Hokkaido’s Sensational Sweets
By Kyle Von Lanken
On December 29, 2014
Imagine if you will, the following scenario: you’ve polished off your main meal of Hokkaido cuisine and feel ready to fill your betsubara (別腹) or “second stomach” with a confectionery delight of some sort (or several?). Unaware of where you should even start with your search, you exclaim to yourself, “if only there had been an article to inform me about this!”
Fear not, I’ve got your back on Hokkaido’s most popular and well-loved sweets just in time for the up and coming holiday season. So whether you’re physically in the area or in the market to order some sweets online in advance, let’s get started.
Needless to say, up until recently I have never seen “difficult to eat” written directly on a product’s description (it’s not particularly a selling point now, is it?). That all changed when my wife brought home よいとまけ (yoitomake) a red, sticky roll cake made primarily with haskap.
Haskap, or blue-berried honeysuckle, is a variety of honeysuckle that is mainly available in the northern hemisphere, including Hokkaido. Yoitomake used to be sold only in one solid, uncut roll and the outer haskap jelly directly touching the plastic packaging in which it was contained—this led to a sticky, gloppy mess from the get-go as soon as you opened it, leaving you with the unfortunate task of trying to cut it into proportional slices for one serving as you battle the stickiness.
From what I’m told, at a certain point yoitomake sales began to decline several years back presumably due to these inconveniences, but they soared again once these issues were resolved with pre-cut individual slices and perhaps the most beneficial change, the “oblaat” (a thin layer of edible starch) placed on the cake to lessen the stickiness. Funnily enough, they still purport that the dessert is “difficult to eat” even after its issues were dealt with.
Yoitomake is a fruity, “berry” delicious treat that I personally am reserving for eating only during December to solidify my own holiday tradition. Perhaps you could add it to yours as well?
I’m sure there are many of you out there who also prefer to have some crisp to their sweets, and to me the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Hokkaido’s crunchy confections is 白い恋人 (shiroi koibito), or “white lover”.
When I first saw this treat’s name, I wondered for quite some time about its meaning. Did it have something to do with someone’s dating preferences? Did it have some deeper meeting? Funnily enough, this was simply a passing comment the founder once made referring to the falling snowflakes as “white lovers”.
Shiroi koibito is best known for its two flavors of sandwich cookies, one with white chocolate and one with milk chocolate. The flavor of both are simple but at the same time exquisite, to me being exemplary of the phrase “less is more”.
Shiroi koibito are a very common gift to buy for friends and family when one visits Hokkaido, and a very popular one at that!
The last addition to this list may catch you by surprise at first. Hokkaido is known for being really cold with tons of snow during the winter, so that would obviously lead us to the conclusion that during this frigid time we would frequently partake in… soft-serve ice cream.
Yes, you read that correctly. One would think that with how cold it gets here that sales of soft-serve would drop during the winter season, but such is not so much the case. As we are well equipped to deal with the cold weather, many buildings are very well insulated and having proper heating is fairly commonplace.
With many buildings including our homes being warm and toasty, we end up craving something cold and tasty. Soft-serve ice cream to the rescue! Here, soft-serve is made from fresh, rich milk from Hokkaido and has a mild but creamy sweetness to it. Two particular flavors, “Hokkaido” vanilla and lavender, are well-known as Hokkaido specific flavors.
Do you have any specific Japanese treats you like to have for the holiday season?