Japan is definitely a place that ranks high on every food-lover’s list. The Japanese consider food preparation an art, and you can feel (and taste) this pretty much anywhere you eat– yes, even in the konbini! From using fresh ingredients to ensuring every dish is prepared just right, it’s not at all difficult to appreciate Japanese cuisine no matter which region you have it in Japan.
In Hokkaido, the biggest food stars are their amazing seafood and dairy. As one of Japan’s main farming regions, they’re also known for their fresh produce, corn, and the super expensive Yubari melon. But of course the ramen is something to write home about too! Plus, Hokkaido is the only place you can have the jingisukan BBQ experience in Japan. (More on that later.)
Although Hokkaido is considered a “region” in itself, it’s interesting to note that the cities within Hokkaido still have their own specialties. For instance, Hakodate swears by their shio-based ramen while Sapporo is regarded as the birthplace of miso ramen. Oh, and let’s not forget that Sapporo is the birthplace of Sapporo beer!
There’s certainly something different to discover in every part of Nippon, but today I’m showing you some of the yummies I think you should not miss when you visit Sapporo.
For the record, this is not an ultimate and definitive list of what to eat in Sapporo, but considering I got to visit for just 3 short days, I think I managed to try out many of their specialties. On my next visit, I’ll make sure to have lots of Hokkaido dairy, lots of uni, and a piping hot bowl of Soup Curry, but you can bet I’ll have more of the following food as well.
Without further ado, here are 7 truly delicious foodie experiences in Sapporo that you will surely enjoy!
1. Have a Jingisukan and Beer night
I never expected the Japanese to have a dish named after Mongolian warlord Genghis Khan, but here it is. Following the Japanese pronunciation, jingisukan ジンギスカン is a Japanese grilled dish typically consisting of mutton or lamb.
The name of the dish is rumored to have come from the way Mongolian soldiers used to cook their lamb– by placing the meat on top of their helmets, and then placing their helmets over open fire. Talk about resourceful!
That etymology seems like a sound one considering how modern-day jingisukan is cooked in an interestingly shaped convex metal skillet with a knob of lamb fat keeping it greased. The meat is typically placed over a bed of vegetables to keep them from burning, because they are so thinly sliced. The good news is, you’re going to like eating the vegetables because the meat juices would’ve dripped onto them. (Also, the pumpkin in Sapporo is pretty amazing.)
We were able to try jingisukan on our first night in Sapporo, at the mightily popular Sapporo Beer Garden. Yes, that Sapporo Beer.
Sapporo Beer Garden is located within the Sapporo Garden Park, a “beer town” made up of brick buildings. Here you can also find a Beer Museum where you can learn more about the development of Sapporo Beer and how it pretty much shot into international stardom. It’s funny how a lot of people don’t seem to know that Sapporo Beer comes from a town called… you guessed it! Sapporo.
I heard that they do beer tasting sessions here as part of a tour, but if you don’t have time for that (like us) you can still get a taste of Sapporo’s world-famous beer by going for the all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink meal option at the Sapporo Beer Garden.
¥4,000 per person will give you a memorable, slightly smokey barbecue experience, and you will leave here smelling like grilled meat for days. In colder seasons, you get a plastic bag to store your coats and jackets in. Use it! Otherwise you will have no choice but to send your outerwear to the laundry. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. 😝
The Kessel Hall is the main dining area at the Sapporo Beer Garden, and as you can probably tell, the ambiance is pretty impressive. Sitting prominently inside is a brewing cauldron that dates back to 1912. The whole place is kept relatively smoke-free, but if after a couple rounds of beer you find things a little hazy, it’s probably not the barbecue anymore!
Initially as you sit at your table, you get a plate of meat, a plate of mixed veggies, and a plate of assorted seafood. The meat is unlimited but the seafood is not unfortunately! Doesn’t matter though, because the mutton really manages to steal the show with its juicy tenderness.
The meat is partnered with a dip that’s a mix of soy sauce, grated onions, grated apple, sugar, and some spices. Since the sauce leans more on the sweet side, it does a nice job complementing the rich savoury flavour of the mutton. Dip those babies in there and consume with delicious, sticky Japanese rice.
