With some of Japan’s best seafood and local delicacies such as warming soup curry and decadent shime parfaits – not to mention a world famous beer – Rob Goss explains why Sapporo is foodie heaven
Ask a dozen Japanese what words come to mind when they think of Sapporo and ‘food’ will invariably be near the top of the list. As the main city on Hokkaido, which is often referred to as the ‘breadbasket of Japan’, Sapporo is the focal point of every culinary delight Japan’s northernmost island has to offer.
First and foremost, a foodie trip to Sapporo means the chance to try some of Japan’s best seafood, caught in the three oceans that surround Hokkaido. From creamy sea urchin to seasonal crab like zuigani (snow crab), kegani (horsehair crab) and highly prized tarabagani (king crab), you can get a great overview of Sapporo’s seafood at Nijo Market, a short walk from the eastern end of Odori Park. Nijo is also a prime place to sample the local seafood without breaking the budget, just drop by for a dish called kaisendon, where a bowl of rice is topped with seafood – you could opt for a simple combo of rice capped with a mound of sea urchin or sliced raw tuna, or go for a decadent combination of several to a dozen cofourful toppings.
Given Sapporo’s long, cold winters, it’s no surprise that several other Sapporo signature dishes are designed to warm and nourish. The local take on ramen is no exception: called miso ramen it has a rich miso-flavored broth and thick, curly yellow noodles, which combine for a heartier ramen hit than usual. To try miso ramen and other variations, visit Ganso Ramen Yokocho, a charmingly cosy alley that’s home to 17 tiny ramen joints. Ganso translates as ‘original’ and this is where this warming dish came from.
Taking ‘warming’ to the next level is another Sapporo classic: soup curry. Exactly as the name suggests, it’s a curried soup that can include various combinations of meat and locally produced vegetables, and it comes with rice on the side that you can mix in to get something close to a mulligatawny. At Garaku, Suage+ and dozens of other soup curry specialists around Sapporo, you can customise the exact ingredients and tweak the spice levels to make it mild or burn like a vindaloo.
Sapporo was the first city in Japan where beer brewing was carried out in earnest by Japanese people, and is the birthplace of Sapporo Beer’s predecessor, the Kaitakushi Beer Brewery, which was founded in 1876. Influenced by German brewing methods and purity rules, it was Sapporo that established light, crisp lagers as the beer of choice in Japan. At the lovely redbrick Sapporo Beer Museum, you can find out more about Sapporo Beer and Hokkaido’s beer history, and participate in a tour that ends with a tasting session. Continuing the city’s beery traditions, you’ll also find local craft brewers like Moon Sun Brewing in the city; they have a brewpub a few blocks south of Odori Park’s eastern end. If you’ve got room for dessert after the ramen, soup curry and beer, you’re in the right place. Hokkaido is the largest producer of dairy in Japan, and Sapporo is where all the milky goodies flow, from ice cream and cheesecake to cheese tarts. One particular Sapporo special that merges all the city’s dessert decadence is the shime parfait. With shime translating to ‘ending’ or ‘concluding’, it’s a sundae eaten at the end of a night out and, in whatever guise it comes, it’s an absolute delight. Shime parfait has become a much-loved local culture and, in the many shops making photogenic parfaits with seasonal fruits and other ingredients, you are sure to find a favourite.
Among the many parfait places that open until late at night or early in the morning, the aptly named Sinner Café does a chocolate shime parfait with blancmange and homemade chocolate sauce, while Noymond Organic Café serves a version with green tea ice cream and Nanakamado Cafe adds a fruity touch with fresh strawberries atop azuki red bean cream and rice flour dumplings (shiratama).