Enjoy Hokkaido Food Tourism
When one mentioned Hokkaido, images of snow-capped mountains, breathtaking natural scenery, fresh seafood and gorgeous hot springs start to flood the mind. Such is the impression that most visitors tend to miss other gems that this enchanting island has to offer. I hope through my travelogue, readers (especially those on self-drive vacation in the western region comprising Sapporo, Kuriyama, Ishikari and Niseko) will be able to tailor a more balanced trip. And yes, Hokkaido offers much more than a ski vacation. It is a foodie adventure wonderland too.
Other than skiing down powdery snow slopes and enjoying postcard scenery, travellers have another reason to visit Hokkaido – Food. Yes, Glorious Food! The amount of arable lands on this island is about a quarter that of the whole of Japan’s sum total. To put it in clearer perspective, the 1,148,000ha is about 16 times the size of Singapore! Little wonder that with favourable weather, good water supply, fertile soil and advanced farming techniques, Hokkaido has been able to achieve self-sufficiency rate of 197% recently according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. It is with this abundance of excellent food-related industries that the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau is aiming to step up the economy by increasing awareness of locally produced food and synergising it with the tourism framework. With the current favourable conversion rate for yen and the popularity of self-drive vacation, there is no better time than now to visit Hokkaido.
As most flights from Singapore typically involve an overnight flight to Chitose New Airport (the gateway to Hokkaido), do watch out for the beautiful colours of a new day as the plane flies over the Sea of Japan. This amazing sight will surely delight and ease you into a great adventure in Hokkaido.
Roadside Station (Michi No Eki) In Hokkaido
Travellers on self-drive holidays in Hokkaido will be pleased to know that there 117 roadside station as at this moment to ensure their road trips are an enjoyable experience. Each strategically located roadside station are equipped with ample free parking spaces, restrooms, breastfeeding rooms, convenience and souvenir stores, eateries and even children playgrounds.
Get up close with nature at Chitose Aquarium
One of the best ways to commence your Hokkaido vacation is a visit to the Chitose Aquarium. Just a 10min drive from Chitose Airport, this venue housed one of Japan’s first underwater observatories. Right under the Chitose River, you can view schools of salmon as they migrate upstream from September to October and also spawning activities in winter. Each season brings different natural underwater scenery as juvenile salmon swim by downstream in spring before they leave for the ocean and freshwater yamabe trout and Japanese dace in summer. Certainly, a great way to orientate yourself to the ecosystem, which is a big part of this island. In the picture of the Chitose River above, the mechanism within the red structure is a fish wheel designed to capture salmon swimming upstream. As many as 30,000 are caught daily during peak season. Fishery staff uses the catch to assist in enhancing hatching and salmon population.
Enjoy the freshest & tastiest Cream Puff and Milk Ice Cream in Niseko
Adjacent to Milk Kobo is Prativo, a popular chic eatery operated by the same owners as that of Milk Kobo. Prativo makes extensive use of the same milk from the Takahashi Farms and vegetables grown around the district. The dining area is designed such that all guests get to enjoy a gorgeous view of Mt. Yotei, known as the “mini Mt.Fuji” of Hokkaido. The delicious meals are reasonably priced and which explains the long queue. The restaurant opens for lunch daily with extensive vegetable buffet style with choice of one main course (meat, fish, pasta, etc). The restaurant does not accept advance booking while dinner is via reservation only (closed Tues and Wednesdays). My advice if you visit Milk Kobo earlier, don’t eat too much so that you can better enjoy the meal at Prativo. After lunch, you can return to Milk Kobo to buy some pastry to eat along the road trip.
Savour free natural spring water at Makkari Village
This privately owned natural spring really amazes me, especially for a city dweller from water-scarce Singapore. The clean fresh spring water from Mt.Yotei is naturally filtered and constantly gushes from the taps, The spring is maintained by the owner Mr. Kouji Yokouchi (above, right), 60, whose father set up the facility 25 years ago. Yokouchi-san’s father decided that the spring should be free for all who came and never charge anyone for the water. He also runs the Yokouchi Tourism Farm, which includes a farmers’ produce market and a tofu shop, which makes use of the spring water. A constant stream of locals can be seen driving their vehicles to the spring to fill up their water containers.
Experience Lily Bulb farming and cuisine at Makkari Village
Make your own Mochi and enjoy farm fresh meals at Kururu-no-Mori
The 110-seat restaurant is opened for lunch only during weekdays, with dinner available as well on weekends and national holidays (June to October only). They are closed on Mondays. Be sure to reserve a table as there can be a long queue of up to an hour during weekends. You will be spoilt for choice in the buffet styled spread with many choices. I wished I had four stomachs like a cow.