As for the beer, I’m not very good at describing the taste since I am hardly a connoisseur– okay I don’t really drink unless it’s a very special occasion lol– but after having a taste of the Sapporo beer, what I do know is that it goes down very smoothly. However I did notice that the alcohol can hit you pretty early on. Most of my companions started feeling tipsy on their second mug. (To be fair, it’s a fairly bug mug.)
Since I just had a couple of sips I had a chance to enjoy its sweet fruity flavour. I think the taste is milder than some other beers I’ve tried.
If you’re not a beer person, you can pick from any of the drinks on this tabletop menu. Drinking Sapporo Beer at the beer garden isn’t strictly a requirement.
I actually ended up trying a couple of other types of drinks from here, including the non-alcoholic version of Sapporo Beer. The green stuff is sweet Melon Soda, mostly for kids.
I found the Non-Alcoholic Sapporo Beer to be considerably blander than the real deal. Skip it! If you’re not into any of the drinks on the menu, they also have special beer cocktails on a separate menu, which you have to pay extra for. Very interesting… I kind of wish I bought into this Chocolate Beer.
You don’t necessarily have to come to Sapporo Beer Garden to have a jingisukan feast. There are other cheaper but equally good restaurants all over Hokkaido so you might want to check around for options close to where you will be staying. Still, I definitely think that a beer and jingisukan night is a must when you’re in Hokkaido. As our guide told us, you can’t find this kind of experience anywhere else in Japan!
2. Slurp your way to the bottom of a Miso Ramen bowl
In Sapporo, there are two popular locations where you can go to get your ramen fix: Ramen Alley in Susukino, and Ramen Kyowakoku located in ESTA. These two places are literally a gathering of multiple ramen shops that specialise in ramen from different parts of Hokkaido. Seriously, how convenient is that?
Between the two, Ramen Kyowakoku (or Ramen Republic) is newer and more spacious. It’s also more accessible since it is located at the 10th floor of the ESTA Mall, directly connected to the JR Sapporo Station. This place is inspired by the original Ramen Alley in Susukino so I reckon the ambiance is different when you eat there, but I’ve been told the quality of the ramen in both locations is similar.
Here at Ramen Kyowakoku, 8 of the top and most popular ramen restaurants in Hokkaido have been gathered in one place. You can literally try ramen from a different part of Hokkaido for each day of the week, plus one day!
There are two ways you can pick among the many ramen restaurants here, and the first is to go where your favourite ramen style is served. The second way? Find the longest line. Here in Japan, if you see people lining up in front of a restaurant, chances are the food there is the real deal.
There were several ramen shops with long lines however, so we ended up asking the advice of our Japanese guides. Luckily they recommended a place that served Sapporo’s Miso Ramen. Exactly what I wanted to try!
There is a restaurant called the Shirakaba Sansou 白樺山荘 inside the Ramen Kyowakoku which specialises in Sapporo’s signature miso ramen. There was a line that stretched to the back of the restaurant but waiting didn’t take too long. The place is fairly small, but it’s not that difficult to move around. It’s fairly cozy, with a dated interior design that gives an old-Japan feel.
They actually take your order as you wait in line, but they also have their menu on the table so I am able to snap a photo of it for you guys. As you can see, they only have a handful of ramen dishes, but this is normal for ramen restaurants, even the ones here in Manila. They will only serve you what they’re really good at. Apart from miso, they have a shoyu and shio option as well, plus some small bites like gyoza.
What we went for is the specialty of the house. It is the most expensive ramen on the menu, but since it looked like it had everything I would want, I was very much ready to shell out the money.
When the ramen came out, I realized exactly what I was getting for my ¥1,150. This bowl is absolutely ginormous! It’s big enough for two persons, and on a normal day I probably wouldn’t be able to finish this all by myself. But since I hadn’t eaten for hours and was spending a lot of time out in the cold, my appetite was on fire. I even had space for one of the free eggs on the table!
