It’s no secret that Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan, has some of the best seafood and dairy. The northern island of Japan is surrounded by cold ocean waters which makes it the perfect habitat for seafood, and the large countryside in Hokkaido also allows space for dairy farms to operate and produce some of the creamiest dairy products I’ve ever tasted. It might be no surprise then that as part of our two-week Japan trip, Sir D and I headed first to Hokkaido to… well pretty much all we did was eat. And walk to other places to eat some more.
We spent the majority of our time in Sapporo, the capital of the Hokkaido Prefecture which is about a 40-minute train ride from New Chitose Airport. We stayed at the Richmond Hotel Sapporo Ekimae, which was a comfortable hotel that came to about $65 per night for two people. The hotel was conveniently located right next to Exit 22 of Sapporo JR station, as well as being a few blocks away from Exit 3 of the Sapporo Ekimae, the underground walkway that connects Sapporo’s major public transport hubs (also great for escaping the cold!).
Being in Hokkaido, one of the things we made sure to do was eat lots of seafood. On the top of my list was to visit the Nijo Market (二条市場, Nijō Ichiba), which is a public market in central Sapporo that sells a wide variety of crab, scallops, fish and other seafood as well as fresh local produce. I was pretty excited to see shako (mantis shrimp) which is something I’ve only ever heard about in this comic!
We walked around the markets looking for some donburi (rice bowl) to have for breakfast. It was a little early so not all the stores were open yet, but we stumbled across one that had a few people dining in it already. Best of all, it had mini-don set where we could try a bit of everything.
The seafood at the markets is not particularly cheap – our mini-don set was around 2900JPY or 30AUD – but it’s definitely worth it when all the ingredients are so fresh. We had little rice bowls topped with kani (crab), salmon, ikura (salmon roe), hotate (scallop), uni (sea urchin), maguro (tuna) and ebi (prawn), as well as a bowl of miso soup on the side.
If you had asked me before I went to Japan what I thought of uni, I would have told you that it was kind of funky tasting and not my thing. But the uni in Japan is completely different – it’s gloriously rich and creamy and I savoured each and every piece of it on my donburi.
If the seafood prices at the market are a little on the steep side, kaiten-zushi (sushi train) restaurants offer a cheap and cheerful way to enjoy some of Hokkaido’s awesome seafood. With plates starting from about 100yen (about 1AUD), you can have your fill of sushi without breaking the bank.
We found this kaiten-zushi restaurant, Nemuro Hanamaru (根室花まる), to be very popular, with lines snaking out the door at all hours of the day. We just had to join the line to see what all the fuss was about.
While kaiten-zushi restaurants in Japan have the same conveyor belt system as in Sydney, one of the first differences I noticed was that there weren’t that many plates on the conveyor. Most of the sushi we ate was ordered directly from the sushi chefs by filling out a form to indicate which sushi we wanted, the quantity of each and whether you would like it with or without wasabi.
Get the chefs’ attention by saying “Sumimasen!” (Excuse me!) before handing your form to the chefs, and then your sushi will be made fresh and handed to you on plates when it is prepared. Nemuro Hanamaru thankfully has an English menu, so we ordered our favourites including some huge Hokkaido scallops and the super sweet botan ebi (Humpback shrimp) and ama ebi (Pink shrimp).
We did pick a few things off the conveyor since there were some daily specials in Japanese only that did not appear on the English menu. These were pretty much a lucky dip as we couldn’t read all the characters (and even if we could, we had no idea what it meant anyway…). The first one we picked up which I think was yellowtail was quite nice, but we weren’t a fan of the herring which had lots of small bones and quite a unique, oily flavour.
Our kaiten-zushi meal at Nemuro Hanamaru came to less than 3000JPY (less than 31.50AUD) for two of us, and we actually ate more than what’s pictured because we got seconds of some of the good stuff! This means you should have enough money to spare to try another of Hokkaido’s specialties: its milk products!
I was told by some wise people to try plain Hokkaido milk, so we went and bought a small carton of milk just to see what it was like. It had a luscious full creamy flavour without tasting heavy and rich, and surprisingly has approximately the same amount of fat as full cream milk in Australia.
We wanted to try Hokkaido milk in other forms as well and came across a dessert store called Bisse Sweets. This store is actually a collaboration of many well-known dessert stores around Hokkaido such as Kinotoya, Sapporo Snaffles, Bocca Hokkaido and Machimura Farm. Each of these stores had their own specialty, but we absolutely had to have the doughnut sundaes with Hokkaido milk soft ice cream from Machimura Farm.
We chose a milk flavoured doughnut with milk flavoured soft ice cream and it was heavenly. The doughnut was light and fluffy with a dusting of sweetish milk powder on the outside with a squiggle of soft ice cream on top.
We wanted more so we got Hokkaido milk soft ice cream in a cone from Kinotoya. The flavour was not as sweet as other soft serve ice creams I’ve had but it tasted amazingly smooth and creamy. If only we could get this stuff in Australia!
Go to the next Japan 2014 post: Warming up in Sapporo with ramen, soup curry and potatoes!
Hotel Richmond Sapporo Ekimae
1-1-7, North 3-jo, West 1-chome
Ph: +81 11-218-8555
Nijo Market (二条市場, Nijō Ichiba)
South 3-jo East 1- to 2-chome
Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan
Open 7 days a week 7am-6pm
JR Tower Stellar Place 6/F (on top of JR Sapporo Station, next to Daimaru Department Store)
North 5-jo, West 2-chome
Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan
Phone: +81 11-209-5330
Open 7 days a week, 11am-11pm
Odori Bisse 1/F
Odori West 3-chome
Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan
Opening hours vary depending on store, most are open 10am-8pm