Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture
Hokkaido prefecture is the most northern island of Japan, right above Aomori. The capital city of Hokkaido is Sapporo and is one of the most visited cities in Japan. Though Hokkaido is known of its cold winters, they do have a lot to do even during the harsh of winter. Most people love to go to Hokkaido during the winter season for skiing and snowboarding while others like to head there for its food and scenic views. Every body has their own reason to go to Hokkaido and mine is definitely for the food. To keep this blog short, I will only be focusing on Sapporo here.
Though there are many different kinds of famous dishes in Hokkaido, Sapporo is one of the cities where you set foot to eat. To describe the type of cuisine served in Sapporo is hard because it is all over the place. You can find Japanese style dishes like sushi and seafood bowls to Western dishes like steak and cakes to Mongolian barbeque.
So what is Soup Curry and what is so special about this dish? As many of you know curry can come in two forms; one more saucy and gravy like while the other form is much more of a soupy texture. Of course each has its own unique texture and flavour and each of us has their own preferences but even if you don't like soupy based curry, you will definitely like this. The curry is really soupy with a strong herb taste and kind of reminds me of Thai curry and Singapore's Fish Head Curry. The rice is served on a separate plate and is sometimes seasoned with herbs.
There really isn't a correct way in eating this dish. You can take a scoop or rice and then soak it in the curry to eat it. Another way is to eat them separately or just dump a few spoon fulls of curry on to your rice. Whichever way you choose you will get the same delicious curry taste exploding in your mouth.
Reading the name Genghis Khan in the food section might either spooked you out or thought that I have made a mistake, however this is no mistake. Genghis Khan might be a historical person's name but in Hokkaido it is also a name of a dish every here loves to eat. The origin of the name is actually unknown. While some say that it was because it resembled the way Genghis Khan cooked his meat but no body really knows.
Genghis Khan is actually a barbeque dish kind of like yakiniku but is mostly associated with lamb. You basically cook your meat in the middle of the flat grill and put the vegetables around on the side to cook. The vegetables served are always bean sprouts, onions and pumpkins. After cooking the meat, you dip it into a sauce and eat. The sauce itself is made of soy sauce, miso paste, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and apple juice so it is a little sweet, sour and salty. :Though the taste of the sauce might sound weird, it actually makes the lamb taste really well because it counters the gaminess taste of the meat.
Kaisen don is a dish where they put fresh raw seafood on top of a bowl of hot rice. Though this dish can be normally found all around Japan, there is not better place to eat it than Hokkaido, where the seafood is most fresh. There are numerous different variations of Kaisen don but the most popular ones are topped with uni (sea urchin), crab, scallop, ikura (salmon roe) and/or shrimp. There is something called the Katte don meaning doing your way bowl of rice. For this dish you can choose your own fresh seafood toppings. If you go to fish markets in Sapporo or the Hokkaido region, the chances are you will find a shop that serves Katte don.
For a first time in Sapporo there are many places I would recommend travelers to visit and see. Below is a list of the recommended sight seeing spots based on my first hand experience.
Sapporo Beer Factory
This place is for beer lovers who wants to know more about the Sapporo brand. You will walk along inside the museum learning about the history of the Sapporo brand and how it has changed through out the history. At the end you will get to sample your free beer with a pack of nuts. If you want to try more different types of beer by the Sapporo brand you will need to purchase meal tickets from the machine near the restaurant. The prices are different according to the drinks you want to order.
Shiroi Koibito Factory
Though this place do seems like it is for couples, it is still a must see place. The reason is because Shiroi Koibito is a well known white chocolate biscuit brand all around Japan. Almost all Japanese people who visits Hokkaido will bring back a pack or two of Shiroi Koibito as omiyage (souvenir) for their family and friends. Recently there is an increase in tour groups and foreign travelers coming to this place. If you are a sweets lover, then this is a place you cannot miss out on.
Odori Park is located in between Sapporo station and Susukino and is accessible from the underground mall from Sapporo station to Susukino. In mid-February the Yuki Matsuri is held there and is a must see at least once in your life time.
Sapporo TV Tower
Sapporo TV Tower is located in Odori Park and it over looks the park and the surrounding parts of the city. The best view is at night during the Snow Festival when there are illuminations lighting up the ice sculptures.
