Photo:Recommended by Locals! Sapporo and Hakodate Food That Shouldn't Be Missed
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Recommended by Locals! Sapporo and Hakodate Food That Shouldn't Be Missed

2021-12-28

Sapporo and Hakodate are two of Hokkaido's most exciting and vibrant cities. Surrounded by stunning nature, home to fascinating architecture, and unique local cultures, they offer a unique side of Japan not seen on the country's mainland. But if you need one reason to visit these two cities, it's to eat well!

From internationally influenced dishes to late-night dessert culture, seafood that's unparalleled, craft-style beers, and, of course, world-class ramen here's just a taste of what to eat in Hakodate and Sapporo. We introduce both well-known destinations and some local secrets. This is a tale of two cities, two unique culinary adventures, so pack an extra stomach.

Ramen, Seafood, and More! Sapporo Food Specialties

1. Sapporo Ramen: Sumire

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Sapporo is a city that loves its ramen so much it even has an entire street dedicated to it--Ramen Alley Susukino! However, ask the locals where the best place to enjoy a comforting bowl of noodles is, and chances are one name will come up time and time again, Sumire.

Sumire was established in the 1964s and is considered one of the key players in Sapporo's vibrant ramen scene. The store's specialty is miso ramen, one of Hokkaido's main ramen varieties. But what makes Sumire special is how each bowl is a delicate balance of all the flavors and textures that make the perfect bowl: the slight chewiness of the noodles and the perfect harmony of light miso saltiness with the refreshing negi (green onion on top).

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The store's signature ramen, a Sapporo must-eat, has become so popular that Sumire sells instant packets of their dish so travelers and local lovers of the noodles can enjoy their favorite miso ramen at home. Sumire's flagship is located a little out of the city center, but as you can tell by the line of hungry customers out front, it's worth the detour.

2. Ikura Donburi at Kita no Gurumetei

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For those uninitiated, ikura is the name for salmon roe (fish eggs; *from the Russian word “ikra”), and 'ikura don' is fish eggs on rice. Shiny, almost luminescent orange pearls of flavor, ikura is an ingredient that's as deliciously simple as it is visually appealing. You could call it the caviar of Japan, and there's no better, fresher, and more abundant place to try it than Hokkaido.

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Being the main city of Hokkaido, Sapporo is a seafood haven, and the island region is surrounded by a vibrant marine culture that produces delicious seafood that harmonizes with the area's four distinct seasons. Autumn is when ikura is at its best and most flavourful.

To enjoy the freshest ikura like a local, head to the fish market and restaurant Kita no Gurumetei, recommended by locals. The store offers an affordable and colorful variety of seafood dishes from kaisendon (seafood bowls) to sashimi, but of course, the top pick has to be ikura don. Glistening, salty little bubbles of deliciousness carefully laid on a bed of pearly white rice, this dish is the embodiment of Japanese culinary simplicity and elegance.

3. Crab Cuisine at Hyosetsu no Mon

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Hokkaido is synonymous with seafood, but if you want to get more specific, one of the main seafood dishes it does best is crab. The colder climates and the region's four distinct seasons make it an ideal landscape for a huge variety of crab, from the giant king crab caught in the Sea of Okhotsk in the winter to the ubiquitous fail-safe hairy crab, which is caught all year-round.

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Hyosetsu no mon, an elegant restaurant located in central Sapporo city, is the perfect place to begin your foray into Hokkaido's crab scene. The store offers a sprawling crab course meal showcasing the best catches of the season and the best of Japanese cooking in a kaiseki-style feast.

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If you're ready to go big with this course, you'll start with a succulent sashimi king crab before enjoying thick juicy charcoal-grilled crab legs, expertly cooked right in front of you. We don't want to spoil the surprises that await you on this multi-course adventure, but we will say that the ultra-light and crisp tempura and cozy 'yasashii' (gentle) shabu shabu soup are two major highlights.

Zangi (Fried Chicken) at Hotei

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Although when most folks think of Japanese cuisine, they think of light, delicate flavors of sushi and sashimi, or the cozy comfort of a bowl of hot ramen noodles. However, if you've visited an izakaya and tried karaage, you'll know the well-kept culinary secret that Japan is a country that has mastered the art of fried chicken.

In Sapporo, they've taken fried to a whole new level, and created their own unique fried chicken dish known as zangi, and the best place to try it is the charmingly well-worn restaurant Hotei.

