Trends in Japan > J-food > Sapporo, Hokkaido's Culinary Hub
A Food Culture Unique to Japan's Northern Island
(August 30, 2007)


Hokkaido is home to a rich variety of foodstuffs, and Sapporo is a great place to find fresh seafood and any number of agricultural products. With a population of about 1.89 million, Sapporo is the largest city in northern Japan. It developed as the main urban center of Hokkaido, and its international profile grew considerably in 1972, when it became the first Asian city to host the Winter Olympics. Sapporo is also famous for its annual Snow Festival, in which massive ice sculptures adorn Odori Park in the city center.


The Sapporo Snow Festival (© Hokkaido Tourist Association)


Odori Park, which hosts various events throughout the year (© Hokkaido Tourist Association)

Soup Curry a Sapporo Favorite
Soup curry has taken root as a Sapporo favorite after taking the culinary scene by storm. Typical Japanese curry is fairly thick, as it uses a roux base that includes fried flour. Soup curry, by contrast, is thin and marked by heavy spices. A deep bowl is filled with potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables, and diners can choose to add chicken, pork, or another main ingredient, and they can also choose the spiciness of the "soup."

This unusual food began to become commonplace around 10 years ago. The boom got underway when one soup curry shop after another opened in the area around Hokkaido University, and there are at present over 200 such shops in this neighborhood that many students call home. There are even guidebooks that introduce the soup curry shops in the area for people who would like to go on gourmet walking tours, and some of the more famous restaurants have opened outlets in Tokyo and Osaka.

The owner of a popular restaurant in Sapporo’s Chuo Ward explains the factors behind the boom: "Sapporo has always had a soup culture. Soup with lots of vegetables in it is an archetypal Hokkaido dish." With local fresh vegetables available at low prices, it is little wonder that soup curry has taken off there.


White crème caramel; white Tiramisu (© KINOTOYA SAPPORO)

Popular Sapporo Sweets
Along with soup curry, another new flavor born in Sapporo has spread across the nation, and that is the kind of confectionaries known as "Sapporo sweets." This boom began with a dessert competition among more than 50 shops in 2004 and 2005 to make the best chocolate Mont Blanc cake.

In 2006, it was decided that the winning dessert in the competition would be designated as the culinary "face" of Sapporo for that year. Using the grand-prize-winning recipe - this time for a strawberry tart - released to the public as a base and adhering to certain standards, confectioners in and around Sapporo worked to add their own unique touches. These tasty arrangements were of course sold to the public. Cake makers created tarts or other baked round dessert with Hokkaido-grown strawberries and white cream on the top. The official Sapporo dessert for 2007 is white tiramisu that uses fresh cream and cheese - both readily available in Hokkaido.

Traditional Local Food Alive and Well
Some 14 million tourists visit Sapporo annually, and it is believed that the vast majority eat ramen while they are there. Different types of ramen often bear the name of the place where that style of noodle originated, such as Hakata ramen and Kitakata ramen. Sapporo ramen is one of the best known and most popular of these types. The base of the soup in Sapporo ramen is miso, and the noodles are thicker than average and crinkly. Generous helpings of onion, bean sprouts, and other toppings complement the flavor of the soup.


Sapporo ramen (© Hokkaido Heritage Project Council)


Genghis Khan (© Hokkaido Heritage Project Council)


The former Hokkaido government office building, known as "Red Brick" (© Hokkaido Tourist Association)

In addition to ramen, the local cuisine known as Genghis Khan, which features lamb or mutton and vegetables broiled together on a helmet-shaped hot plate, remains popular. It has been designated as a piece of Hokkaido Heritage, a cultural asset of Hokkaido that should be preserved for future generations. As Hokkaido is so vast, the methods of preparing and eating this dish vary by locale, but visitors to Sapporo will find all the regional varieties of Genghis Khan available to sample.

With its naturally fresh foodstuffs and skilled chefs, this northern city provides visitors with a mouth-watering range of dining options.

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