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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Things to Eat and Drink in Hokkaido

Eating local food is always an integral part of all my travels. These are the things that I find, that I should try in Hokkaido, maybe you can try to tick off from this list too! I tried 10 out of 11 here.

1. Seafood of all sorts
2. Salmon and Ikuro
3. Soup Curry
4. Wagyu
5. Ramen
6. Soft Serve Ice cream /Sofuto
7. Melon
8. Fresh Milk and dairy products
9. Pastry
10. Special beers and beverages
11. Jingisukan

1. Seafood!

It's sacrilegious to visit Hokkaido and not eat seafood, unless you are allergic to it. Different season has different catches. Summer is the best time for sea urchin, Winter for Cod, Salmon and Saury in Autumn and different crabs throughout the year. Seafood is not only found at the markets, but it is easily available everywhere, and my favourite places to have seafood is at Izakaya. Izakaya is tavern in Japanese, where you can have dinner and drinks. Seafood prices in the north is way cheaper than in Sapporo. I haven't been to Hakodate, so I don't know whether it could be cheaper.

Seafood in Hokkaido isn't eaten only for lunch or dinner, it can also be for breakfast. So, if one is a seafood lover, it is really possible to eat seafood the whole day long.

Useful links: Hokkaido Food Library - Seafood

Hanasaki Crabs at Kushiro Market

Grilled Sea Urchin at Sapporo Autumn Fest

Okhotsk Set sushi at Abashiri

Moyoro Pot at Abashiri

Grilled Kinki at Abariya, Kushiro

Grilled Senpoushi Oysters at Abariya, Kushiro

Sashimi at Kushiro
Grilled Herring at Otaru

2. Salmon and Salmon Eggs  (Ikuro)

In Japan, salmon isn't found everywhere. But it is found naturally in Hokkaido and Hokkaido produces 80% of the salmon in Japan. Autumn is the time when salmon return to the rivers in Hokkaido to spawn and it's also the time when major salmon fishing is carried out. Although the peak period is in Autumn, salmon is available throughout the year. The salmon we eat in Malaysia is mostly farmed and not wild, so take this chance and eat wild salmon that is nourished by the sea and not by pellets in the farm.

The ikuro in Hokkaido taste fresh is not too salty, unlike those imported into Malaysia, that is very salty. And if one can get ultra fresh ones, like the one I had in the Okhotsk set, it wasn't salty at all, but full of umami.

Useful links: Hokkaido Food Library - Salmon

Breakfast rice bowl with Ikuro and other seafood at Kushiro

Grilled Salmon Belly for breakfast at Kushiro

Lots of Ikuro at Kushiro Market

Raw Salmon at Kushiro Market

3. Soup Curry

Many tend to skip this dish that is invented in Sapporo. It's quite a pity that this dish doesn't get much attention from tourists. It's nothing like the usual Japanese curry, but it's soupy and can be quite spicy, depending on the heat level that one requests. Vegetable lovers will truly enjoy this dish because it's packed with lots of it. Depending on the restaurant, some offer cococnut, soy milk or tomato soup base for the curry. So, have a few meals and try a few soup base.

We had it once at Samurai Soup curry and we loved it.

Useful links:
Tsunagu 20 Soup Curry Recommendations
Tabelog Hokaido Soup Curry Restaurants (check out the rating from locals)

Chicken, tomato base

Pork, coconut base

4. Wagyu

Although Kobe or Matsusaka Wagyu seems to be the most popular, Hokkaido is the place where the calves are born and shipped to Kobe and Matsusaka to be raised. There are many farms in Hokkaido that produces wagyu beef. Once I've tried the Wagyu here, it was hard to go back to so called Wagyu imported into Malaysia from other countries. The quality of Wagyu served at restaurants here are so good.

Useful link: Beef from Hokkaido

Wagyu skewers from Sapporo Autumn Fest

Wagyu Sashimi from Kumagera, Furano.
Raw beef that melts in the mouth

Wagyu Yakiniku at Tokuju, Sapporo

5. Ramen

Ramen seems to be common everywhere in Japan, but Hokkaido itself has 3 different styles that they call their own. Asahikawa has the lard toppped soy sauce broth ramen for the cold winter nights, Sapporo is the place where miso ramen started, and Hakodate is where it's famous for clear broth ramen. Ramen places are everywhere and is one the things you can easily find if you get hungry late at night. Some restaurants open until 5am, especially those near entertainment areas. It's not easy to find a restaurant to be open before 11am.  I had Sapporo's Miso and Asahikawa's Shoyu. Too bad I didn't try Hakodate's salt version.

Useful link:
4 Types of Hokkaido Ramen
Tabelog: Hokkaido Ramen Restaurants (check out the rating from locals)

Sapporo Miso Ramen @ Sumire

Salt Ramen from Asahikawa

Asahikawa Shoyu Ramen

6. Soft Serve Ice Cream / Sofuto

There's soft serve here there, in so many places and most of the time, they do offer something special from their region. In Furano, there's melon and lavender flavours, in Lake Kussharo there's Bamboo Grass flavour, in Abashiri there's a salted caramel ice cream made with Okhotsk salt. Even regular vanilla soft serve tastes divine because of Hokkaido's milk. Each cone is priced from 250yen to 300yen, depending on places.