I do believe this was the BEST ramen I’ve ever eaten so far. It lit up my tastebuds from the moment I first had a sip of the soup. I could taste the garlic and peppery kick within the miso base, and it had a bit of heat presumably from some togarashi.
This ramen is accompanied by thick, firm, and pale yellow noodles; the kind you’d want to keep slurping. The bamboo shoots and wood ear shrooms provide a little bit of crunch. And the chashu… Oh man. The chashu here redefined my standard for “melt-in-your-mouth”!
My friend Yoshke ordered some shumai as his side dish. I thought it was awesome that they pan-fried this ala-gyoza to get that browned crunchy bottom. I do find it unusual how the Japanese serve their dimsum with mustard though. I always like it with chili and soy sauce.
If you happen to find yourself shopping at the JR Sapporo Station, I think a visit to this restaurant (or the Ramen Kyowakoku in general) will be worth your time. Your tummy certainly will thank you!
3. Consume all the fresh seafood you can muster
The island of Hokkaido is surrounded by some very ideal marine environment, so it’s no surprise their seafood topnotch. In particular, their crabs and sashimi are to die for! There are four main types of crabs that are abundant in Hokkaido, and you can sample them when you go to restaurants that specialise in crab dinners.
We ate at this buffet place in Sapporo called Japanese Buffet Dining Den, which also offers unlimited yakiniku. Restaurants like these are great for hitting two birds with one stone, but if you like seafood, just the unlimited crabs alone will be enough of a highlight. The crabs here are boiled in salt water to help bring out their flavours and to keep the skin nice and soft. Delicious!
If you have the means to prepare crab where you’re staying (like an AirBnB, or a friend’s home in Sapporo), then you can head to wet markets like Sapporo’s Central Wholesale Market (Jyogai Ichiba) to buy live crabs. The market is the best place to get an education on how to differentiate Hokkaido’s four main crab species.
The easiest to identify is the Horsehair Crab, because as you can see above, it’s quite literally a hairy one! There’s also the Snow Crab, which looks more like a normal crab except it has super long and skinny legs. Inside those legs are soft and stringy flesh! (An example of this crab can be found in the next number.)
The Red King Crab above is the most expensive among the four, I believe. It has these tiny spikes all over its body down to its long and pointy legs. Although they have lots of meat inside, the legs of the King Crab are just a bit slimmer compared to the next type of crab I’m going to mention…
The Hanasaki Crab is also called the Queen Crab, and like the King Crab it has spikes all over its body, except the queen’s are sharper and larger in number. Among all the crabs I’ve mentioned, this one seems to have put on more weight! Its legs and body are much fatter.
Crabs aren’t the only seafood Hokkaido is known for however. Any form of fresh seafood here is amazing. In particular, the kaisen don meal we had was my absolute favourite one, because I do believe that eating fresh seafood in pure sashimi form is the best way to appreciate it.
Kaisen Don is an all-encompassing term for a bowl of fresh raw seafood over warm, vinegar-less rice. In most restaurants, you are free to order the seafood toppings of your choice. When we ate at Wakakoma, we had the Assorted Seafood Kaisen Don so we could have a taste of everything.
I love all sorts of sashimi, but I think you should definitely try those sweet popping balls of ikura in your Sapporo kaisen don. I’ve never eaten ikura as good as this! I’m happy there was an abundance of it in this bowl, but I wish there was uni too. (Another highly recommended food to eat in Hokkaido!)
Despite not having uni, I really can’t complain too much about this kaisen don. Having all this fresh deliciousness for just ¥2,000 is a bargain!
You can see more of my favourite snapshots from the Sapporo Central Wholesale Market HERE.
4. Have great conversations over steaming Japanese hotpots
One of the things I love the most is a good hotpot. In Hokkaido, they have a famous one called the Ishikari Nabe, basically a salmon-based hot pot soup dish with assorted toppings, sweet veggies, and udon noodles. The one we had at Umie had seafood added in, specifically the long legs of the Snow Crab. There was also some huge prawns and fish cakes in this hot pot. If you eat it together with the udon it is very filling even sans the rice that comes with the meal.
