From fatty miso pork ramen to the best cream puffs you’ll ever taste, Hokkaido is truly Japan’s ‘kingdom of food.’ My friend L and I recently visited Sapporo with the aim of eating our way through town. Here is a curated food guide to the local gems we found & would recommend. This is a follow-up to my 36 hours in Kyoto: Food & Omiyage. Different city, different must-eats. Enjoy!
9 a.m. Arrive at Sapporo Station
Fly directly into Chitose Airport and take the airport express to Sapporo Station (~30 minutes). Sapporo Main Station is at the heart of the city’s central business district. Make sure to fully utilize the underpass that connects Sapporo Station with all of Sapporo’s major department stores (Stellar Place, AEON, etc.). It is a blessing especially in snowy weather and you will marvel at this well-designed & extremely convenient underpass.
11 a.m. Visit Kitakaro Honkan for brunch
A 10-minute walk from Sapporo Station, Kitakaro is a beautiful confectionary shop housed in Sapporo’s oldest library. Renovated by Pritzker-winning architect Tadao Andao, Kitakaro retains its high ceilings and every bit of old world glamour. As the Japanese love their interiors to be clean and white, this confectionary shop is truly where minimal design meets dessert.
Head upstairs first to Kitakaro Cafe and grab a table by the bookshelves. While the menu is light, the daily pasta choices are super tasty and fresh. Make sure to grab a cup of coffee & order a ‘Hokkaido Cream Puff’ to share. Fluffy sweet cream will spill out as you break Kitakaro’s signature dessert open.
1 p.m. Shop at natural beauty brand Shiro
While Shiseido and SK-II may be popular internationally, Shiro is the niche brand from Hokkaido when it comes to skincare. Shiro is known for using all of Hokkaido’s finest ingredients (such as Hakodate kelp and Kuriyama rice) in its skincare and moisturizing products. Alternatively, Shiro’s lifestyle products such as nicely packaged honey, jams, and curries are also worth browsing. Avid Shiro lovers can also visit Shiro’s flagship store & cafe in Sunagawa–it’s quite a beautiful outpost.
Go off the beaten track and visit SATURDAYS Chocolate for a cup of creamy hot cocoa. SATURDAYS is a bean-to-bar chocolate cafe in Sapporo that offers small-batch chocolates with unique flavors. Walking into SATURDAYS is like walking into your grandmother’s kitchen as she bakes chocolate chip cookies (indulgent!). Order a ‘hot cocoa+baked goods’ set and while you wait, don’t miss out on the free chocolate tasting–the Genmai Puff (Ghana chocolate with roasted rice puffs) is amazing!
4 p.m. Warm-up with a soup curry from Ouchi Curry & Gohan
Cold weather calls for continuous comfort foods. Share a bowl of soup curry at Ouchi Curry and have some fun picking your toppings and spice level. Soup curry is one of those Japanese twists on foreign cuisine (yoshoku) that ends up being loved by the locals. Originating from Hokkaido, soup curry is a blend of chicken & pork broth with a ton of spices folded in. In Japanese cuisine, ‘spicy’ nearly always means slightly sweet and barely spicy. But when it comes to Hokkaido soup curry, be warned that the spice level has a peppery kick!
6 p.m. Browse through some home goods at Pasque Island
Before dinner, head to Pasque Island for some laidback jazz tunes and lifestyle goods. Travelers and locals alike will appreciate the effortless beauty of this small yet eclectic store. Run by Japanese owner Tomonari-san, Pasque Island curates items from local designers & artists. While he may not seem like the chatty type, Tomonori-san is known to share his interesting life story (from New York to Sapporo) and photography portfolio with those that ask. So don’t be shy!
On your way out, pick up a couple souvenirs to take home. Pasque Island has a great collection of Japanese ceramic bowls you didn’t realize you wanted until you see them in person.
End your day with a bottle of sake & some A5 wagyu beef at Gyu no Ishizaki. Even if you have tried A5 Wagyu Beef before, Hokkaido Snow Beef is among the rarest find in the Wagyu family. The Hokkaido wagyu cows have an extra layer of marbling from the snowy conditions the cattle grow in, creating a more buttery taste. At Gyu no Ishizaki, you can select between a light shabu shabu style or slightly sweeter sukiyaki style. Your server will help you prepare set menus alongside that so just sit back & relax. Pro tip: order one pot to share but add extra servings of snow beef.
10 a.m. Train over to the romantic town of Otaru
If you’ve ever watched the iconic Japanese film Love Letter, you’ll probably have heard of Otaru. A port city in Hokkaido, Otaru is only 45 minutes from Sapporo Station. Take the JR train from Sapporo and enjoy the scenic ride with snowy mountains on one side and the Sea of Japan on the other. In the winter time, Otaru town is particularly charming–cozy stores next to each other, some with mulled wine and many with festive decorations.
For food, visit Otaru’s Seafood Market to try some fresh seafood and kaisendon. Afterwards, visit one of the town’s many LeTAO stores for something sweet. LeTAO is a brand originally from Otaru and now one of the most premium confectionary makers in Japan. Using rich Hokkaido milk to churn out their signature ‘Double Fromage’ cheesecakes, LeTAO also offers fresh cheese danishes in their Otaru stores.
If there is Sarutahiko in Tokyo, then Cafe Morihiko is Hokkaido’s coffee roaster counterpart. After Otaru, head back into Sapporo and visit Cafe Morihiko for a cup of hand-drip coffee. The Morihiko Blend is excellent and goes well with the cafe’s many sweets. Expect a slight wait but once you are seated, marvel at the cafe’s old wooden interiors. Avid coffee lovers from all over the world visit Cafe Morihiko to experience a cup of coffee.
5 p.m. Pick up an award-winning bread loaf at Nogami
Stroll over to Nogami, an award-winning bread shop. Called ‘Nama Shokupan’ or ‘Fresh Bread,’ Nogami’s signature bread loaf is extra fluffy and soft inside. Originally from Osaka, Nogami uses raw and fresh ingredients to achieve this iconic shokupan people wait hours for. Luckily, the Hokkaido outpost is a little calmer although no less popular. The fresh smell of bread as you walk into the warm bakery will be a welcoming contrast to the cold weather outside. Locals order their loaves of bread ahead of time but do drop in and try your luck–you may walk away with a couple perfect loaves of bread.
For dinner, head over to Sapporo Station. Baikohken 梅光軒 offers classic Hokkaido-style ramen that is rich, flavorful and hearty. Slurp up a bowl of ramen here and have an ice cold beer with it. The pork bone broth and soy sauce broth are both worth trying so order a couple diffferent bowls to share. Fun fact: Baikohken in Sapporo is actually an offshoot of the Michelin-recommended ramen store in Asahikawa.
Still hungry? Head on over to Sapporo’s Ramen Yokocho. It is the birthplace of miso ramen & perfect for satisfying your late night cravings.
9 p.m. Omiyage Shopping at Chitose Airport
As you head out from Chitose Airport, get there early to do some omiyage shopping. Instead of staying around the International Departures Hall, the Domestic Departures terminal (5 minute walk) is the better place to shop with its variety of fresh & packaged gifts to take home. Calbee potato chips and Shiroi Koibito cookies are classics but also check out the freshly churned butters and sake selection. Foodies will love North Farm Stock, a local brand that uses only the best Hokkaido ingredients to make assorted jams, sauces and more. Take a bit of Hokkaido back with you to savor at home, you won’t regret it!
From Hokkaido with love,