I’ve never felt this way about any other country I’ve travelled to before, but every time I return to Japan, it feels just like coming home—I often tell people. There’s an unexplainable wave of comfort and familiarity whenever I roam the streets of Japan, and settling in for a long, comfortable Shinkansen ride will never get old.
For this reason, I’ve visited eight different cities in Japan during my visits, but regrettably, Hokkaido has yet to find its way into my itinerary. So writing this listicle has, in a way, allowed me to figuratively take a little trip to the snowy island—one that is long overdue, if I do say so myself.
Eating one’s way through a country or city truly is arguably one of the best ways to learn about its culture, and that’s exactly what we’re advocating here. Hakodate, one of Hokkaido’s main cities, is best known for its fresh seafood and gorgeous views, but here are 8 dishes that you must try before you leave the stunning place.
1. Genghis Khan (grilled lamb/mutton)
Before you jump into khan-clusions about the very specifically-named dish, perhaps I can offer some explanation. It got its name from the pre-war Japanese belief that Mongolian soldiers particularly favoured lamb, but the fact that the dish is particularly popular in both the northern island of Hokkaidō and in China might offer some indication as well.
The Jingisukan, or Genghis Khan in English, is a Japanese grilled mutton dish prepared on a metal skillet or grill. It can be enjoyed in all its tasty simplicity, or over rice for a full-bodied lunch. It comes as no surprise that Hokkaido is the place to give Jingisukan a try, seeing how it’s where the majority of Japan’s sheep farms are located.
If you’re feeling up to it, challenge yourself to an all-you-can-eat to charcoal-grilled Genghis Khan at Sumibi-tei, Hakodate—one of the best places to relish the dish that tastes as unique as it is named.
Sumibi-tei: 22-28 Honcho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0011, Japan
2. Kaiten Sushi (conveyor belt sushi)
Sushi served atop conveyor belts might be aplenty in Singapore, but having the novel dining experience in somewhere as authentic as Japan itself truly still hits differently. After all, the thrill of snatching your picks off the belt before it leaves your view forever will rarely get old.
Hakodate takes its kaiten sushi, or conveyor belt sushi, to the next level with unparalleled sashimi-grade fish auctioned directly from the market daily. Straight from the fishery to your plate, it really doesn’t get any fresher than this.
Savour ocean-caught ebi, hotate, sake, ikura, and crab at restaurant Kantaro Sushi, which has been serving only the freshest fish since its first establishment opened alongside the Tsugaru Straits in Hokkaido.
Kantaro Sushi: 14-4 Ugauracho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0023, Japan
3. Hakodate Shio Ramen (salt-flavoured ramen)
I’ve made it my personal mission to try every type of ramen from as many prefectures as I possibly can whenever I visit the land of the rising sun, and I can vouch for the deliciousness that is shio ramen.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss its deceptively plain-sounding namesake—you’d be surprised at just how much flavour and depth a simple salt broth holds. The clear broth makes way for the shio to shine just enough. If you seek the comfort of a piping hot bowl of noodles without the heaviness of a creamy, tonkotsu broth, then this is absolutely what you’re looking for.
Have the shio ramen as it is—or, if you’re feeling up to it—try its other equally delicious counterparts like curry ramen and gomoku (five kinds) ramen at Ajisai Ramen, Hakodate.
Ajisai Ramen: 12-7 Toyokawacho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0065, Japan
4. Kaisen Don (Raw seafood rice bowl)
I get it, it’s impossible to pick just one fish when having sashimi, so why not have them altogether in a kaisen don? The iconic raw seafood rice bowl has long been a hallmark of Japanese cuisine, and is widely enjoyed for its variety.
A particularly popular iteration of the dish at Hakodate’s Morning Market is the Dancing Squid Don which is exactly as its name suggests. Upon pouring soy sauce over raw whole squid, it begins to wriggle its tentacles, almost as if it’s dancing—or trying to make its escape, depending on how you see it.
This is due to a chemical reaction between the squid’s tentacles and the soy sauce’s high sodium concentration. So rest assured, you’re not actually devouring a poor live squid at its life’s last moments.
Ichikatei Tabiji: 9-19 Wakamatsucho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0063, Japan
5. Sapporo Soup Curry
Gaining popularity in Singapore as of late, the Sapporo soup curry is a fun alternative to enjoy the familiar broth in a brand new way. In a local context, this style of preparation would probably be commonly identified as pao fan, a well-adorned “poached rice” dish here.
Often relished with seafood or chicken, there’s a great balance of umami, creaminess, and spiciness when it comes to the soup curry. The experience of wolfing down hot, fiery soup indoors will be made all the better in winter time, juxtaposed against fluffy snow gently coating the trees and hills outside.
Okushiba: 7-１５ Yanagawacho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0015, Japan
6. Lucky Pierrot Burgers
There’s just something about popular food chains and joints that are unique to different counties and states—almost as if they’re embedded deep into the place’s culture. Lucky Pierrot, a burger joint found only in Hakodate, Hokkaido, is no different.
It’d be a shame to miss the taste of the elusive Original THE Futtocho Burger, which supposedly only sees 20 portions served a day, at the exclusive chain you literally can’t find anywhere else. Word has it that the Chinese Chicken Burger is also a popular favourite amongst those who frequent Lucky Pierrot, and interestingly, the special burger birthed out of the founder’s intention to create a menu incorporating Chinese flavours as he used to run a Chinese restaurant in Chiba.
If you’re looking to bring home a piece of the place with you, snag some Lucky Pierrot merch—T-shirts, mugs, and totes that are sure to stand out anywhere else.
Lucky Pierrot: 23-18 Suehirocho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0053, Japan (main branch)
7. Crab Buns
For the avid fan of all things bready, buns should make for the heartiest of snacks. Picture it, crab bun in one hand, and camera in the other—a duo that makes sightseeing all the yummier.
Munch on croquettes, buns, and skewers at Asaichi Teahouse, where you’ll find a spread of seafood options such as squid, crab, and salmon. They’ve also got an interesting selection of ice cream to pair with your nibbles, such as apricot, orange, melon, and sesame, that work in tandem to provide a wholesome snacking experience.
Crab Man Chaya: Morning Market, 9-19 Wakamatsucho, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0063, Japan
8. Tofu Shiratama parfait
Made only from tofu and shiratamako (sweet rice flour), the Tofu Shiratama parfait is a light, popular palate-cleanser that is as delectable as it is colourful. The pink mochi-like balls are coloured with cherry blossom petals, while the green is—you guessed it—matcha.
The beauty of this dish lies in the balance of azuki beans and goma (sesame) ice cream crowned with fluffy, chewy mochi balls. To top it all off, frozen fruits such as banana, strawberries, and kiwi encircle the dessert to make for a truly refreshing end to any meal.
A quaint minka laden with well-trimmed bonsai, Japanese sweets cafe Kikuzumi serving such zenzai was the inspiration behind Saint Snow’s house—a school idol group in anime Love Live! Sunshine!!. According to an avid fan who visited the place, details of the house featured in the anime are strikingly similar to the real-life cafe; a rare delight for hopefuls out there.
Kikuzumi: 14-5 Motomachi, Hakodate, Hokkaido 040-0054, Japan
Now that you’ve virtually ‘eaten’ your way through Hakodate, Hokkaido via this list, it’s time to put this new-found knowledge to use and visit the beautiful city for yourself when travel once again becomes possible.
But don’t just take my word for it, see all the dishes I’ve talked about in action for yourself below—I don’t know about you, but watching the video alone is enough to work up an appetite for my next visit to Hokkaido.