As foreigners in Japan, sometimes we come across new foods that sound either incredibly delicious or confusingly odd. In order combat the winter weather, it is my intention to give you a list of Hokkaido’s most well-known cuisine from both of these categories.
Within the first few days after I arrived in Hokkaido, I was invited to an international exchange event at a local farm which hosted a wide variety of foods—one of which fell under the “confusingly odd” category.
Once my wife and I filled up our plates with a few savory goodies, we went and sat down in the dining hall. I bit into an unkown piece of meat that was a bit on the oily side, had a very strong “meaty” aroma and was fairly salty. When I asked one of the event helpers what it is was, I was told it was called “ジンギスカン” (jingisukan) and that the meat was mutton. “Well that’s a little weird”, I thought. “It sounds surprisingly like ‘Genghis Khan’, the name of that famous Mongolian warlord.”
Funnily enough, it seems that this was not too far from the truth. The roots of the name supposedly come from the assumption by people in prewar Japan that Mongolian soldiers preferred to eat mutton. Whether this is true or not, it is a fairly common rumor among Japanese people as to where the name originated from.
Jiinguskan is a dish cooked on both regular grills and convex skillets sometimes alongside cabbage, and is found in many restaurants all across Hokkaido. The sheep farms in Takikawa and Tsukimasu are the largest contributing factors in Hokkaido’s impressive mutton supply, and these sheep farms are said to be the only ones left from the original 5 that were established in 1918 all across Japan.
While I myself am not the biggest fan of mutton, if you are I would highly recommend trying jinguskan out as it is a very popular and widely loved dish.
During my time living in Kyushu I became incredibly enthralled with all types of curry, particularly Japanese and Indian curry. Upon my return to Japan, this time in Hokkaido, I’m sure you can imagine my excitement when my wife told me about a new curry place that had just opened up.
My excitement however, was quickly replaced by confusion when I saw that this curry was basically soup. It was in fact soup curry, complete with varying vegetables and a piece of dark meat chicken (still on the bone to provide extra flavor). With a sense of trepidation, I took my first sip.
In all honesty, I was surprised to taste the familiar and pleasing blend of spices commonly known as garam masala, a staple blend used in fine Indian and Asian curries with a spicy kick to it.
Soup curry can be found in many places in Hokkaido, but the most famous place to get it is in Sapporo (as that is also considered by many to be its birthplace), which hosts a multitude of restaurants.
Last on our list is the mighty miso ramen which is not only specifically from Hokkaido, it is also the newest of the bunch (the others being shio, tonkotsu and shoyu), having become incredibly popular in Japan more than 50 years ago and still going strong.
My first experience with miso ramen started, as with many other foods, with skepticism. I drink miso soup because I know it is good for me, not because I particularly like it. So when I was told by one of my friends that I simply had to try a miso ramen made in Hokkaido, I agreed while silently preparing myself for disappointment.
Before me was set a staple and picturesque bowl of ramen—a beautiful arrangement of noodles, bamboo shoots, sesame seeds, pork, mushroom and egg. But it was miso, I told myself. There was no way this could be as good as it was hyped up to be. Big shock, it actually was that good.
I know now that miso ramen contains far more than simple miso; that miso is also mixed with either a chicken or a fish broth to add to the flavor, and sometimes even tonkotsu or lard is added to the mix for that extra rich flavor.
If you live in Japan, what are some of the local foods from your area that you either love or hate?