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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.