The "Welcome! Hokkaido" campaign is now underway for visitors to Japan’s beautiful northernmost island as part of efforts to recover from the recent (September 6) earthquake.
To get ready for your trip, you’ll need to know what to eat, and you don’t even need to leave the capital city of Sapporo.
Here’s a top 5 list:
Hokkaido is known for its seafood, or kaisen, for good reason. The variety and freshness of the island’s catch leaves most competition in the dust. The best place to experience this is Sapporo’s Central Wholesale Market, also called the Curb Market. Located on the western side of town, it includes a huge indoor facility for collection, processing, and sales; an outdoor market of roughly 60 storefronts; and a logistics center for national and international deliveries. What’s on offer depends on the season; October favorites include sujiko and sanma, which both make for mouth-wateringly good sushi.
Small restaurants are dotted throughout the market and around its edges; they are a great place to order a kaisen-don or a “seafood on rice” bowl (above). This will give you a chance to savor five or more different seafoods in their freshest state—raw. Kaisen-don can include ikura, or salmon eggs, those luminescent orange orbs that gently pop and release the taste of the sea. Higher-end kaisen bowls include uni, or sea urchin. Considered a delicacy in Japan, the brown grainy-looking blobs of creamy softness really do feel like they are melting in your mouth; their taste, smell, and texture uncannily transport you to the beach.
If you can’t make it to the wholesale market, the Nijo Market, more centrally located near Odori Park, is also a great place to indulge in seafood fare. And don’t forget that autumn is oyster season: just talking about it has my mouth watering! Try them raw with lemon, steamed with lemon, or barbecued with lemon....
Crab is essentially in season year-round in Hokkaido, and without question deserves its own mention on any “best of” food list. There is simply no substitute for fresh, real crabmeat, and Sapporo has the best in Japan. In my opinion, it’s reason enough to visit the city. Yummmm! Get your crab picks ready and start picking.
Jingisukan (Ghengis Khan) (ジンギスカン)
Yes, you guessed it, a cuisine named after the famous Mongolian leader. While debates rage as to the origin and history of this dish, what you need to know is that it is lip-smacking juicy good lamb barbecue. Tender, thin slices of mutton are grilled with vegetables over an inverted metal bowl, which, some say, resembles a soldier’s helmet. Friends take it in turn to grill plates full of meat and veggies over a communal “helmet,” making this a great social, if not smoky, meal.
Photo by yoppy on Flickr
Sure, ramen is popular throughout the country, but in Sapporo the sheer variety will make you dizzy. Yet no matter which soup base or sans-soup flavoring you choose (miso-based soups are a local favorite), the fresh, chewy noodles in this town are top of the line! Just visit the city’s ramen alley in Susukino or the ramen republic near the city’s main station to find out for yourself. Sapporo’s innovative ramen chefs continue to experiment with the ubiquitous noodle—visit the hip 175 Deno tantan-men shop across the street from Sapporo Station, where such copious amounts of sansho, a Japanese citrus pepper, is added to the adapted version of Sichuan Dan Dan noodles that your tongue will literally tingle.
A trend that began in Sapporo in the early 2000s and is spreading nationwide, soup curry is more pungent, has more depth, and is, as to be expected, more soupy, than your typical Japanese curry. It often includes big chunks of vegetables and a chicken leg that has soaked in the curry long enough to be completely infused with the spices. There are dozens of curry joints scattered across the city; they usually let customers choose their own heat (spiciness) level and volume of accompanying rice.
For those who drink alcohol, Sapporo beer is of course a worldwide brand. You can learn all about the history of beer making in Hokkaido on Sapporo’s beer museum tour (free admission and paid tastings). You can relax, dine, and drink to your fill at the museum’s adjacent beer garden, a favorite spot for Sapporo visitors.
Don’t forget that Hokkaido is the heart of Japan’s dairy industry, which makes it the ideal place, naturally, to partake in the country’s freshest ice cream. Parfaits and soft cream seem to be available on every corner in Sapporo, but I highly recommend Machimura Farm, because who doesn’t love a dollop of milky goodness on a roasted tea-flavored donut??
Take advantage of the “Welcome! Hokkaido” campaign to find discounts on flight and railway tickets, accommodations, and more. For a list of services and discounts, see the JNTO site or inquire with Japan’s major travel service providers, Rakuten, Jalan, and JTB.