Discover Bibai, the birthplace of Yakitori
When in Bibai, you will definitely want to feast on yakitori, as this is the birthplace of the popular Japanese food. There are about thirty yakitori restaurants in this town alone. Yakitori is skewered chicken meat (and or chicken offal) grilled over charcoal fire. Something like our satay except that the portion is more hearty. You can also enjoy yakitori nabe (hotpot) with various side dishes. There is also chicken sashimi for those who are more adventurous. Yes, raw chicken! Only in Japan with its high food hygiene and quality standards can you find this dish.
One interesting observation that will differentiate first-timers from the experienced diners is by the way they place their order. The newbies call for “three of this and four of that” while the seasoned diners will just shout out orders of twenties and thirties. Such is the dining ambience in a local yakitori diner – warm and animated! Kampai!
Some packages come with free flow of beer but for those on self-drive trips, it’s not advisable to consume alcohol, of course. Should you be really tipsy, then you will need the service of “daiko” (a Japanese word that translate to mean “surrogate” or “to do something for someone.”) The service involves two licensed drivers coming to pick you up, one to drive the taxi and the other to drive your car to your destination. The service rate is usually about 1.5 times that of a taxi fare. But when you “drink, don’t drive” is the best motto.
Let your “spirits soar” with visits to Whisky and Sake distillery
Drinking plays an important role in Japanese society where drink session is typically conducted at meals to strengthen social or business ties. With its favourable weather and availability of quality ingredients, it’s no surprise that Japan produced some of the world’s most famous brands of alcohol and have over two thousand brewers. The two most renowned companies are Suntory, which produces Yamazaki, is located on the main island of Honshu and Nikka Whisky is located right here in Yoichi-Cho, Hokkaido. Entry is free to this renowned distillery and there’s even a free whisky-sampling in the spacious hall at the end of the brewery tour. I am not much of a drinker but I have to say the scale of this distillery is something of a whisky “theme park” and quite entertaining. The complimentary guided tour is in Japanese language but you can opt for the free and easy walkabout by logging on their website with your smartphone or tablet for your eGuide.
For sake lovers, you will be delighted at the range of sake from renowned brewers like Kobayashi-Shuzo, located in Kuriyama city. This brewer Fukuoka branch garnered grand prize in the 2014 North Kyusus Sake and Shochu Award. Sake is Japanese rice wine made by fermenting rice that has been polished to remove the bran. Unlike wine which is generally between 9-16% alcohol content, undiluted sake contains between 18-20% (although it’s generally diluted to 15% prior to bottling). As in all liquor distilleries houses, free sampling is available so be advised that moderation is key, especially for those on self-drive.
Buy premium fresh local produces from North Farm Stock
When you want to bring back Hokkaido premium local produce, you will be amply delighted by North Farm Stock products. This is a wholesaler cum retailer of the finest local produce that embodies the highest quality ingredients of the Iwamizawa prefecture. The items are of high quality and certainly worth the premium. For e.g, their popular bottled tomato juice (720ml), 160 mini high-quality tomatoes went into each bottle. No preservatives are added, just 0.2% salt content (low sodium type) to aid in sterilization so that the taste is not compromised. There is also a cafe at the shop upper level selling beverages and tasty snacks like their waffles.Their wide range of products like pasta sauces, jam pickles, pancake pre-mixes and sweets are of excellent grade and also make great gifts items for friends back home, I bought their honey and strawberry jam with milk and after using it at home, regretted not buying more.
Experience traditional salmon nabe (hotpot) in Ishikari
When in Ishikari, located north of Sapporo, do make plan for a traditional salmon nabe (hotpot) meal at the town. Much of this town centres around fishing on the Sea of Japan and Ishikari River, which at 286km is the third longest in Japan and longest in Hokkaido. In September every year, the town comes alive with a 2-day salmon festival where Thanksgiving is celebrated with salmon. However, if you do not like crowds, it’s always a good plan to enjoy a salmon meal in a local eatery. One good eatery is Kintaitei, a 130 years old family-run eatery. The food is prepared traditional style, service brisk and unobtrusive, all in a quaint and peaceful setting. The owner even provides armrests which raised comfort level when seated on the tatami mat.
Ship back chilled seafood direct from Hokkaido to your doorstep
When you love what you saw and wanted the items to be delivered home (particularly chilled or frozen seafood), fret not. The Hokkaido export division recently spearheaded the Hokkaido Export Platform (HOP) to facilitate the shipment of Hokkaido local produces right to your door step within 1 week from order. Currently, this service is available only for shipment to Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Do check out the attached link for participating shops at Central, Northern Southern and Eastern area. There is a conveniently located HOP-affiliated store at New Chitose Airport departure hall shopping area. at You can continue with the lovely Hokkaido seafood dining experience when you reached home.
Footnote: This Food Monitor Trip is sponsored by the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau. All pictures are copyrighted to Jensen Chua
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