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On the surface, the difference between mainland karaage and zangi is impossible to discern. When, however, you bite into the crisp, deep-fried outer coating and into the soft, juicy flesh of a piece of zangi, the difference hits you. Zangi meat is marinated with a combination of classic Japanese condiments like soy sauce and individual chefs' special blends, then coated with potato starch and deep-fried.

Given the rich blend of flavors, you can eat zangi without sauce (most karaage comes with lemon or mayo), making it the perfect take-out snack, but Hotei's chicken also comes with a sweet and salty sauce worth trying too for a new level of fried chicken heaven.

5. Bar Parfait Desserts (Shime-Parfait): Parfaiteria PAL

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Sure, Sapporo is a city of many unique culinary features, but one of the city's best local quirks is its love of parfaits. In Sapporo, there's always time and space for dessert. In Japanese, you call it 'betsu bara' (separate stomach), meaning you can always fit in a little treat, no matter how stuffed you may be. The city celebrates those with betsu bara, and the recent shime parfait trend is the perfect example.

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A shime parfait is a final parfait to round off your evening of dining and drinking. It's the culture of embracing child-like indulgence with a level of adult sophistication and style.

Parfaiteria PaL in central Sapporo is one of the city's most well-known late-night parfait haunts. The cafe bar offers artfully, almost architecturally-awe-inspiring parfaits and a wide selection of drinks (spirits, cocktails, or coffee and tea) that pair perfectly with the carefully curated selection of parfaits.

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The desserts on offer change throughout the year, with fruit-based offerings working best with what's in season. But there are a few signature picks, like the Black Swan, a delightfully rich offering of bitter dark chocolate, bright and tart blueberries, smooth rhubarb sorbet, bamboo charcoal jelly, and so much more sitting artfully – in, of course, a swan formation – on a bed of sweet, rich cream. So, no matter how full you may be, a rule for visiting Sapporo is to always save room for dessert.

Food with International Influences in Hakodate, a Port City

6. Hakodate Ramen: Ajisai

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Walking through the streets of Hakodate, it's clear this city is proud of its unique culture, and while it may be smaller than Sapporo, it's not the type of place to fall under the shadow of its larger Hokkaido neighbor. Hakodate's distinct character and passion for excellence in its own way can be seen in the city's embrace of ramen culture. Ajisai is one of Hakodate's most popular and influential ramen stores, and after one visit you'll know why.

Unlike its Sapporo contemporaries like Sumire, Ajisai's specialty is shio (salt) ramen. Compared to miso ramen, shio is a little lighter on the palette, and the soup is a little clearer, allowing the iconic toppings like the perfectly sliced pork and crisp, slightly sweet negi (spring onion) to stand out.

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Ajisai's lighter broth and almost al-dente noodles make it an ideal type of ramen for those who like to customize their flavors. The shop offers two toppings worth experimenting with on each table, perfectly blended black pepper oil and a signature' ezo abura kosho' sauce, which is a sweet and a little sour chili sauce with a reminiscent taste of a more classic hot sauce. Also, if you like your noodles on the rich side, you can always go for the version with classic local toppings like butter and corn; you are in Hokkaido, after all.

7. Seafood Donburi: Hakoya

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If you can only visit one place on your Hakodate adventure to try some of the city's best, freshest seafood, make it Hakoya. This locally-loved seafood restaurant has an izakaya-style store conveniently located in the center of the city near Goryokaku Tower.

Locals have long loved Seafood Izakaya Hakoya for two main reasons, it's cheap and delicious. The store sells more than six kaisendon (seafood bowls on rice) dishes, showcasing the best catches of the area, including raw tuna, salmon, and shrimp, as well as ​​compact bento-style unagi (eel) lunch boxes.

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A tip, for those who are finding it difficult to choose, go for the 'Chutoro tobikko gake aya koro donburi' a Hakodate must-eat; it's a succulent mix of soft fatty tuna, salmon shrimp and topped with tobikko (flying fish eggs, a little like small ikura). The flavors are gentle and sophisticated, harmonizing perfectly with the shiny white grains of rice and a splash of soy sauce, and a dab of wasabi.

Given how fresh the seafood is here and the incredible price, it's even an excellent place for typical non-sashimi eaters to dip their toes in the wonderful world of Japanese seafood.

