Hokkaido: 4 Winter Delicacies

Hokkaido: 4 Winter Delicacies. Hokkaido is known for its exceptional regional delicacies.
Hokkaido is known for its exceptional regional delicacies.

Every winter, a class of visitors traverse the mountains and seas of Hokkaido, not for its vista, but the natural bounty of its majestic landscape. Their trip is a pilgrimage to the temple of fish, the cradle of ramen noodles, and unceasing flow of milk and beer.

Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan, is sheltered under a layer of perpetual snow in the winter. This expansive backcountry is something treasured by those who visit for the ski slopes, the migrating birds, and everything in between.

There is, however, another class of visitors who would come every winter – with an empty stomach – to relish in the best delicacies this island has to offer. Like the outdoorsy types, they traverse mountains and seas, not for vista though, but the natural bounty of its majestic landscape. Their trip is a pilgrimage to the temple of fish, the cradle of ramen noodles, and unceasing flow of milk and beer.

Hokkaido is known for its exceptional regional delicacies. Having roughly a quarter of Japan’s total arable land, it is famed for its production of raw milk, wheat, and soybeans.

Aside from dairy products, Hokkaido is also known for its ramen and aqua-culture. Miso ramen, for instance, is invented in Hokkaido’s capital Sapporo. Shio ramen is another speciality.

Many world class seafood establishments trace their imports back to the waters of Hokkaido. These gems of the sea are harvested and shipped to plates thousands of miles away within a few hours.

Traveling to Hokkaido invites food lovers to partake in those marvellous ingredients at ground-zero, uninfluenced by the fancy decors, right there and then. In the coastal towns and ports, those ingredients as well as their preparation take on a rustic simplicity congruent to the overall unspoilt wilderness of the island.

That does not mean food here lacks refinement. This last frontier of Japan, as many call it, boasts 66 Michelin starred restaurants, 16 of which are three- and two-starred. Numerous fine dining establishments take advantage of Hokkaido’s geographic location to produce truly extraordinary works.

Here, we will be looking at four of them – the more rustic, on-the-spot affairs popular in the winter season. They are: seafood, curry soup, ramen, and Genghis Khan.

Seafood

Thanks to Hokkaido’s geographical location at the northern fringe of Japan, its waters are relatively unpolluted and cold year-round. These make for ideal condition for the growth of many aquacultural life forms, especially crabs and kelps. Kelps in turn provide excellent nutrients for uni and is an important factor in their high quality and sweetness.

Not surprisingly, uni and crab are important exports of Hokkaido. They are shipped to the rest of the world as well as Japan’s own Tsukiji Market in Tokyo everyday. There, they set the par for the quality of the market offerings.

Walking through Hokkaido’s ice-clogged seaports, one finds a vast array of choices other than crabs and uni. There are scallops, salmon roe, herrings, squid, to name a few. The best of those melt in the mouth bursting with lush sweetness. Their creamy and buttery soft texture is best relished at their freshest.

Fortunately, they can often be eaten on the spot. In fact, many merchants in each of the little stalls would gladly cut open a fresh uni in front of visitors for a taste of its sweet roe inside. Crabs, too, can be appraised, purchased, cooked, and consumed immediately on premises.

Hokkaido: 4 Winter Delicacies. Walking through Hokkaido’s ice-clogged seaports, one finds a vast array of choices other than crabs and uni. There are scallops, salmon roe, herrings, squid, to name a few. Hokkaido: 4 Winter Delicacies. Not surprisingly, uni and crab are the predominant seafood export of Hokkaido. They are shipped to Tsukiji Market in Tokyo everyday and set the par for the quality of the market offerings.

Soup Curry

The popularity of soup curry in Hokkaido is a strange phenomenon. It is no surprise that curry itself is a favourite among the Japanese. It was introduced during the Meiji era by the British merchants, when India was still under colonial rule.

Like many other foreign influence, since its introduction, the Japanese has adapted it to its own taste. Eventually, it became a genre of its own – the Japanese Curry. It is milder, sweeter, with an emphasis on onions and carrots. It is also commonly used as the sauce for deep-fried cutlets like the Katsu-karē.

Soup Curry, on the other hand, is an entirely different beast. It is watery to a point that it becomes more of a soup than sauce. A delicious one at that. It is heavy on the herbs and shredded green onions and light on the potatoes. They are very aromatic, resembling more of Singaporean curry than Japan’s.

Commonly, they come with roasted chicken quarters or skewers. The spice level of the soup is mild but customizable, as well as the portion of rice served. In general, like ramen, restaurants also provide a range of soup base and toppings to choose from.

Hokkaido: 4 Winter Delicacies. Soup curry is watery to a point that it becomes more of a soup than sauce. It is heavy on the herbs and shredded green onions and light on the potatoes. Hokkaido: 4 Winter Delicacies. Soup curries are very aromatic, resembling more of Singaporean curry than the Japanese version.

Ramen

Next to sushi, ramen is the quintessential dish that defines the stereotypical Japanese food. It is so popular in and outside of Japan that one would be hard pressed to find a modern city without its presence. Traditional Japanese ramen comes in three distinct soup bases – shio (salt), shoyu (soy sauce), and miso (fermented bean paste).
The miso variety was invented in Sapporo, initially served as a comfort food against Hokkaido’s harsh winters. Shio ramen, another specialty of Hokkaido, is particularly well known in its southern city Hakodate. In fact, many famed international ramen chains see their beginning in Hokkaido, such as Ramen Santouka and Aji No Tokeidai.

Hokkaido: 4 Winter Delicacies. The miso variety was invented in Sapporo, capital of Hokkaido, initially as a comfort food for Hokkaido’s harsh winters. Hokkaido: 4 Winter Delicacies. Shio ramen, another specialty of Hokkaido, is particularly well known in its southern city Hakodate.

Genghis Khan

No one knows for sure how a mutton speciality in Hokkaido came to be associated with one of the greatest warrior-conquerors the world had seen. One explanation connects the cast iron domes used to grill the meat to the helmets of Mongolian soldiers. These soldiers, as the anecdote goes, would use their helmets during times of war to grill muttons and lamb.

Convincing? Perhaps. But the truth ceases to matter the minute one opens the door to one of these grill shops, where the aroma of butter and grilled meat literally erupts through the entrance onto the unsuspecting guest at full intensity.

Today, there are many variations of Genghis Khan. There is the choice of mutton or lamb. Then, one can choose between marinated versus the non-marinated alternative with dipping sauce. Restaurants also experiment with different thickness of the slices as they impart different flavour and texture.

Many famed Genghis Khan restaurants are known not only for the quality of their meat, but their cuts and especially the secret ingredients in their sauces. Eating the Genghis Khan is a no-frills affair – grill the muttons, add the onions, and wash it down with beer. Read more about Genghis Khan here.

Hokkaido: 4 Winter Delicacies. Today, there are many variations of Genghis Khan. There is the choice of mutton or lamb. Then, one can choose between marinated versus the non-marinated alternative with dipping sauce. Hokkaido: 4 Winter Delicacies. Restaurants also experiment with different thickness of the slices as they impart different flavour and texture.

 

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