Apart from this type of nabemono, you can also go with one that’s meat based with no soup. This meat dish we sampled was like a hotpot version of the jingisukan, but with the sauce already added on top of the meat and veggies in the pot. You mix this up to get everything nice and cooked, and the best part is how the sauce manages to coat everything.
This is so good, especially on a cold winter day. For this type of hotpot without soup, eating with rice is highly recommended!
5. Pay a visit to the Ishiya Chocolate Factory
If you’ve checked out articles on snacks to buy from Japan, chances are you’ve probably come across the words Shiroi Koibito. They’re one of the most famous Japanese cookies tourists like to take home as gifts, and their home is right here in Sapporo.
In fact, the factory where they are being produced has become quite the attraction for children and adults alike. From the outside you will already see the sweets and candy theme of the Ishiya Chocolate Factory, reminiscent of the candy house from Hansel & Gretel. It promises a world of delight inside, doesn’t it?
In the summer, this outside area boasts a beautiful rose garden, but it turns into a snowy playpark for children come winter. There is also a popular mechanical dolls show out here called “Chocolate Carnival” that begins on top of every hour.
Taking the tour through the factory turned museum-park, you will see a grand collection of trinkets and memorabilia taken mostly from Europe. It really showcases a love for sweets and teatime.
But as someone who loves to bake, the highlight for me was seeing the Shiroi Koibito production line, which is of course part of the ¥600 tour. You walk through an in-depth and informative behind-the-scenes look at how the Shiroi Koibito is made from start to finish.
Just look at how meticulous the workers are in ensuring you get only the perfectly shaped Shiroi Koibito cookie! Any cookie with cracks and an uneven shape get rejected, and each batch is taste-tested to make sure they’ve got it just right.
For those of you who are hearing about Shiroi Koibito for the first time, literally translated, these words mean ‘White Lover’. The name is inspired from the way the cookies look; wherein two buttery European-style langue de chat cookies intimately hug a thin layer of white chocolate.
While these cookies are yummy, they are not my favourite version just because I don’t like white chocolate. I honestly wish they’d make a bittersweet chocolate version someday. Regardless of how I feel about the cookies, I do really adore these true-to-life cookie magnets from the gift shop!
Exiting the gift shop brings you to the cafe, but what I noticed was the hands-on cookie baking facility right beside. Called the “Cookiecraft Studio”, this place allows you to make and design your own cookies, quite similar to the ones they have for sale. I saw lots of kids accompanied by their parents, and both parties were having quite a bit of fun.
These cookies are like Japanese versions of a gingerbread cookie.
Of course, what factory experience would be complete without a visit to the shop? You can buy boxes upon boxes of Shiroi Koibito, but there are also other Ishiya Chocolate products for sale here. You can also pick up premium boxed chocolates and pretty take-out desserts topped with macarons.
Instead of the Shiroi Koibito, I decided to purchase these Millefeuille instead. They’re basically crunchy layers of flaky cookies with wonderfully soft chocolate in-between. As of this writing, we’ve only managed to open the Matcha flavoured one and I can tell you right now I enjoy it quite a bit! It’s not too sweet, and you can taste the buttery notes from the cookies very clearly.
Typically there’s a really long line here at the shop because of the time it takes to process the tax-free purchases. Many people go on a buying spree for food souvenirs here so just keep that in mind if you’re following a time-sensitive itinerary.
6. Shell out some moolah for amazing melons
During the first harvest season auction of 2016 in Sapporo, a record was set when someone purchased a pair of Yubari King Melons for, oh, just 3 million yen. I’m not even kidding here. Hokkaido has a reputation for being a fertile farmland that grows some really good quality agricultural products, but spending millions of yen for a melon? It seems so outrageous doesn’t it?
Yubari melons can be crazy expensive, that’s a fact. When I was in the Jyogai Market, I passed by a stall selling pre-sliced melons, and one slice was going for 300 yen. I was already pretty determined to see what all the fuss was about when it came to this melon, so I parted with my 300 yen without much ceremony.
And I got a taste of the best melon I’ve ever eaten in my life.
