Unagidokoro Takahashi うなぎ処 髙はし, Hakodate Hokkaido: MichEELin Bib Gourmand Unagi Restaurant. Much fEELs.
Written by Dr. A. Nathanael Ho.