If there is one thing you will learn when visiting any part of Japan, it’s that the best Japanese food comes from the Hokkaido Prefecture. That’s, of course, not to say there aren’t unreal culinary offerings throughout the country. The quality of Japanese cuisine, based solely on the freshness of ingredients, is exceptional. And that’s not to mention that Tokyo and Kyoto are home to some of the world’s most-coveted reservations. However, among the Japanese, they consider food from Hokkaido to be some of the very best in the country. For foodies heading to Hokkaido, here’s how to eat (and drink) well—and like a local:
Take a Day Trip to the Fishing Village of Otaru
Take a day trip to Otaru, which is just a short train ride up the Sea of Japan coast. Lunch on the freshest daily catches at Otaru Takeda, a small restaurant within the Sankaku Fish Market. Then head over to LeTAO to finish off your Otaru food tour with a slice of LeTAO’s famous cheesecake. And while in Otaru, be sure to visit Hokkaido Brewing Company. They have an entire line of fruit beers made with Otaru citruses and melons.
Have a Michelin-starred Meal, or a Few
Having an omakase meal is an absolute must in Japan, and you can’t go wrong at three-Michelin-starred Sushi Miyakawa in Sapporo’s Maruyama Park neighborhood. You’ll also want to make a reservation at Tempura Araki, one of the top tempura restaurants in Japan, which welcomes only 18 people a day. And finally, get your fill of Hokkaido crab at Katsukani, which requires a reservation at least a month in advance.
Tuck into Genghis Khan at Menyotei Gojo Store
Jingisukan, or "Genghis Khan,” is a classic Hokkaido experience. It’s meat grilled right in front of diners and can be done with grilled lamb, mutton, or Wagyu beef raised on-island. There are plenty of Hokkaido restaurants specializing in Genghis Khan, but snagging a counter seat at Menyotei Gojo Store is one of the best ways to feast on the high-quality meat grilled right in front of you. The Susukino-based restaurant grills their meat alongside Chinese leeks and dipping sauces a-plenty, which you won’t want to skimp on.
Visit the Sapporo Beer Museum and Sapporo Beer Garden
As you may know, one of Hokkaido’s main exports is Sapporo beer. Aspiring brewers should visit the Sapporo Beer Museum, in Sapporo proper, or the Sapporo Beer Factory, along the Sea of Japan coast. Right next to the Sapporo Beer Museum, you’ll find the Sapporo Beer Garden, where you can order a Sapporo Black, only available in Hokkaido. Sapporo Beer Garden also does a great Jingisukan, which pairs perfectly with a cold beer.
Visit the Ramen-Focused Food Court in Sapporo
Ramen fans visiting Sapporo should head straight to Sapporo Ramen Republic at the eclectic shopping center near Sapporo Station, ESTA. Sapporo Ramen Republic is essentially a ramen-focused food court, which you’ll find on ESTA’s 10th floor. You’ll have to try a few ramen vendors before picking your favorite, but fair warning, most visitors are partial to the flavors at Shirakaba Sanso.
Take a Self-Guided Tour of Hokkaido’s Micro-Breweries
In addition to visiting some of the larger craft beer producers, like the Sapporo Beer Museum or Factory and Hokkaido Brewing Company, check out the smaller beer houses. Abashiri Beer Brewery is known specifically for its blue-colored beer, Okhotsk Blue Ryuhyo Draft, which uses melted glacier water from the Pacific-based Sea of Okhotsk. Abashiri then uses gardenia pigment to dye the wheat beer blue, to reflect its oceanic roots. Next, you’ll find SOC Brewing Inc. in a suburb just outside Sapporo—if you can’t make it out to their Ebetsu City brewery, you can get their signature North Island Beer at most bars in Sapporo City. Finally, head to Okhotsk Beer Factory in Kitami. They’re best known for their Red Ale and the two or three seasonal beers they release each year.
Head to Hokkaido in February for the Annual Sapporo Snow Festival
Sapporo, the largest city on Hokkaido, hosts festivals for nearly every season. But one of their most famous and well-attended festivals is the Sapporo Snow Festival. Each February, enormous sculptures made of snow from the surrounding mountains are erected in the middle of the city. The sculptures are lit up at night for visitors and locals to peruse while sampling the eats from local food stalls set up at the festival. The stalls feature everything from meat to sweets, and bring the top-tier quality and flavor you’ll come to expect from Hokkaido cuisine.