Ramen, Sake, and Mutton Barbecue! Asahikawa, the City of Excellent Food
Located in northern Hokkaido, Asahikawa offers easy access to many of Hokkaido's key locations, but many travelers don't know that this town is a culinary destination in itself!
Many noodle connoisseurs regard Asahikawa ramen as one of the world's most delicious and underrated bowls. At the same time, the Asahikawa sake brewery Otokoyama has been making waves internationally for decades, thanks to their excellent sake offerings. Asahikawa locals have a different take on yakiniku, a key Japanese staple; it's all about jingisukan, succulent lamb served alongside delicious vegetables and cold crispy beers.
We introduce some of the best places to try the excellent Asahikawa cuisine.
Asahikawa Ramen Aoba - Indulge in a Bowl of Delicious Ramen!
For the warmest welcome to Asahikawa, we'd highly recommend beginning your adventure with a visit to Aoba, a cozy ramen shop located just a seven to eight minute walk north of Asahikawa Station. The store is a living culinary legend of the city for two main reasons: hospitality and the food.
Aoba was opened in 1947 by Kichiya Murayama and since has remained with the Murayama family, with Kichiya's son, Toshihisa (87), and grandson/third-generation owner Yuichi (59) managing the store. As you enter, the warm and affable family ambiance is clear, the shop's energy open, laid back, and friendly; it's an atmosphere that perfectly accompanies Aoba's delicious and equally comforting ramen.
Aoba has maintained the same recipe for the past 75 years. The store has crafted a rich broth by combining the flavors of seafood, meat, and vegetables. While you can see a generous splattering of oil on top of your bowl, it's surprisingly light while being full of rich umami depth.
The soup and artfully cooked al-dente noodles have turned Aoba into Asahikawa's most emblematic ramen shop. They also serve miso ramen, and salt ramen, with the option of additional chashu (pork slices).
Explore Sake History at Otokoyama Sake Brewing Museum
A culinary exploration of Asahikawa isn't complete without visiting Otokoyama Sake Brewery Museum. Otokoyama Brewery is the most famous maker of sake in the region. Otokoyama is also one of the nation's most globally recognized sake brands, with restaurants, bars, and high-end establishments throughout the globe stocking their bottles.
The brewery was founded in 1887, established in 1952, and in 1977 won the first-ever sake Monde Selection Gold Prize for their flagship Junmai Daiginjo. This sake is made from rice that's been polished down to 38% of its original size, creating a blend that's elegantly rich and smooth and a symbol of Asahikawa's culinary excellence.
The brewery is easy to access, and entry is free. Each of the three floors showcases a different way to explore the world of sake. We'd suggest starting from the top (third) floor and making your way down for a more comprehensive experience.
On the third floor, you'll find a display showcasing old brewery tools used to make sake. As well as this charming collection of sake tools, the third floor also has a TV screening on demand and educational videos outlining the brewery's history and its localized sake-making process (in Japanese, English, Chinese, Korean, and Thai).
The second floor of the brewery is home to relics showcasing the history and origin of Otokoyama. Here you'll find art displays including ukiyo-e paintings and a hanging scroll of Katsushika Hokusai, as well as ancient documents outlining sake brewing.
The first floor is best saved for last as it's also the sake sampling floor. While you can read all you want on the history and processes of sake, there's no better way to fully understand this diverse and delicious drink than by sampling a few of Otokoyama's offerings.
Visitors are welcome to try a cross-section of the brewery's creations. To help navigate your way around the bottles, there are displays outlining the different sake types and their characteristics. Most types are available to sample for free. However, some of the higher-end offerings – like the Junmai Daiginjo, which costs around 13,000 yen per bottle (1.8 l) – require a small fee.
Genghis Khan Daikokuya: Enjoy Exquisite Mutton Barbecue for Dinner
When it comes to yakiniku (Japanese style barbecue), in Hokkaido, there's one dish you can't go past: jingisukan. Also sometimes referred to as Genghis Khan, or Mongolian barbecue, this grilled mutton dish has become a staple of Hokkaido menus, best paired with a crisp local beer.
Compared to some of the nation's other iconic dishes, jingisukan's history is relatively short. According to many food historians, in the early 1900s, it came to mainstream popularity in the area, as farmers started eating the sheep they were raising for wool.
The dish is typically prepared by grilling the lamb on a bed of vegetables. The meat comes seasoned and unseasoned with sauces on the side, depending on the store and customers' tastes.
In Asahikawa, this locally-adored dish can be enjoyed at Genghis Khan Daikokuya. A legendary restaurant, Genghis Khan Daikokuya gets busy early, so it's best to make a booking ahead of time.
The restaurant serves three different cuts of lamb, with different seasonings to match the cuts. There are also a few other meat dishes on offer, such as T-bone steak and sausages, but we suggest sticking with the classics. Try the plain cuts with sauce and the herb roast to get a good overview of the quality of the meat, which is succulent and flavorful.
Once your order arrives, the staff will kindly explain the grilling process, which is easy and intuitive, just like eating yakiniku on the mainland. Cook the thin slices to your taste, dip in seasoning or sauce, and enjoy! Your orders come with a side of rice, and unlimited seasonal vegetables, so come hungry.
Stay at OMO7 Asahikawa by Hoshino Resorts and Enjoy Local Culture
For a fully immersive culinary experience in Asahikawa, consider booking a stay at OMO7 Asahikawa by Hoshino Resorts, a stylish lifestyle hotel located in the center of the city.
OMO7 Asahikawa blends casual, youthful fun with elegance and eye for detail. However, one of the most exciting features of this sprawling, centrally located facility is the 'OMO base' and food experiences.
'OMO base' is a socially-driven concept space that connects travelers with the local area. At the lobby, you'll find the Go-KINJO Map, a display showcasing the town's most exciting features and businesses, as well as many of the town's gourmet attractions.
*This photo was taken in December 2021 when the facility was offering the Asahikawa ramen menu.
At the time of our visit, they had mini-sized signature ramen dishes from stores around the city, a service limited to December 2021. For dessert, the hotel's shime-parfait (end of night parfait) is a must-try!
There's also an 'OMO Ranger' walking tour service for those who want to explore the town's highlights in a little more depth. The rangers – OMO expert staff – run regular walking tours throughout the city, with different ranger colors (green, yellow, red, blue, and purple) offering different tour specialties. The red ranger is an expert in sake, the green can take you on a guided walk around the city, while the yellow is an expert in the city's classic food offerings. Visit the OMO ranger page for more information on the latest tours events.
Be sure to get up early and make the most of the hotel's scrumptious breakfast. The buffet spread is designed around the concept of "a beautiful breakfast in Hokkaido."
From rich and delicious dairy to fresh fruit, artfully crafted pastries, and even a waffle bar serving savory and sweet options, the breakfast buffet is well worth getting out of bed early for.
The shime-parfaits offered at the hotel are the ideal dessert after dinner so do enjoy one of these gorgeous treats!
With incredible food adventures, an excellent position in the heart of the city, and complete with a sauna and bath facility in the basement floor, there's no better place to unwind in Asahikawa and learn more about its culinary delights.