With strong associations with world-class ski slopes and glorious hiking in the summertime, the northernmost island of Hokkaido is known for its beautiful, untarnished nature. In all its abundance and beauty, it’s definitely a place for people who love the outdoors, but the other thing Hokkaido is famous for its amazing food.
As the largest city in Hokkaido and the seventh largest in all Japan, Sapporo serves as the gateway to greater Hokkaido, and a destination city itself. Benefiting from the diverse environment of Hokkaido with plenty of areas for quality farming and easy access to fishing, the food in Sapporo is renowned for being exceptionally delicious. The image of delicious seafood, meats, vegetables, and dairy products has earned Hokkaido the title of the “Kingdom of Food,” with a number of locally-grown products and local specialty dishes making Sapporo the foodie heaven in the north. Find out what to eat in Sapporo in this go-to guide for food in Sapporo!
1. Sweet Potatoes
Hokkaido is famous for farming delicious sweet potatoes, satsuma-imo. Characteristically long and purple, Hokkaido’s sweet potatoes are full of flavor, healthy, and easy to find. Particularly in winter, it’s a tradition around Japan to eat them roasted (yaki-imo) over hot coals, with a kind of crunchy skin on the outside and a sweet, fluffy potato on the inside. In Sapporo, you can get them at specialty stores, supermarkets, and vans with roasting units inside, which can be seen and heard (like ice cream trucks, these vans have a signature yaki-imo jingle) during winter time. In souvenir shops throughout Sapporo, they sell countless products featuring the flavor of Hokkaido sweet potato, particularly in the way of souvenir sweets, omiyage.
By extension of the root veg family, Sapporo is also the place to eat regular potatoes (jaga-imo) as they are another famous vegetable grown in Hokkaido. Due to having so much space for farming and great climate conditions, you can expect produce from Hokkaido to be top quality. Hokkaido, in fact, grows two-thirds of the potatoes grown in Japan, used for snacks, chips, and shochu, a clear Japanese spirit. In Sapporo, jaga-imo is sold everywhere and goes particularly well when roasted with a big knob of locally-made butter (jaga-bata).
3. Yubari King Melon
In 2018, the record for the most expensive pair of Yubari melons ever sold was broken at an incredible 3.2 million yen for two melons. Say what?! Essentially Yubari melons are a special strain of rockmelon or cantaloupe, but this special Japanese variety is extra sweet (and clearly, very expensive). Yubari, the town that the melons come from and are named after, isn’t too far from Sapporo if you want to visit the farm. Yubari melons are so expensive as there are strict conditions about where they can be farmed (the Yubari area), contributing to their sweet, high-quality flesh. You can get the melon from markets and at restaurants all over Sapporo, with some places even hosting all-you-can-eat melon buffets.
4. Toukibi (“Pure White” Sweet Corn)
Another famous vegetable from Hokkaido is their toubiki sweet corn, which are a pale color giving them the name of “pure white” sweet corn. Best eaten raw, this variety of sweet corn is incredibly sweet, with kernels that soft and fluffy and even a bit creamy. There’s a pick-your-own corn farm about 40 minutes from Sapporo, supplying the city with the goods. Best eaten from July to September, the climate of Hokkaido means that even in summer the days are hot but the evenings are cool which helps to keep the moisture in the corn, making them extra juicy. Bursting with minerals and antioxidants, they have got so much flavor that they taste amazing on their own, however chili, lime, and Hokkaido butter or cheese go extremely well with them. Bonus fact: in Japan, regular sweet corn is commonly seasoned with soy sauce. You’ll see all kinds of sweet corn-themed souvenir snacks, or get fresh ones as a snack along Odori Park.
5. Hokkaido Crab
Famous for their seafood in general, the Hokkaido crab is something you must eat on a trip to Sapporo. Hokkaido’s cold water is excellent for crab fishing, and there are three main types of crabs (kani) including snow crabs, king crabs, and hairy crabs. They’re best eaten fresh, but they can be incredibly expensive. In Sapporo, head to the jogai market near to the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market. While you can’t purchase from the actual Wholesale Market or wander through it, at the jogai market there are restaurants and smaller stalls for individuals to buy a range of seafood, vegetables, and fruits. You’ll see crabs on display on ice or in tanks, and ultra-fresh.