This area is like what Namba is to Osaka or Shinjuku is to Tokyo. If you looking for the spot to be in here in Sapporo, look no further than Susukino. You can find almost all you need here; restaurants, shopping and entertainment. There is a shotengai (shopping arcade street) area in this area called Tanuki-koji where you can comfortably shop and dine. If you want ramen, head no further than the Ramen Yokocho (Ramen Alleyway) for taste of Hokkaido ramen.
This is one of the biggest malls in Sapporo city. It has many shops as well as restaurants to dine in at. During Christmas, there is a large Christmas tree displayed there and is another popular place for couples to hangout during the Christmas season.
What makes this structure so famous is because it was built in 1878 as part of Sapporo Agriculture College which is now Hokkaido University. The area around the clock tower was part of the university campus. Now it is a historical museum that talks about the history of Sapporo and Sapporo Agriculture College. This place is a must visit if you come to Sapporo because this is one of Hokkaido's important cultural sites.
The Sapporo station we see today is actually a new complex built in 2003 and is nothing like what it was back when the station first started out in 1908. There are various hotels around this area so it makes it a great place to stay. There is also a huge mall complex built into Sapporo station making it super convenient to get your shopping done and your stomachs happy. If you feel like having ramen, there is a Ramen Republic for you to chow down on local yummy ramen to warm you tummies before going out into the cold.
Sapporo Underground Mall
Underneath Sapporo station is a huge underground more which stretches all the way to Susukino area. Most of the locals who live in Sapporo city use this walk way to get from Sapporo station to Susukino or vice versa either by walking or the subway. During the winter season most of the people will use this walk way to avoid the harsh and cold weather outside.
I have been to Sapporo many times and the followings would be my personal choices of hotels to stay at.
Hotel Route-Inn Sapporo Chuo
The Hotel Route-Inn Sapporo Chuo is a wonderful hotel located near Susukino station. I personally have stayed at this hotel and the service and hospitality which they gave were excellent. The last time I stayed here I forgot my iPad charger and emailed them to send it to me and I will pay for the fees. I got an email from the hotel manager saying that it was sent and upon getting it I found out that the hotel paid for the mail fee for me. I am really grateful for what the hotel has done for me. I would recommend this place to anyone who wants good and quality service.
Cross Hotel Sapporo
This is the first ever hotel I stayed at in Hokkaido. This hotel is located not far from Sapporo station and is quite unique. The architectural design is quite nice and looks like a very hip modern business hotel. The check-in counter is on the second floor and the views are fantastic. The room I got had a view of Odori Park and the Sapporo TV Tower. If you are looking for a hotel closer to Sapporo station then I would suggest this hotel.
Spa Hotel SOLE Susukino
Is a capsule-cabin hotel catering to guys. If you are traveling alone then this might be the best place to stay since it is cheap and located right in the red light district Susukino. The hotel itself is around 10 minutes away by foot from Susukino subway station.
The hotel also has its own spa to use so it is a really good deal. After a tiring day of traveling and partying you will need that hot spa to help your body recover. The staff also knows how to speak English so it is foreigner friendly.
The easiest way to get around Sapporo is by foot. It is actually not a long walk from Sapporo station to Susukino area. Even during the harsh winter many people choose to walk the distance because it saves them money and because they have a huge under ground walk path from Sapporo station all the way to Susukino.
Other really good ways to travel around Sapporo is by the subway or by bus. This however, depends on where your destination is going to be. If you plan on to go to the Sapporo beer factory then taking the bus would be the easiest way since it stops right in front of the factory. If you are planning to go to the Shiroi Koibito factory, then subway is the better way to go.
The Snow Festival or Yuki Matsuri in Japanese is the largest and most well-known winter festival in Japan. It is usually held on the second week of February and during that time many travelers from Japan and all around the world would fly over to see this amazing event. Every year they create different ice sculptures; some made by the locals, some by professionals all around the world. Aside from only looking at ice sculptures, they do have some with illuminations and 3D mappings.
The Snow Festival is broken down into three parts: Susukino, Odori Park and Tsudome sites. Each of these sites has their own specialized theme; Susukino for local ice sculptures, Tsudome for kids snow park and Odori the main attraction of the whole Snow Festival. If you have the time I would suggest going to all three of the sites but if not then I would recommend going to the Susukino and Odori Park sites since they are the main attractions.
Aside from getting beautiful view of huge ice and snow sculptures with 3D mapping and illuminations, there are many food stalls which serve many of Hokkaido's local food like skewered venison, hot milk, miso ramen, etc. If you a food adventurer and love to try new kinds of food I would suggest come during this festival to sample local delicacies you won't be able to get in other parts of Japan.