- Marina Tsuji
What to Eat in Hokkaido: Indulge in Japan’s Food Paradise with These 5 Local Dishes!
Hokkaido is a veritable treasure trove of gourmet ingredients as it is blessed with the harvests of both land and sea. There is a wealth of gourmet masterpieces here, including jingisukan (grilled lamb dish) and many seafood dishes. Here are five of the best local specialties that you can't miss when you go to Hokkaido!
1. Uni Ikura Don
The first thing that comes to mind when you mention Hokkaido is its abundant variety of seafood "dons" (rice bowls). Among them is the immensely popular 'uni ikura don'. This is an outstanding pairing of the richness and sweetness of the uni (sea urchin) and the bursts of the deep umami flavor of the ikura (salmon roe). Uni season lasts from June to mid-September and there are many uni producing areas on Hokkaido's Sea of Japan side. On the other hand, ikura season is from September to November and it is produced all over Hokkaido by marinating the salmon roe in soy sauce.
Uni Murakami Hakodate Main Restaurant
Uni Murakami Hakodate Main Restaurant is a restaurant specializing in fresh uni, seafood, and vegetables from Hokkaido. The restaurant is right beside an uni processing company, so it should come as no surprise that the raw uni used in the luxury dishes at this famous restaurant is top quality that has been hand-picked by experts. Chemicals are not used in the processing of this uni, so you can savor the pure flavor and sweetness of the uni. The regular size of their signature uni ikura don is 4,104 JPY (incl. tax) and the small serving is 2,754 JPY (incl. tax). It's a little pricey but it's worth it for this extremely satisfying dish lavishly topped with Hokkaido-produced uni and ikura.
Jingisukan is a dining experience where you grill and eat sheep or lamb meat. It is considered soul food by the people of Hokkaido. There are two types of sheep meat used in jingisukan, supple lamb which is low in fat, and mutton which allows you to enjoy the pure flavor of sheep meat. There are various methods depending on whether you go to a restaurant or have a homemade version, from marinating the meat before grilling it or dipping the meat in a sauce after grilling. Lamb is a healthy meat that is high in nutritional value, so it is extremely popular even with more health conscious folks.
Susukinojingisukan Gojo Branch
Susukinojingisukan Gojo Branch is a restaurant where you can enjoy reasonably priced all-you-can-eat courses or excellent, high-class dish dishes. The restaurant itself has a warm wooden interior, with counter seating and sunken kotatsu (table equipped with a heater and blanket) table seating that can seat even large groups comfortably. Jingisukan first-timers should try the 'Otameshi Santen Mori,' which is an assortment of three types of meat: shoulder roast, fresh lamb jingisukan, and mutton, for only 1,500 JPY (incl. tax). The 'Tabenomihodai Course' consists of all-you-can-eat jingisukan and meat and also includes 90 minutes of all-you-can-drink, starting at 3,600 JPY (incl. tax).
3. Otaru Nigiri Sushi
The city of Otaru in Hokkaido is known as one of Japan's prominent sushi towns. There are three fishing harbors in the city and along them stand many famous restaurants where you can enjoy the phenomenal nigiri sushi featuring seasonal seafood. In its heyday, there were countless sushi restaurants in the city and even nowadays there are more than 100 restaurants with Sushiya-dori (literally "sushi restaurant street") at the heart. There is an increasing number of visitors coming all the way to Otaru from other parts of Japan, and even abroad, just to eat nigiri sushi.
Isezushi is a veteran sushi restaurant that has been thriving since its establishment in 1967. This famous restaurant is tucked away in a back alley near Chuo Market and is overflowing with charm. In 2012 it even appeared in a famous restaurant guide. It is frequented by locals and visitors alike. Here you can have your fill of nigiri sushi that is a transformation of meticulously selected ingredients that perfectly suit the native seafood into an artisanal specialty. The local Otaru giant clam combined with the secret sauce which has been passed down for generations and the marinated nigiri featuring medium-fatty tuna which has been marinated in the special sauce overnight are highly recommended. For 6,800 JPY (excl. tax) you can enjoy the most popular menu item, the 'Omakase Nigiri', a course that enables you to enjoy 16 pieces of nigiri which use seasonal items chosen specially by the chef.
4. Obihiro Buta Don
Seafood comes to mind for many people when thinking of Hokkaido, but for Obihiro, the local gourmet specialty is actually its 'buta don', a rice bowl dish that perfectly combines a salty-sweet sauce with pork. In Obihiro, the origin of buta don, there are more than ten buta don restaurants. There is an abundant variation of buta don for you to enjoy. You can have the meat fried in a pan or char-grilled, choose the cut of meat ranging from pork belly, tenderloin or loin, and there is even the option to have what is called 'una (eel) don style,' in which ginger and garlic are added to the sauce.
The founder of Butadonnotonta was a quality meat vendor for many years. Here you will be more than satisfied with a truly special buta don that combines high quality Tokachi pork that is carefully hand-cut slice by slice and the secret sauce which has been handed down for over 40 years. Order the 'Pork Belly Buta Don' for the super reasonable price of 780 JPY (incl. tax). This popular menu item achieves a balance of lean meat by trimming off the excess fat. This is a reasonably priced restaurant which also offers pork loin, steak, and tenderloin which is normally used in katsu (Japanese-style pork cutlet) for the same price.
5. Katte Don
Katte Don is the specialty food of Kushiro Washo Market. This is a one-of-a-kind seafood don that you won't find anywhere else in the world, that is created from your favorite seafood that you will find as you walk around the market. Possibilities vary according to the season, but this is an extravagant dish that can be topped with your favorite fresh seafood, such as salmon and scallops, or ikura and uni if you prefer. You can also choose the amount of rice, which ranges from 100 JPY to 400 JPY. For those who aren't fans of raw fish, you can get grilled fish at Ichiba-tei, and for sushi-lovers, you can even have the fish made into nigiri at Takezushi.
About Kushiro Washo Market and How to Get Your Katte Don
Kushiro Washo Market opened in 1954 and is the most historic market in Kushiro. For years it has been beloved as the citizens' kitchen. The name 'Washo' comes from the lively shouts which can be heard in the market, 'wassho, wasshoi' that evoke 'washite akinau" meaning 'to trade in harmony with each other'. The specialty katte don of this market starts with buying rice at the deli inside the market. With your bowl of rice in hand, go around to the seafood vendors and pick out you favorite ingredients. The ingredients are cut to order and then at the final store you visit, it is topped with soy sauce, and then it is ready to eat!
Hopefully you learned something about Hokkaido's magnificent local specialties, from seafood to buta don and more. Look forward to enjoying many of these decadent dishes that feature plenty of seasonal ingredients next time you visit Hokkaido!
*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.
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