What to eat in Hokkaido? Adventure Hokkaido Team’s favourite foods!

, by Hattie

One of the most commonly-asked questions of guides on our tours is, “What should I eat?” Well, you’re in luck… in this blog, members of the Adventure Hokkaido Team share their favourite Hokkaido foods with you, complete with recommendations on where and when to enjoy them.

Dinner prepared with in-season produce

With mountains, oceans and Japan’s largest collective area of farmland, it’s no surprise that Hokkaido is a culinary paradise. Visitors come from far and wide to try the deluxe melons, delicious ice cream and daily-fresh meat and vegetables. But with so many dishes and local specialities to try, this leaves only one question… What to eat?! 

Indeed, this is some food for thought and quite the meaty question... The internet is peppered with lists to introduce you to Hokkaido’s famed cuisine, but I thought I’d give you the scoop straight from locals who are in Hokkaido enjoying its food year-round - by which I mean, the Adventure Hokkaido Team! So without further ado, here’s the team’s favourite Hokkaido dishes, as well as the low-down on when and where to enjoy them.

A word of warning before we begin - not all of these dishes are vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. If you would like some tips on what foods are best for these specific dietary requirements, check out our blogs on vegan and gluten-free eating in Hokkaido.

Ayaka - Furano Melons

A hand holding a plastic container of Furano Melon (a cantaloupe melon). There is lavender in the background.
Furano's pride and joy - juicy melon!

One of our founders, Ayaka, is kicking things off with one of Hokkaido's most popular fruits - Furano melons! She refers to not just the famous orange cantaloupe that is beloved by Japanese and tourists alike, but also the delicious Furano watermelon as well.

For Ayaka, this special fruit carries fond memories. “It’s been a long-standing tradition of my family to enjoy Furano’s melon and watermelon every summer since I was young,” she explains. “My family lives in Sapporo but we used to make the day trip to Furano to buy melons fresh from a local farm, have lunch and drive back.” Of course, Ayaka no longer lives in Sapporo, but she has carried this tradition with her to her home in Higashikawa and still makes the (much shorter) drive to Furano every year to enjoy fresh melon. “It’s something I look forward to every summer,” she adds!

As you may have guessed, if you want to try fresh Furano melon or watermelon, nothing is better than enjoying it in Furano itself. Juicy and sweet, the town puts a lot of work into raising its prized fruit. The first fruits of the year go for a fortune at auctions, but luckily, they are much more affordable (in the 300~500yen range for a slice or around 2000yen for a single whole, non-premium variety) when purchased either at Furano’s popular sightseeing spots, local supermarkets or directly from a farm - Ayaka’s mother recommends Shimada Farm!

Richard - Zangi

A plate of Hokkaido speciality fried chicken sits on a tray with a bowl of rice, a bowl of pickles and miso soup.
A big pile of zangi like this is just what you'll need after a hike!

Richard’s food of choice is Hokkaido’s take on karaage, Japanese fried chicken. Locals call it zangi to distinguish its different recipe from its mainland relative. Richard explains, “The meat has usually been marinated for longer or the marinade has had more ginger in it, giving it a stronger flavour. Often, the chunks are larger, taking more than one bite to get through. The skin is also often left on, making for extra crispy sections.”

As for where you should try it, Richard suggests a visit to Otaru Naruto, a popular zangi chain that originated in - well, you guessed it - Otaru! “Then try some homemade at an izakaya, it goes really well with beer,” adds Richard. He himself is partial to Kushiro’s speciality, tare-zangi. “This local version is coated in a sweet-yet-savoury tare sauce.”

And if you’re thinking of calorie-counting while on one of our tours, don’t… this is the perfect dish to get your energy back up after a long day of hiking or cycling so no need to worry!

Michael - Soba Noodles

A close up of a bowl of soba noodles in broth, topped with green onions. There is a bowl of rice next to it.
Humble soba noodles can be served in a variety of dishes.

Michael, our resident vegetarian, is fond of soba noodles, made from buckwheat. “To me, soba is the ‘ultimate noodle,’” he says. “It has a uniquely deep, nutty flavour and is loaded with nutrients and it can be prepared in a variety of tasty ways all year round. Feeling hungry on a sweltering summer day? Enjoy a dish of chilled soba noodles with dipping sauce. Contrariwise, a bowl of steaming soba noodles in rich broth is an excellent way to warm up on a snowy winter afternoon.” 

Hokkaido is Japan’s leading producer of buckwheat. While much of the buckwheat produced in Hokkaido is shipped out to other parts of Japan, a good percentage of it remains here in Hokkaido, meaning you can enjoy soba across much of the region. Michael recommends you give soba noodles a try in Teshikaga, a small town located in Akan-Mashu National Park where he lived for a number of years. The town produces a lot of buckwheat and, as such, is home to a number of tasty soba noodle restaurants. Guests on our Eastern Wilderness Self-Guided Tour swing by Teshikaga, so Michael recommends giving soba a try if you’re travelling with us on this tour!

Yuka - Cheesecake

Yuka’s choice is Hokkaido’s delicious, creamy cheesecake. Being home to so many dairy farms, Hokkaido is renowned both domestically and internationally for its amazing milk and cheeses… and, by extension, cheesecake!

“The cows here live in a really good environment,” explains Yuka. “Mineral water from the mountains, good food, four clear seasons and wide open spaces to exercise in.” It’s for this reason that tasty cheesecakes are her favourite. “I can feel, touch and taste Hokkaido in its cheesecakes - that’s why I love it.”

With that being said, the fact that they are a decadent, sweet treat certainly helps! As for where to try them, Yuka has a number of suggestions. “You can find many different cheesecakes all over Hokkaido, especially Eastern Hokkaido”. However, she for sure recommends LeTAO’s famous Double Fromage Cheesecake or the cheesecake from Shinya in Furano, where she lives. “It is one of the best dessert shops in Furano,” she adds!