6. Uni (Sea Urchin)
Fished from the northern oceans in Hokkaido, uni or sea urchin is a delicacy in Sapporo, but a divisive one at that. Uni from Hokkaido is considered to be the best in Japan, with a sweet but balanced flavor that has a strong essence of the ocean. It’s known for being smoother and creamier in texture than your average uni, with a distinct bold (and almost offensive) color. If you can handle the texture and the price tag, uni from Hokkaido is the best in Japan. On a rice bowl or in sushi, you can get it everywhere in Sapporo.
7. Hotate (Scallops)
Hokkaido is one of Japan’s richest fishing areas, producing half a million high-quality scallops each year. Scallops or hotate are a must-eat when visiting Sapporo, as they’re the freshest and the best! Japanese scallops are naturally quite fleshy and reasonably big in size, with a flavor that’s gentle yet balanced on the palate. The texture of hotate from Hokkaido is both firm and melt-in-the-mouth, and simply to die for if you’re a fan of scallops; have them flame-grilled or raw.
8. Dairy Products
Milk! Cheese! Ice cream! Sapporo’s got it all. As Hokkaido has plenty of space to host dairy farms, dairy products from the north are known for being extra creamy and delicious. Happy cows in Hokkaido not only make delicious meat, but products like yogurt, milk, cheese, and butter are the best to eat in Sapporo. Nearby dairy farms are worth considering for a visit, to get up close and personal with that sweet, sweet cheese (and other delicious dairy delights).
9. Soft Cream
As an extension of dairy products, we’ll break it down for you and say nice and clearly that you should definitely try soft cream, pronounced sofuto-kuriimu in Japanese. Again due to the dairy farms in Hokkaido, the quality of ice cream in Sapporo is amazing, with so many different companies and flavors to try. We give the green light to any ice cream product in Hokkaido, because it's guaranteed to be tasty and creamy, lovely in summer and totally worth the pain in winter. You’ll find soft cream everywhere in Sapporo.
10. Choux Cream & Sweets
A sweet treat influenced by French pastries, a choux cream or shu-kuriimu is an airy, round choux pastry filled with cream, custard, or any kind of fluffy flavored filling. You can pick these up anywhere in Japan from a convenience store near you, however, the ones made in Hokkaido from delicious local milk are absolutely delicious, seriously on the next level. A number of omiyage souvenir sweet companies have their headquarters in Hokkaido, again benefiting from the local produce and dairy farms, selling not only cream-based desserts like soft cream and choux creams, but also every type of cake and cookie you could imagine. Shiroi Koibito (by Ishiya), Kitakaro, and Rokkatei are some of the big local confectionary companies you should check out while in Sapporo. The Shiroi Koibito (“White Lovers”) Park and the factory are just on the outskirts of the city, for some wintery Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory vibes. It can get a bit out of control, but sweet shop-hopping in Sapporo is a must-do to taste all the wild sweets and buy souvenirs to take home.
1. Soup Curry
Hokkaido is famous for being the birthplace of soup curry in Japan, with a number of restaurants in Sapporo specializing in it. It’s a blend of original herbs and spices and has a soup that’s more watery yet much more intensely flavored than regular Japanese curry. Particularly comforting on a wintery day in Sapporo, soup curry is also great for vegetarians, as it’s typically served with a whole lot of vegetables, making it a pretty nutritious and healthy meal. Delicious local produce such as eggplants, lotus roots, pumpkin, and more, are usually served, but some jingisukan, or BBQ meat, is also a tasty soup curry addition. You’ll easily find soup curry in Sapporo, with a number of shops trying to keep up with its popularity.
2. Jingisukan (“Genghis Khan”)
Jingisukan, the Japanese way of saying “Genghis Khan,” is a popular style of lamb or mutton barbeque that’s famous in Hokkaido, named after the Mongolian emperor as lamb is commonly eaten in Mongolia. A barbeque of jingisukan is a must-eat in Sapporo, or at least the lamb meat in general, as it’s difficult to come by in mainland Japan. In most variants, the grill is shaped like a helmet, reminiscent of Mongolian emperor, Genghis Khan, himself, and the dipping sauces for jingisukan tend to be more garlicky, adding a bit of flair from Hokkaido. Generally speaking, Japanese barbecue meat, or yakiniku, is especially delicious in Sapporo due to the high quality of meat available in the area. Thin slices of meat grilled over charcoal or a gas heated hot plate, it’s everywhere in Japan yet more delicious in Hokkaido. Their meats are such high quality and they have great access to a range of premium domestic beef products (wagyu). With a side of fresh vegetables from local farms, you should definitely eat yakiniku or jingisukan in Sapporo to grill some of the best meats in Japan.