Izakaya Hakoya has another store conveniently located within Hakodate Airport, which is actually the first permanent restaurant in HakoDate HaLL food court. This makes it the perfect destination for the first or last meal in Hakodate.

8. Hamburger: Lucky Pierrot Bay Area Store

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You know you're in Hakodate when you see the bright, smiling, painted clown face of Lucky Pierrot, a fun-loving retro-cute burger chain with outlets dotted across the city. Forget Mos Burger and McDonald's; with 17 shops throughout the city, Lucky Pierrot is the champion of the burger scene in Hakodate, making it a must-try when you're in town.

Drawing clear inspiration from 1950s style American diners – possibly thanks to the port city's international history – the chain offers such a unique and delicious selection of burgers, it's hard to pick just one. The store's most popular burger is the Chinese Chicken Burger which combines succulent pieces of sweet and salty chicken, like orange chicken, and combined with classic American toppings, mayo, and lettuce on a soft sesame bun.

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The cheeseburger is a great place to start for something more classic, with perfectly melted cheese on a juicy hamburger. For lovers of seafood, the sweet spicy ebichiri (prawn and chilli) burger is a hit. Top it off with a side of 'Lucky Potato Fries' drizzled in a sweet and rich combination of demi-glaze sauce, white sauce, and cheese sauce, all washed down with a can of Lucky Pierrot-branded guarana soda, and you can't go wrong.

9. Gotoken Curry

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For most folks in Japan, curry is a comfort food or a delicious cozy treat from a chain store, best woofed down after a long day. However, at Hakodate's Gotoken, curry is more than just a food; it's a complete cultural experience. This western-influenced restaurant was established in 1879, and since its establishment, the name has been an integral part of the city's culture.

The first chef was Goto Eikichi who learned to cook Russian cuisine. Tokujiro Wakayama, the following generation of Gotoken, learned culinary techniques at the Tokyo Imperial Hotel and created the curry menu of Gotoken that we see today. The Russian cuisine set can be considered a traditional menu.

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To really get a taste of the history of Hakodate, however, we'd suggest you try the 'Meiji Western Food and Curry' set. The set features a creamy corn soup and two types of curry (or hayashi rice if you prefer) that have a delicate, balanced flavor created by carefully adding Japanese curry.

The set also contains crispy croquettes and fried shrimp, as well as a vegetable salad and dessert. An artful display of Western influence and Japanese flavors, it's a culinary encapsulation of everything the city's been through and the cultures it holds close to its heart.

10. Free-flowing Beer: Hakodate Beer Hall (Kanamori Redbrick Warehouses)

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Wrap up an evening eating your way through Hakodate with a visit to the picturesque Kanamori Redbrick Warehouse if you can, if only to sample some of the city's finest local brews at Hakodate Beer Hall. This cozy, European-influenced beer hall offers an incredibly wide selection of Japanese and western food, but it's the drinks menu you should be looking at.

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Similar to its more well-known neighbor Sapporo, Hakodate has a passionate beer culture, thanks in large part to the influence of western culture in this once international port hub of a city.

While it draws from the global trends and influences, it's also proudly local; take, for example, the menu's beer offering, which includes a guarana and beer cocktail. Originally an import from Brazil, in Hakodate, guarana is one of the local's main sodas of choice thanks to local producers who have kept the guarana growing culture alive. Sweet and dangerously easy to drink, this refreshing combination of light beer and guarana is perfect for those who want to enjoy a brew at the end of the day but don't want anything too heavy or alcoholic.

For the heavier stuff, there are two original Hakodate Beer Hall beers to try, the Red brick beer, and the Pioneer beer. The red brick brew is darker in color thanks to the malt roasting techniques the brewery uses. It's also a little sweeter of the two, but not overly sweet, making it a perfect after-dinner beer. For those who like the strong, full-bodied flavor of an IPA, go for the Pioneer beer; it's robust, and with a bitter aftertaste, it'll satisfy all your craft beer cravings.

Enjoy Local Food in Sapporo and Hakodate!

With such a huge selection of offerings, each with their own rich culture and local twist, hopefully, you can see now just how food has shaped the cities of Sapporo and Hakodate and how entwined history, nature, and culture is with the culinary scene. Sometimes the best way to explore a city is indeed through your stomach, so we hope you'll feeling hungry when visiting Hokkaido!

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