Zac - Matsumaezuke and Izushi

Zac recommends two Hokkaido classics - Matsumaezuke (a dish made of pickled dried squid and kelp) and Izushi (a very traditional type of sushi made from fermented fish, vegetables and rice malt).

“I think the two main reasons I love them are because Hokkaido's 'food culture' is relatively young - foods like Miso ramen, Gheghis Khan and Soup Curry all sprung up post WWII,” explains Zac. “Izushi and Matsumaezuke are throwbacks to Hokkaido's salt-of-the-earth heritage.” They are dishes that even most young Japanese won’t touch - the pungent Izushi in particular! Zac, however, doesn’t think that this should put you off. “There’s something about that funk of the Izushi (particularly when it's made with herring) and the sliminess of Matsumaezuke that I really love.”

Matsumaezuke is not too hard to find in Hokkaido. “It’s found at almost every hotel breakfast buffet in Hokkaido, so even if you just want to give it a taste without worrying you can't finish a whole portion, trying it there is probably the safest option!” Zac jokes. As its name would suggest, you can also try it in Matsumae, Hokkaido’s only castle town.

However, Zac advises that Izushi is a bit harder to come by. “It’s typically available in grocery stores come winter, however the occasional Izakaya may have it on the menu when the season rolls around.”

Tobaji - Lamb-Shabu

A hand holding a pair of chopsticks dips a thin slice of lamb into a pot of boiling broth.
Lamb-Shabu is Hokkaido's unique take on the popular Japanese dish Shabu-Shabu.

“It’s a bit of a niche choice, but my favourite is Lamb-Shabu”, says our veteran guide Tobaji.

If you’ve not heard of Lamb-Shabu, you may be forgiven as it is relatively unknown even among Hokkaido residents. Lamb-Shabu is Hokkaido’s take on the popular mainland Japanese dish Shabu-Shabu. Lamb-Shabu uses Hokkaido’s famous tasty lamb, sliced very thinly and then dipped straight into a boiling broth alongside tasty Hokkaido vegetables so that it cooks in seconds.

“When I came to Hokkaido for the first time, the dish that really captivated me was Lamb-Shabu”, Tobaji goes on. “I had heard of Gengis Khan (Hokkaido’s famous lamb barbeque dish) but I didn’t know about Lamb-Shabu!” Although Lamb-Shabu is tasty wherever you may find it, he recommends trying it in Shibetsu, a town not far from Asahikawa that is well-known for rearing sheep and, therefore, its fresh lamb. “You can sometimes find it with venison instead of lamb”, he adds. When venison is used, the dish is known as Shika-Shabu (shika is the Japanese word for “deer”).

Gen - Wild Shiitake Mushrooms

Four wild shiitake mushrooms growing on a fallen tree in a forest.
There's no shiitake quite like wild shiitake!

Gen’s choice is a staple of Japanese cuisine that is particularly delicious in Hokkaido - shiitake mushrooms! He refers in particular to those that have been scavenged fresh from Hokkaido’s mountains and his preference is to saute them in butter.

Gen recalls the first time he tried wild shiitake mushrooms in Hokkaido. “When I moved to Shiretoko, a man from my neighbourhood gave me butter-sauteed mushrooms that he’d picked in the mountains. They had already gone cold so I ate them right away.” The experience left quite an impression on Gen! “They were delicious! Meaty with a wonderful fragrance, they had a great bite and a rich taste. It was an astonishing experience.”

As for where you should try them, you fortunately don’t need to look far! Many izakaya and accommodations across Hokkaido will serve local or wild shiitake in some form, quite often butter-sauteed as Gen recommends. If not, grilled with a drizzle of soy sauce is just as good!

For Gen however, the best shiitake in life come with a healthy side of human kindness. “I don’t often go to pick them myself, so I mostly receive them as gifts,” he says. “What a joy it is to live in the countryside.”

Hattie - Salmon Oyakodon

A rice bowl with a topping of salmon roe. In the foreground, a wooden spoon takes a scoop of the rice with some salmon roe on top.
Delicious salmon roe rice bowls are a speciality in east Hokkaido.

I’ll round things off with my dish of choice - salmon oyakodon. Oyako means “parent and child” in Japanese, so as you might imagine, salmon oyakodon refers to a rice bowl topped with tasty salmon sashimi and jewel-like salmon roe, known as ikura in Japanese. 

I used to dislike ikura when I lived in mainland Japan. It was never fresh and I can only liken the taste and texture to mushy cod liver oil capsules… But the first time I visited Hokkaido, I finally had the opportunity to enjoy fresh ikura and my opinion changed instantly! Fresh ikura has a beautiful umami hit to it and pops satisfyingly in your mouth. Hokkaido’s raw salmon meanwhile is so fresh and fatty that it just falls apart at the slightest poke of your chopsticks.

The autumn season, usually around September-October, is the best time to enjoy this dish as fresh salmon and salmon roe are abundant thanks to the salmon run in East Hokkaido. While you can try it at fish markets and seafood restaurants across Hokkaido, nothing beats trying salmon oyakodon in its East Hokkaido homeland, particularly on the Shiretoko Peninsula. If you’re looking for an additional review of how good the salmon and ikura are in this region, just ask the Brown Bears who go crazy for it every autumn!

Food for Thought

We hope that this list will enlighten you to the diversity of Hokkaido’s delicacies! This is just our selection of favourite foods to try during your visit - there is much more to discover and there’s only one way to find which one you like best… try everything!

Ready to try Hokkaido's food for yourself?

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