In Japan, local food customs mean a lot to the communities which produce them attracting tourists from far and wide to experience special dishes in season. One of the most popular destinations for foodies is Hokkaido, Japan’s largest northernmost island. Surrounded by the nutrient-rich cold waters of the Sea of Japan on the west, the Pacific Ocean on the east, and the Sea of Okhotsk to the north, there is no shortage of fresh seafood.
During the winter months, seafood enthusiasts migrate to the coastal seaports of Hokkaido to sample world-class ocean delights such as crab, scallop, sea urchin, salmon roe, salmon, herring, flounder, cod, arabesque greenlings, squid, octopus, shrimp, abalone, surf clams, and kelp.
The crab, in particular, is exceptional, with an extensive range from Horsehair Crab (ケガニ kegani), Queen Crab (松葉ガニ matsubagani), and Red and Blue King Crab (タラバガニ tarabagani ). The icy waters home to these crabs helps to produce their rich, sweet flavor. Sea urchin (ウニ uni) is another local delicacy. It thrives on the abundant kelp farms in the Pacific Ocean, resulting in a nutrient-packed meal. The uni from Shiretoko Peninsula, located on the northeast coast of Hokkaido, is famed for having the richest and sweet uni in the world. Another uni hot spot is Rishiri and Rebun, located on the northwestern tip of the island.
No matter what sea inhabitant you are looking to try, the best way to do so is in the style of sashimi and there is no better place than Hokkaido, where the sushi is famed throughout Japan. Fresh caught fish and crustaceans are served up raw, bringing the true flavors of the dish to life by talented chefs and prepared right before your eyes. A great experience is visiting a kaiten-zushi (回転寿司). Take a seat at the bar and watch as freshly prepared dishes pass in front of you on a slow-moving conveyor belt. When you see something appealing, just grab it off the belt and dig in. This is a safe way to try something new because you can see the actual dish before deciding if you want to try it.
Fish markets are another huge draw for anyone visiting Hokkaido. This is a nice way to learn about the Japanese fishing culture and sample this morning’s catch. The best time to go is in the early morning. The fish is the freshest and there is ample variety. However, it is also the busiest time, but this just adds to the experience. The most common breakfast dish here is donburi (丼), which is a bowl of rice topped with anything you can imagine. The most popular donburi at the fish markets is uni, salmon roe (イクラ ikura) and squid (イカ ika).
Whether you are a novice or expert in the realm of seafood, Hokkaido has an ocean dweller that is sure to satisfy your hunger pangs.