Winter and Food Adventure in Hokkaido

Traveling a little differently this time, we ventured out to explore winter and food in Hokkaido. While most people go to ski and play in the snow, we went to take our first snowboard lessons, tried snowmobiling for the first time and threw snowballs at each other, of course :-) And while most people spend more time on the attractions, our attractions focused on the spectacular food that Hokkaido is so popular known for.

Highlights
Japan, 〒064-0805 Hokkaidō, Sapporo-shi, Chūō-ku, Minami 5 Jōnishi, 3 Chome, 南5条西3丁目
Enter Ramen Alley near Susukino station and shoulder up to the counter at Aji No Karyu. This small shop seats about 20 and serves up Sapporo-style miso ramen, distinct for the addition of a large slice of butter combined with the thin slices of chashu beef and corn.
127 Hanawa, Toyako, Abuta-gun, Hokkaido 049-5724, Japan
If you are visiting the southwestern part of Hokkaido, be sure to visit Lake Hill Farm to taste the wonderful home made ice cream. They have a wide variety of flavors. We tried the Milk (they also have Double Cream or Cream and Milk), Green Tea, Milk Tea, Chocolate, Strawberry. Hard to describe but it’s creamy yet light and refreshing. If the place wasn’t closing when we arrived, we would have probably ordered more, haha! Funny looking scoop too, for a moment there I thought it was a piece of cake on a cone :-) At the back of the ice cream shop, there is an open area where you can sit and enjoy wonderful views of Ezo Mt. Fuji (Mt. Yotei). Too bad it was already dark when we arrived. There is also a cafe on the other side of the building that sells hot coffee, and other food like curry etc. We went to get a cup of hot Hokkaido fresh milk, fresh from the farm itself. During the summer, the local guide told me that you can also pet the animals, do some other activities like ice cream making, butter making, etc. I must return :-)
Nakayama, Hokuto, Hokkaido 041-1243, Japan
Upon reading up about Hokkaido, one of the popular “must tries” listed by fellow travelers was the age-imo, deep fried potato. Wondering what the fuss was all about, I had to try this. Living in Asia, we are quite familiar with deep fried sweet potatoes, so we were expecting something like that, but we were surprised to see that age-imo is actually made with regular potatoes, a popular produce of Hokkaido, much the same way the Americans consider the Idaho potato :-) Age-imo is usually sold in 3’s like the one in the photo. Upon biting into it, you’ll get a taste of that soft steaming hot potato inside. The batter tastes a lot like the hotdog on a stick batter :-) I think these are also sold in some of the outdoor food trucks but the one in the Nakayama Mountain Pass rest stop has been popularly mentioned. So if you’re on your way out of Sapporo to the Southwestern part of Hokkaido, you’ll most probably pass by Highway 230, and Nakayama Mountain Pass rest stop is just about an hour from Sapporo city center. You can also buy soft ice cream here. Be sure to try a special flavor like orange or melon. It is actually quite nice to eat ice cream in winter :-) There is a souvenir shop which sells all sorts of Hokkaido products. Get a cream puff, or buy a pack of those wonderful light and crisp Hokkaido cookies. Nakayama Mountain Pass is also where you can get great views of the famous Ezo Fuji (Mt Yotei) so be sure to get your cameras ready.
On our way from Sapporo to Lake Toya in Hokkaido, Japan, what emerged from the road ahead was this beautiful snow-capped mountain that looks very much like the famous majestic Mt. Fuji (highest mountain in Japan). And as we jokingly called out Mt. Fuji to the kids, our local guide overheard us said we were actually right. Well, half right! This mountain is quite famous and is the Mt. Fuji of Hokkaido, and is nicknamed Ezo Mt. Fuji. Ezo is the old name of Hokkaido, the island on the northern end of Japan. Ezo Mt. Fuji is located in the area of Shiribeshi, the southwestern part of Hokkaido, where its main attraction is its amazing natural scenery. The area consists of volcanoes, mountain ranges, valleys, rivers, amazing lakes, ponds and a wealth of natural wildlife. Visitors to the area do skiing, snowboarding, other snow activities, rafting, and of course the traditional Japanese hot spring (onsen). In the summer, there are a lot of national park activities, farming, jam making, enjoying the seafood and fresh produce. The official name of this mountain though is called Mt. Yotei and it’s approx ~1,900 meters high, compared to the ~3,700 meter Mt. Fuji.
Showashinzan, Sobetsu, Usu District, Hokkaido, Japan
Have you ever seen a bear standing up and waving at you? Well, you can definitely see them here in Show-shinzan Bear Ranch. It’s a bit funny to see them this way, cause even in a zoo, you don’t get to see them like that. I’m sure these are trained, which is somehow a bit sad, cause it’s unnatural. Anyway, when we visited, we bought a couple of bags of apples and cookies to feed them. They’ll wave at you, begging you to throw them either an apple or a cookie. According to them, there are about 100 bears being bred here. There is a section on the side where there are younger bears too. At the bear ranch souvenir shop, we were able to buy bear oil, which is used for dry skin as well as treating small sores. Actually, the more popular one is horse oil cream. Our local guide told us the one sold at the bear ranch, orange box, is quite a good quality one, absorbs well and does not leave a greasy feeling. She also explained that the horse oil comes from the fatty acids found in the horse neck under the mane. Although it seems a bit gross at first, I quickly realized how our ancestors in the early days use animal fats for almost anything, including medicinal purposes, fueling and cooking. Nearby, you’ll get a good close look at Showa-shinzan, the new volcano, which is still active and spewing smoke. There is also a ropeway (cable car) to Mt. Usu, where you can get a good view from the top of Lake Toya area. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go up.
Bibi, Chitose, Hokkaido 066-0012, Japan
It’s quite a surprise to see a working chocolate factory in an airport, and Chitose Airport in Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, has one: the Royce’ Chocolate World. You can view the process from finish to end along the stretch of the terminal. They have recently renovated the terminal and it looks like a small amusement park. Aside from the chocolate factory, they even have a Doraemon Park. Royce’ was founded in Sapporo and they’re known for making very good quality chocolates. I first encountered Royce during a visit to Hong Kong, and I’ve always managed to bring some home. They’re popular in Asia. But since then, branches have also opened up back home in the Philippines. In fact, they have also very recently opened their 1st US store in New York and a second shop in Russia. My favorite is still their Classic Bitter Nama Chocolate made with dark chocolate. Each box comes with a small spatula used to lift each piece of chocolate from it’s casing. The chocolate pieces are also sprinkled with powdered chocolate on top. Aside from the usual milk chocolate and white chocolate flavors, they also have Maccha or Green Tea flavor. Their Nama chocolates are also available in chocolate liquor versions. Some other unique items included their chocolate covered potato chips or some with strawberry or lemon fillings.
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