I had one cone a day..... sometimes 2... LOL.

Salted Caramel with Okhotsk salt at Abashiri

Bamboo Grass flavour ice cream 

Milk Soft Serve with Coffee Jelly

7. Melon

Hokkaido produces the sweetest melons in all of Japan. It is utterly sweet! So sweet that my husband and I question whether it's all natural, because it is really very sweet. Melons are in season in Summer, but are available at other times too. Besides fresh melons, there are lots of melon products in Hokkaido, from jellies and cakes to Pocky and Kitkat. Price for one slice is around 300yen.

Useful link : Hokkaido Food Library : Melon

Fresh melon and melon soft serve at Tomita Melon

Melon products to be brought home

8. Fresh milk and other dairy products.

Hokkaido is dairy land of Japan! The milk produced in Hokkaido is very delicious and world renowned, even Haagen Daz sources their milk from Hokkaido, specifically from Betsukai (North East) ! During my trip here, my husband and I drank almost one litre of milk a day. Try to get milk with the Hokkaido island or 北海道 printed on the carton, if you can't read the labels. This way, you can't go wrong with it. Milk produced from different regions taste different. And if the farms themselves market their own milk, try it, they also taste different from major Hokkaido milk brands. Meiji's milk do not state their farm sources on the packaging.

My favourite milk is from Seicomart, under the brand of Secoma. I tried the one in light green packaging and it was ultra tasty. The aroma of the milk was something I never had before. It had the fragrance of grass.  Seicomart's milk is produced in the north west of Hokkaido, where the human population is very very low.

Tokachi's milk 十勝 is more commonly found on Hokkaido. Tasty but not my favourite.
Some of my friends will only buy milk in glass bottles, but I didn't come across them.
I tried a small farm milk in Kushiro's market, and I wasn't impressed.
The price of milk in Hokkaido is surprisingly lower than or similar with Malaysia.

9. Pastry

There are so many famous pastries in Hokkaido. If one were to head to Otaru, do not miss out Le Tao, their cheesecakes and desserts are very delicious. Kitakaro makes fabulous cream puffs and Kinotoya's cheese tarts are to die for. Rokkatei is famous for many things and drop in for a pastry and get a free coffee.

Kinotoya Cheese Tarts

Rokkatei pastries

Le Tao cheesecake set

Kitakaro Cream Puffs

10. Special Beers and beverages

Sapporo has special beers. We tried Abashiri Blue, Sapporo Classic (Only for sale in Hokkaido) and many other seasonal beers.

There is also Furano Lavender tea and some other beverages that comes unsweetened if you don't drink beer.
Abashiri blue beer, only available in North Hokkaido

Sapporo Classic is only available at Hokkaido, Seasonal beer and alcohol free beer 0%.

2L bottle 93yen is cheaper than 500ml 100yen, don't know why.

11. Jingisukan.

Jingisukan or Genghis Khan is mutton BBQ on a convex metal plate. Although Jingisukan is very popular in Hokkaido, most of the lamb and mutton is imported, and not locally produced. It's not easy to find local Hokkaido lamb. I didn't try this dish on my trip, because my eating schedule was packed to the max. There wasn't any slot to fit it in. LOL.

Next time ya, next time I will eat ya Jingisukan!


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hokkaido Autumn Road Trip 2016 - Shopping And Souvenirs

Tax free shopping

Tourists love shopping in Hokkaido and GST rate is at 8%. But as tourists, we can get a refund and it's very convenient.
During my visit, to qualify for tax refund we need to purchase 5000yen for consumable goods and 5000yen for non consumable goods.
Read this website thoroughly to get an idea of how it works :

Take note that:
1. The credit card owner must make the claim by him/herself if it's paid by credit card.
2. The package cannot be opened in the country.
3. The tax refund can be done on the same day, at the same location. For eg: If you shopped in Aeon Asahikawa, just head to Aeon's Tax Refund counter and get the refund in cash!
4. Not all consumables qualify for tax refund. Dairy products like cheese do not qualify for refunds.
5. Keep the receipts until you reach the airport. An officer will direct you to put the receipts into a box after going through the boarding gate.


Friday, February 3, 2017

Hokkaido Autumn Road Trip 2016 - Hotels We Stayed

For this trip we stayed in a few hotels, mostly business hotels. In Japan, business hotels are fuss free hotels that offers a clean room at an affordable price.

We stayed in a few cities, Sapporo, Asahikawa, Abashiri, Kushiro and Obihiro. All the hotels we chose are right in the city center, within walking distance to dinner and breakfast locations. Our budget was around USD100/night for 2 persons. Generally, hotel rooms in Hokkaido are small, around 15m2. Older hotels could have bigger rooms. Twin rooms cost more than double rooms because twin rooms are bigger.

