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Must-eats from Northern Japan

For first-time tourists asking “What is the best food in Hokkaido” or “What food is Sapporo known for?” here is a list of must-eat dishes from northern Japan.
Must-eats from Northern Japan

There’s always something fascinating about Hokkaido. It’s the ultimate winter destination with its spectacular ice sculptures at the Sapporo Snow Festival and snow-capped mountains perfect for skiing. In the summer, Hokkaido has an allure of its own with its lush valleys and temperate weather that encourage various outdoor activities, such as camping and fishing.

Discover Hokkaido through your stomach

Hokkaido is also known for its food. Year in and year out, this island north of Japan is home to many vegetables, seafood, and dairy products—all adding to the wonderful cuisine of Hokkaido. So if you’re looking for rich and flavourful soup or fresh and sweet seafood, Hokkaido has it all.

For first-time tourists asking “What is the best food in Hokkaido” or “What food is Sapporo known for?” here is a list of must-eat dishes from northern Japan:

Hakodate ramen

Hakodate ramen

A popular Hokkaido food is the Hakodate ramen. It contains pork slices, bamboo shoots, spinach, and green onions in a salt-based soup with thin noodles. The Chinese in the Edo period first introduced this dish which still carries the clear soup and thin noodles associated with it. Eventually, Hakodate Ramen evolved to become one of the most well-known and best-loved ramen in Hokkaido.

Hakodate ramen is also called “Shina soba” (Chinese buckwheat) by the locals and is one of their most popular dishes. Most Hokkaido ramen uses a lot of fat to counter the cold, but since Hakodate has a warmer climate than the other parts of Hokkaido, the dish is a lot lighter.

Asahikawa ramen

Asahikawa ramen

Known for being quite oily, the Asahikawa ramen is a soy sauce-based soup comprising a combination of seafood broth and meat broth. The seafood broth is boiled from kelp and anchovies, while the meat broth comes from pork bones and chicken. They are then flavored with soy sauce to create a savory soup.

A layer of lard added just before serving the dish prevents the ramen from cooling too quickly. This helps to counter Hokkaido’s cold weather and keeps this dish hot. Asahikawa ramen comes with thin, hard, curly noodles that complement the soup. Typical toppings include green onions, pork, bamboo shoots, and eggs.

Sapporo ramen

Sapporo ramen

Sapporo ramen completes the top three ramen in Hokkaido, together with Hakodate ramen and Asahikawa ramen. This miso-based ramen is a popular Sapporo food said to have been boiled from pork bones at a roadside stall after the war. As the story goes, it used to be soy sauce-based until a random customer suggested adding tonjiru (pork miso soup).

Since then, the Sapporo ramen has become increasingly popular for its delicious flavor and nutritious quality, thanks to the miso. The soup combines multiple soup bases, including pig bones, chicken, and seafood. You can enjoy this dish with various toppings, but it’s not uncommon to find butter added to the surface. This prevents the ramen from cooling down too quickly. Most restaurants also top the dish with Hokkaido’s specialty corn, which is why many restaurants also name this as the “Corn butter ramen” on the menu.

Kushiro ramen

For adventurers and food enthusiasts embarking on a Hokkaido food travel or tour, the Kushiro ramen is something to add to your list. Kushiro is a port town in eastern Hokkaido, and their ramen is a soy-sauce based soup with thin, wavy noodles that are soft and elastic.

Kushiro ramen, however, is known for not using additives or preservatives in the dish. Thus, you can only eat it locally as it could spoil easily if you take out some as a souvenir.

A mix of flavors, including bonito, kelp, chicken bits, vegetables, and pork bones, makes up the broth. The double soup type is similar to that of the Asahikawa Ramen, though the taste is quite different. 

Muroran Curry ramen

Muroran curry ramen is local ramen found in various ramen shops and Chinese restaurants in the Southwestern part of Hokkaido. It is especially known in Muroran City and comes with curry-flavored noodles made from Hokkaido flour. They are yellow and wavy, just like Sapporo ramen.

