A Taste of Hokkaido

Every small town, city, prefecture, and area in Japan has its own food specialties. Maybe it's a form of noodles, or sake, or type of produce or meat grown or raised in the area. If I tell my students I'm going somewhere, they almost always recommend a certain local delicacy that I have to try.

Hokkaido takes this to the extreme. It has the "best" of almost everything. Here's a rundown of many of the foods and drinks I tried while I was in town.
 Hokkaido is home to many breweries. I'll get to the most famous one in a minute, but the island is scattered with small "craft" breweries all over the place. I counted 15 different beers from probably 8 different breweries on sale in the Hokkaido goods shop in Sapporo Station. While I was in Abashiri I tried one of those, a blue-colored beer called Okhotsk Blue. At first taste it was fairly good, extremely light but with a nice flavor. However, it had a sort of syrupy aftertaste. Abashiri Brewery has other brews including a fairly normal-appearing blend but unfortunately money and time prohibited me from trying more.
 The number one gift to bring back from Sapporo are small wafer-like cookies with white chocolate sandwiched in between. Those cookies are pretty good though they are kind of mild, and they certainly don't remind me at all of Japan. But Ishiya, the manufacturer of the aforementioned cookies, also sells a chocolate drink in small coffee-like cans. It's a very thick, rich flavor - a perfect chocolate drink hot or cold. They don't come cheap, though, at about 200 yen for a small can. I had two cans on my trip, but I probably could have drank two cans every day and still craved more!
 Also seen around Hokkaido were these Bear sodas - there are Brown Bear and White Bear drinks. This is a guarana soda and was pretty good.
 Okay, what about food? Hokkaido ramen is miso-based with pork and a few other simple ingredients. I also asked for a hard-boiled egg. My coworker was mad that I didn't order it with "everything" although I ordered what she recommended - the traditional Hokkaido-style ramen. It was good, though my favorites still remain Kitakata and Kyushu style ramens. On a side note, I would really like to try the buttered corn ramen.
 Sapporo has an autumn festival with several food stands set up near Sapporo Station and in the park along Odori. The food is expensive but delicious (appearing) - I only tried two things. Above you see a food stand version of Genghis Khan, which is grilled meat. I'll have to try actual Genghis Khan somewhere else on a future trip.
 And yes, that is a beer behind the food. I found these two Fighters cans in the Hokkaido store at normal beer prices. They're both Sapporo brand beer; I believe one was Sapporo Classic and the other was Sapporo Black Label. After visiting the Sapporo Beer Museum, I've decided that Black Label is my favorite Japanese mainstream beer.
  These aren't just ordinary french fried potatoes. These are Hokkaido potatoes. Do they taste any different? Not really. They were good, though.
 I'm not sure if this is a Hokkaido exclusive or just a limited edition, but this was the first time I saw these "panda" Pocky sticks. I bought this box at Hokkaido Greenland and took the picture in a flower bed before giving them a shot. If you like Oreos then you'll like these!
 Again, this might not exactly be a "Hokkaido" thing but these are the Japanese equivalent of Cheetos. Yes, Cheetos already exist in Japan. These taste more authentically "cheesy" and don't stain your fingers like Cheetos.
 This is definitely from Hokkaido. Much of Japan's milk comes from Hokkaido and a handful of companies sell single-serve glass bottles in some stores. It might be the freshest, most delicious milk I've had... ever. And yes, I kept the bottle as a souvenir.
 I needed lunch at Sapporo Dome on Saturday, so I wandered around the stadium for a while before settling on something somewhat unique. I noticed they had a Subway franchise, typical sushi bento boxes, and usual ballpark food (burgers, dogs, chicken tenders, etc). But out in right field I came across a stand selling beer and somewhat different food items. This fried chicken (is it actually chicken?) was pretty good - it might have been skin only. Regardless, it was like the best of KFC.
And in the wrapper behind it was rice wrapped in what I think was bacon, coated in a soy based sauce. That, too, was very delicious and I'm glad I bought it.

I didn't get a picture of it, but Hokkaido is known for its corn. You can get it in your ramen, or find grilled corn on the cob at tourist destinations around the island. I got a very tasty ear in Toya that served as my lunch.

Hokkaido's other agricultural product that must be tried is the melon. They're very sweet and full of flavor, and are almost creamy. Usually you have to buy an entire melon (about 1200-1500 yen) but you might find a slice for about 300 yen.

And while milk might be the easiest dairy product to find and sample inexpensively around Hokkaido, cheese and butter are also very popular and tasty.

If and when I can return to Hokkaido, I hope to sample a bit more of the local flavor. First, I need to try more ramen. Plus, I have to have a go with Genghis Khan. A good deal that I found but wasn't able to take advantage of was Ginza Lion's all-you-can-eat offer in Susukino. If price is not as much of a concern, I would love to try the local hairy crab, which can be seen in tanks outside or just inside restaurants similar to lobster tanks in America.

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