We didn't stay in ryokans or minsus, due to comfort, price (not cheap!) and convenience. We prefer beds over sleeping on the floor.

Basic bed information:
Semi Double bed : around 140cm wide, slightly smaller than a queen size bed in Malaysia 
Large double bed : 6ft, King size bed in Malaysia
Twin beds: 110cm each, Super Single size in Malaysia.

Hotels we stayed in Hokkaido accepted Malaysian credit card for payment. 
During check in, hotel staff will request for all staying guests' passports to photocopy.
Toiletries (some provide facial wash too), toothbrushes and pyjamas as provided.
Self service laundromats (coin laundry) are available at most business hotels.
If there are onsens in the hotels, even business hotels might have it, but guests with Tattoos could be prohibited from use.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Hokkaido Autumn Road Trip 2016 (Part 9) - Sapporo again and Going Home

This post will be jumping a bit around the last 2 days.
We stayed in Sapporo on the last 2 nights of our road trip but made day trips to other places not too far away.

1.Kame Curry Udon 北海道咖喱饂飩 亀

Date: 15/9/2016

We came back from Ohibiro and hubby wasn't keen to have ramen. So I suggested curry udon of which he gladly said yes.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Hokkaido Autumn Road Trip 2016 (Part 8) - Yoichi and Otaru

Date: 16/9/2016 (forgot to record today's weather)

We woke up, went over to Times Car Rental and collected our car for the day.
This time, we no longer got an upgrade. It was a subcompact, Mazda Demio. Car collection time was much shorter as the center knew we just returned a car the day before, and the briefing time was really brief, well, it's protocol, they still had to do it.

We went to Sapporo Curb Market to have breakfast. I will write about it in the next post.

After an unsatisfactory breakfast, we went on our way to Yoichi


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Hokkaido Autumn Road Trip 2016 (Part 7) - Obihiro and Tokachi Subprefecture

After the land of Seafood, here I come to the land of agriculture.

Tokachi is a subprefecture in Hokkaido and Obihiro is the city in this subprefecture. Tokachi has a large agriculture sector and the main crops produced are wheat, potatoes, beets, and beans, but there has also been progress in the production of nagaimo (Chinese yam), lily root and burdock. The amount of arable land in Tokachi is the highest in all of Hokkaido.

Animal husbandry is big business in Tokachi with a major dairy industry. Tokachi itself has 40% of beef and dairy cattle in all of Hokkaido. Tourists come to Tokachi to visit dairy farms and savour the dairy products. 十勝牛乳 is a common milk brand in Hokkaido and the name is translated as Tokachi Milk, produced by Yotsuba company.

Tokachi produces the largest amount of wheat in Japan. The headquarters of 3 nationally renowned pastry companies Rokkatei, Ryugetsu, and Cranberry are also located in Obihiro. There are many interesting pastry shops in Obihiro and I don't think it is possible to try all of them in one trip.

There are lots of restaurants in Obihiro. Really a lot! And I saw quite a number of them putting a sign infront of their shop that English Menu is available. The Tokachi Subprefectural Bureau is heavily promoting Tokachi as a tourist destination, but is often overlooked by foreign tourists. There are many websites providing up-to-date information for tourists, and they even have printable translating sheets (for pointing) for basic conversation needs. They do understand that tourists need to be understood and tourists hope to enjoy this area and not feeling lost.

Quiet streets at 8.30am

Obihiro's Shopping Street, but it was nothing interesting
Weather for the days when I was in Obihiro



Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Hokkaido Autumn Road Trip 2016 (Part 6) - Kushiro

Kushiro is a port city, located on the east coast, facing the Pacific Ocean. It is also known as the fog city, with the summer being the foggiest and it even has a fog festival in late July each year. Here is an article about Kushiro's Fog Season

But I don't want to go there for fog. Luckily dense fog dissipated few days before I arrived and sadly, fog came back for a day during my coastal drive to Obihiro. Luckily it wasn't dense, just imagine days with some haze in Malaysia, not the serious type.

Kushiro is famous for seafood. This city is most famous for Pacific Saury (Sanma) and Hanasaki Crab. It's a huge fishing port with many fishing towns nearby.
So, I definitely came here for the seafood and I find it hard to find sufficient stomach space to eat within the 16 hours I was in the city.

Besides that, Kushiro is also the place to watch Japanese red crested cranes (The emblem of JAL), of which is on the endangered list. And if one loves nature a lot, and loves birdwatching, the Kushiro Marshland will be quite interesting.

The weather of Kushiro during our visit

We arrived in Kushiro at about 7pm. Checked in at Kushiro Castle Hotel and walked to the city centre for dinner.

Walking on Nusamai Bridge

This road seems quiet. On the right side is the bustling night area, with restaurants and entertainment centers.

We were hungry. When we arrived at the street I was looking for, I thought I found Aburiya. It was all in Japanese, and we couldn't read, but the menu looks same same. But this restaurant was not welcoming. Same thing happened like how it was in Kihachi Abashiri. We saw vacant counter seats, but they politely, apologetically showed us to the door after we said '2 persons'. Well... Ok ok.


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