Local Delicacies Made with Salmon and Mutton

Hokkaido is known for its delicious variety of seafood such as crab, scallop, and sea urchin, but salmon is the area’s quintessential fish. It’s used in popular local dishes like ishikari-nabe, a hot pot with salmon and vegetables stewed in miso soup, and chanchan-yaki—miso-marinated salmon steamed and fried with seasonal vegetables.

The Shibetsu fishing port in the east of Hokkaido, known for the largest set-net catch of autumn salmon in Japan, has an array of mouthwatering salmon cuisine. At local restaurants, you will find rare fare like salmon shabu-shabu—thinly sliced pieces of salmon dunked in boiling water and served with a dipping sauce. The area also serves chanchan-yaki and rui-be—frozen salmon sashimi.

Another popular Hokkaido dish is Genghis Khan grilled mutton—a rarity in Japan. The dish’s origins in the region go back to late 1910s, after the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, when sheep farming spread in Hokkaido because of the increasing demand for wool for military use. Hokkaido mutton is marinated in a sauce made with onions and apples to give it a distinct flavor.

The area is also renowned for dairy, and Hokkaido brand dairy products dominate the Japanese market. There is a rich variety, with items such as cheese, butter, and soft cream, and the flavors are constantly evolving.

Delicious Water, Exquisite Sake

Hokkaido was one of the early pioneers of beer and whiskey brewing in Japan, and wine production also flourished in the area not long after. In recent years, Hokkaido sake has been in the spotlight.

Sake is made by fermenting special type of rice used for brewing, and is characterized by its rich, fruity aroma. In the past, Hokkaido’s cold climate made it difficult to grow quality rice, so rice from the main island of Japan was used to brew sake. In recent years, the quality of sake rice in Hokkaido has improved, so more and more brewers are using locally-grown varieties.

There are 12 sake breweries in Hokkaido. Kunimare Sake Brewery in Mashike Town, Tanaka Sake Brewery in Otaru City, and Kobayashi Sake Brewery in Kuriyama Town have all been around since the late 1800s. The old, graceful brewery buildings are still preserved, and you can delve into the history of Hokkaido’s development, including the boom of coal mining and herring fishing industries. You can visit for a tasting or brewery tour. (Some facilities are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so inquire beforehand.)

Delicious water is indispensable to making good sake. Hokkaido’s lush natural landscape is home to many spots famous for water. Households in Higashikawa Town in central Hokkaido use groundwater from melt snow that comes from the Daisetzusan mountain range. Even people from other towns come all the way to Higashikawa’s water supply plant to fetch the mineral-rich water. Mount Yotei in Niseko, known for its powder snow, is also a famous water source. The Kanrosensui Spring in Rishiri Island is the northernmost source of spring water in Japan and is selected among the 100 best waters in Japan.

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