When you think of Hokkaido, you think "kaisen don." "Don" simply means rice bowl, and in this case, it's topped with seafood ("kaisen"). The following 5 restaurants are all very particular about their ingredients. 3 are in Sapporo, the center of Hokkaido, 1 is in Hakodate, an area full of fresh seafood, and 1 is on the Shakotan Peninsula.
Sapporo is the center of Hokkaido. If you want to eat kaisen-don, you must first head to Kita no Ryoba. The Sapporo-shi Chuo Wholesale Market specializes in seafood. In the area outside the market grounds, around 64 stores open early in the morning and many tourists go each day. You can enjoy the liveliness of the market at Kita no Ryoba, since it's in the jogai-ichiba area next to the market, and try freshly caught, seasonal ingredients. Their Kaisen-don Omakase 10 Tenmori is 10 kinds of varied seafood sitting on top of rice for 1,500 JPY (excl. tax). There's also the popular Gouka Kaisen Gozen for 3,500 JPY (excl. tax) that comes with a special kaisen-don, grilled scallops, and a steamed egg dish called chawanmushi. Hotels within Sapporo have free shuttles to and from the market so it's also very easy to access.
1. Kita no Ryoba
Donburi Chaya has a kaisen-don where the seafood is directly shipped fresh from the market. Their most popular menu is the marusen-don. This set offers small versions of 4 of their donburi (rice bowl): salmon roe and salmon donburi, uni (sea urchin) donburi, specially selected crab donburi, and Alaskan Pink shrimp and tuna donburi. It also comes with crab miso soup for a meal where you can enjoy the best of luxurious, Hokkaido ingredients. It's 3,480 JPY (incl. tax), so it's actually a great deal on fresh Hokkaido seafood. Also, you can add premium uni for an extra 500 JPY. There are 3 branches within Sapporo, and there are also stores in Otaru and New Chitose Airport. For people who are reluctant at leaving behind such great seafood or those who simply didn't have time to eat it, it's recommended that you get to the airport early to eat it there. You can eat it directly after you arrive, too!
2. Donburi Chaya
The colorful kaisen-don served at Kaisen-donya will make you want to say "this is the true kaisen-don!" They have various kaisen-don menus that all look like they're about to spill out of their bowls, so you might even get emotional without realizing it. The recommended dish is the Juupou Kaisen-don that has 10 kinds of seafood. Even though it has items like red king crab, botan shrimp, and uni, it's still a reasonable 3,218 JPY. They have other kinds of bountiful kaisen-don, so you can choose the ones that have your favorite kinds of seafood. Their salmon-don and the tuna-squid-natto-don can both be ordered for about 1,000 JPY each. Outside of seafood, they have famous Hokkaido dishes like Genghis Khan (grilled lamb or mutton) or Tokachi pork as rice bowls, too. This restaurant is a five-minute walk from Nakajima Koen Station on the first floor of the main building of the Kirin Beer-en. They are only open for lunch. The business hours are 10:30 am to 3:00 pm, so make sure to double-check the time before you go.
If you want to eat Hokkaido's amazing uni in a rice bowl, you must go to Tamura Gantarou Shouten.
It's about an hour and a half car ride away from Sapporo, but you'll be able to enjoy uni so delicious it will become a good memory of your trip. Their most famous dish is their gorgeous Asa Uni Bukkake-don. After you order you can put as much uni on top of your rice as much as you want. The price isn't available, but since you can eat incredibly fresh uni to your heart's content you won't regret it even if it's a little expensive. They are only open from May to October, so try heading to Hokkaido in that window. It's an extremely popular shop and it sells out quickly so it's recommended that you get there soon after opening.
*Photo for illustration purposes.
4. Tamura Gantarou Shouten
When you go to Hokkaido to eat seafood, you can't forget Hakodate. Hakodate Asaichi is just a 2 minute walk away from JR Hakodate Station. Their special menu is Ekini Ichiba's kaisen-don made with 7 kinds of seafood. The most important part about it is its price. You can eat here with just one coin! Ikura-don (rice bowl made with salmon roe), salmon oyakodon made with salmon and roe, Hakodate's famous crab-don, gomoku-don (rice bowl made with five ingredients), squid sanshouzuke-don, squid sashimi-don, and though this isn't a kaisen-don, they also have a rice bowl made with Genghis Khan. All of this costs 500 JPY each! Other than the rice bowls, you should also check out the area where you can fish for live squid. You can fish a live squid from the fishing hole and a chef will prepare it for you. The freshly caught squid has a distinctive texture to it, and you can enjoy the fresh sweetness without any off-flavors. Definitely try it!
5. Ekini Ichiba
While it's good to enjoy the sights of nature in Hokkaido, you can't forget enjoying the great seafood either! When you're hungry, definitely try a kaisen-don.
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.