In Central Hokkaido, you could be eating a cheesy pizza and drinking a fine wine, eyeing off some asparagus ice cream and considering a cleansing lavender tea to finish the meal. The experience might be more Japanese than it sounds, and not only because the ingredients for these menu items are all locally grown.
Of all those foods, the asparagus ice cream might be the most foreign part of the meal. This is not because of the ice cream, however. It is due to the asparagus, which was only introduced to Japan in the 1800s.
Scott Dexter on Flickr
The cheesy pizza is much more Japanese than it might seem, with dairy products produced from yak milk arriving here centuries before asparagus did. Wheat has also been cultivated and processed into flour in Japan for more than 1000 years. For example, wheat flour is the main ingredient in udon noodles.
But more so than dairy and grains, it’s the vegetables that deceive western visitors the most often. Sweet potatoes, pumpkin and carrots may all seem exotic to visitors to Japan, but there are Japanese native species of all these veggies.
Grzegorz Adach on Flickr
Here’s a quick quiz to check your veggie knowledge – the answers will be listed below but it’s your job to guess whether or not these vegetables are native to Japan or were introduced here:
They all have native Japanese species.
« R☼Wεnα » on Flickr
Central Hokkaido is renowned for its agriculture and introduced corn, tomatoes and other veggies are grown here in abundance. The fertile river valleys also produce top quality dairy and meats. In most Hokkaido restaurants there are dishes that are quintessentially Japanese, like sushi and nabe (hot pots), featured next to western meals like pizza or far eastern dishes like curry. But Japanese chefs have customized these imports with home grown produce and distinctive sauces. Hokkaido curry sauce is not the same as Indian or Thai versions because it has been reinvented for the Japanese palate and local cooking styles.
I am not an accomplished cook but perhaps because so many locally grown ingredients seem familiar to me, I am adventurous in my cooking in Japan. Doria is a Japanese dish most of us could attempt at home. It’s a popular winter dish in Hokkaido.
To make doria, combine your favourite cheese (made from Hokkaido milk of course), with cooked rice and locally grown vegetables like onion, corn, capsicum, pumpkin and carrot. Add meat if you wish, then season the mixture as you desire. Bake it on a medium heat for an hour or so, or a shorter time if the vegetables and meat you added were already cooked.
The result is a hearty and warming dish that, to me, is somewhere between a risotto, lasagna and a casserole – but it’s also very Japanese. Large ovens are not commonplace in Japan, but this dish is best cooked in the bowl you will eat it from.
If you have the gift of more elaborate cooking, these local Hokkaido produce recipes look absolutely delicious.
Gambatte kudasai! Good luck!