The curry paste is a mix of various ingredients, made up of vegetables, fruits, spices, and pork bone soup. This makes the soup spicy and very thick but often leaves an aftertaste of sweetness. The usual toppings include pork fillet, vegetables, and wakame seaweed.

King crab, snow crab, and horsehair crab

King crab, snow crab, and horsehair crab

Hokkaido crab is legendary, with king crab, snow crab, and horsehair crab being among the most popular crab varieties.

Horsehair crab is a seafood delicacy for you to enjoy throughout the year. Hokkaido boasts of the largest harvest of horsehair crabs in Japan, with most of them caught in the Okhotsk Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

Larger numbers of king crab, on the other hand, are harvested from the Wakkanai Harbor. This Hokkaido crab type is rare and more expensive than any other crab species. 

Various crab dishes are available in specialty restaurants, hotel restaurants, and izakaya bars all around Hokkaido. They are mainly eaten boiled, grilled, or as a shabu-shabu (hot pot). You can also enjoy them through crab nabe (a type of hot pot where you pour everything inside), crab zosui (porridge), creamy crab croquettes, crab miso gratin, and crab dim sum. These crab dishes are also enjoyed with Japanese sake that you can pour onto and drink from grilled crab shells.

Fresh scallops

Fresh scallops

Your Hokkaido gourmet dining experience isn’t complete without tasting scallops from Lake Saroma. This largest lake in Hokkaido is the birthplace of scallop cultivation and boasts one of Japan's largest catches. With its mineral-rich salt waters, Lake Saroma is the perfect place for cultivating large, succulent scallops, some of which are transferred to the Okhotsk Sea, while the others remain behind to grow in calm waters.

When they are fully grown, the scallops are then harvested and prepared for savoring in a myriad of ways. Depending on your preferences, you can have your scallops chargrilled, buttered, or even eat them in the form of raw sashimi. Tokoro Michi no Ichi, a restaurant in Kitami, Hokkaido, sells scallops and other fresh seafood that you can purchase and grill on the spot.

Lake Saroma sushi

Lake Saroma sushi

It’s no big deal that Hokkaido seafood is lauded throughout the world. When you taste the fresh catches from Lake Saroma, you’ll find that the praise is no exaggeration. Kitami City and the town of Saroma both feature a myriad of restaurants where you can sample the various delicacies during Hokkaido seafood season.

Tourists and diners can order salmon roe, large shrimp, sea urchin, conger eel, as well as seared, salted, and fried scallops. Straight from the lake and onto your plate, this platter of Lake Saroma sushi ensures a super gastronomic experience that will satisfy your palate.

As part of the experience, Lake Saroma offers spectacular scenery through the four seasons—from beautiful blue waters on a summer day to a vast plain of icy white when the surface freezes over the winter. With breathtaking sunset and panoramic views of the Okhotsk Sea and even the Shiretoko Mountain Range as a backdrop while you eat, this Hokkaido gourmet dining experience is truly one of a kind. 

Hokkaido ice cream

What better way to end a food tour than with a scoop of delicious, flavorful ice cream? Hokkaido is well-known for its dairy products—milk, butter, cheese, yogurt—thanks to its sweeping countryside. Kitaichi Garashu Kan, a restaurant in Otaru, specifically sells seven flavors of rainbow ice cream throughout the four seasons. Their flavors are grape, matcha, strawberry, melon, milk, lavender, and chocolate. They also have seasonal flavors that you can try out.

Explore Hokkaido through its food

Whether it’s your first time to Hokkaido or you’ve been back several times, you will find that there’s always much to discover, especially in terms of Hokkaido food. From savory ramen to fresh seafood to flavorful ice cream, you will get to sample the best dishes the region is known for that will leave you wanting more.

Eat your way through Hokkaido!

Getting There