The flesh of the melon had a slightly crisp bite to it, but it gave way to such an intense sweet juiciness that caught me by surprise. I was both hurrying and trying to slow myself down as I ate the rest of my melon slice, all the while thinking to myself: Damn, I get it now. On my next trip to Sapporo, I am including Yubari in my itinerary so I can see for myself the town that farms these. And eat more.
Admittedly, Yubari melons are so expensive you probably won’t be buying them everyday you’re in Hokkaido, but I feel like eating them in small portions makes you feel more appreciative. Luckily, Hokkaido has also produced lots and lots of melon-flavoured treats you can take home.
I bought all these from Don Quijote in Sapporo’s Tanuki-koji. Not quite the same thing, but any time I have a Melon Pocky I vividly remember the moment I had my first bite of Yubari. I can still feel it in my mouth.
7. Overdose on soft serve and ice cream
Something you might not know about me: I am an incredibly picky ice cream eater. That said, I’ve never met a soft serve in Japan I didn’t like. Particularly in Hokkaido, home of the best dairy in Japan, you can walk up to any soft serve shop and take a bite out of the best soft serve!
The creaminess of their soft serve is just divine, and I expected nothing less. You can normally tell that soft serve isn’t made with good quality dairy when the ice cream comes out grainy and more like whipped cream. The Japanese also have a way of coming up with unique flavours for their soft serves, such as lavender or cherry blossom.
Pictured below is a Melon-Vanilla Soft Serve. As I mentioned, Hokkaido is pretty well known for their melon, so naturally they turned it into a soft-serve offering too. It’s just rightly sweet, with an unmistakable taste and smell of melon.
Another thing I love about Japan in general is their ice cream. Seriously. When I’m in Manila you will never see me buy ice cream from the convenience store. But when I’m in Japan, I’m buying ice cream in the konbini every night. The quality is strikingly different!
I always have such a hard time picking among the plethora of ice cream options in konbinis. I normally end up going with my gut feel and hoping I’ll discover something great along the way. The thing with Japanese ice creams is that they are always so incredibly creamy and they always feel so high-quality. So far, my favourite ice creams have come out of 7-11. Not all konbinis sell the same brands so explore to your heart’s content! 🙂
If you’re in Japan, definitely get yourself some soft serve or ice cream, even in the winter! It’s always a great way to cap off a day filled with exploring.
Well congratulations for reaching the end of this very long informal Sapporo Food Guide! I just really wanted to share with you what to expect in the Sapporo food scene. I hope this post has helped you create your own list of what to eat in Sapporo, because there is too much deliciousness awaiting your arrival. I’m absolutely excited for you!
Establishments mentioned in this post:
Sapporo Beer Garden
9-2-10 Kita 7-Jo Higashi, Higashi-ku,
Sapporo 065-0007, Hokkaido
Shirakaba Sanso 白樺山荘
2-1 Kita 5-Jo Nishi, Chuo-ku
Sapporo Esta 10F, Ramen Kyowakoku (Ramen Republic),
Sapporo 060-0005 , Hokkaido
Japanese Buffet Dining Den
5 Chome, Minami 5-Jo Nishi, Chuo-ku,
Asil Sapporo 3F, Sapporo 064-0805, Hokkaido
21 Kita 11-Jo Nishi, Chuo-ku,
Chuo Oroshiuri Ichiba, Jyogai Ichiba,
Sapporo 060-0011, Hokkaido
3 Minami 6-Jo Nishi, Chuo-ku
New Olympia Bldg. 1 & 2 F,
Sapporo 064-0806, Hokkaido
Shiroi Koibito Park/Ishiya Chocolate Factory
2-2-11-36 Miyanosawa Nishi-ku,
Sapporo 063-0059, Hokkaido
Sapporo Jyogai Ichiba (Sapporo Central Wholesale Market)
21-2-3 Kita 11-Jo Nishi, Chuo-ku,
Sapporo 060-0011, Hokkaido
Don Quijote MegaStore
Tanukikoji Chuo-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido
Full disclosure: This post was brought to you by the Sapporo City Tourism Office. Learn more about the beautiful Sapporo City on their official website!