3. Miso Ramen
Ramen of all different regional varieties in Japan are quite frankly delicious and diverse in their own ways, but Sapporo’s famous miso ramen is world-famous. Miso enriched with a pork bone broth is particularly delicious and hearty during the cold weather in Sapporo, but still delicious all year round. Made from fresh ingredients sourced locally from Hokkaido, miso ramen is diverse as it is delicious, with many regional variations throughout the island let alone the whole of Japan. Ramen Yokocho in the city of Sapporo has a number of outstanding ramen restaurants with different regional varieties from across Hokkaido.
4. Butter Corn Ramen
Yet another ramen dish, but a Sapporo signature dish for sure, is butter corn ramen. An ingenious combination originating from Hokkaido, butter and corn in a ramen dish is actually really common in Sapporo, a really delicious variation on miso ramen in particular. As corn and butter are both prized products from Hokkaido, it was a risk to mix them together with miso but the idea certainly paid off. A generous chunk of Hokkaido butter melting into a miso broth makes it richer and a little creamy, while the addition of local corn gives the dish a bit of sweetness. Particularly in winter when Sapporo’s temperature plummets well into the minuses, it’s a comforting and hearty meal to warm you up.
5. Ishikari Nabe
Named after the town where it originated in Hokkaido, Ishikari nabe is a famous hotpot dish you should eat in Sapporo. The longest river in Hokkaido flows through Ishikari, a town famous for their salmon, so this local specialty is, unsurprisingly, flavored with salmon and white miso and packed with local vegetables and tofu, too. Some versions of this hot pot are finished off with some Hokkaido milk added to the broth to make it light and creamy, essentially using all of the elements of food that make the northern island so famous: seafood, miso, vegetables, and dairy products. How efficient!
6. Kaisendon & Sushi
Kaisen meaning seafood and don meaning bowl, a kaisendon is a rice bowl topped with different seafood and raw sashimi. You can eat kaisendon throughout Japan, but the fish markets in Sapporo have the freshest quality seafood ready to eat throughout the year. Some incredibly luxurious bowls have a bit of everything, so you could tick off Hokkaido crab, scallops, uni and more in one go if you’re prepared to fork out the cash. Markets such as Nijo Markets and the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market will be able to give you your seafood fix. Chirashizushi is another word for this kind of dish, translating to “scattered rice,” for the bits placed on top of the sushi bowl. By extension, you should definitely eat sushi in Sapporo for the same reasons. The excellent sashimi is fresh and delicious, it’s some of the best seafood available in Japan. Get a kaisendon with fat salmon roe, ikura, bursting with flavor and next level extravagance.
7. Zangi (Hokkaido-style Chicken Karaage)
In Hokkaido, fried chicken is referred to as zangi, as opposed to karaage as it’s called on mainland Japan, meaning fried chicken. In the case of karaage, it’s quite often chicken, but the term karaage does not only cover chicken, but vegetables and other ingredients too. The name zangi comes from a variation on the Chinese word for fried chicken, “zagi,” but with an “n” in the middle added to stand for “good luck.” Marinated with a thick, crispy batter from flour (but without egg, as is used in tempura batters), the same goes for zangi. The difference between the two is subtle, but it’s said that zangi has a thicker, slightly more intense batter and a more flavorsome marinade. Like karaage, you can get vegetable versions, and dishes such as octopus zangi or salmon zangi, with all the options for a deep-fried fix of your choice. The pieces of zangi chicken are always fat and succulent, and a simply irresistible snack to eat in Sapporo!
8. Sapporo Beer
Brewed since 1877, Sapporo is one of the oldest and most popular beer makers in Japan. Now a world-famous brew, the brand name is now synonymous with the city of Sapporo, which is also home to the Sapporo Beer Garden. Obviously run by the Sapporo beer brand, it’s got the Sapporo Beer Museum next door for the educational aspect of the company. It’s a historical redbrick building, and it’s a great place to drink Sapporo beers while chowing down on a jingisukan all-you-can-eat as well as sushi and Hokkaido crab. It almost goes without saying, drinking a Sapporo beer in Sapporo is an essential part of a Sapporo trip.
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Often referred to as the “gourmet heaven of Japan” or the “Kingdom of Food,” Hokkaido is an awesome destination to satisfy your belly, your heart, and your mind. Try amazing food all year round in Sapporo, where local harvests and seafood come together in a number of delicious local dishes and specialty sweets.