Hokkaido is a land blessed with plenty of natural resources. Whether it’s dairy, seafood, vegetables or melons, you can find plenty of delicious foods in Japan’s northernmost prefecture. This includes Hokkaido ramen, made from the area’s delicious wheat. Today, let’s take a quick tour of Hokkaido’s ramen scene.
About Hokkaido and Its Ramen
Although Yokohama is known for having the first ramen shop to sell ramen from its bustling Chinatown, Hokkaido still has a rich, long history with it. The city of Hakodate in Hokkaido was a trading outpost that quickly turned into a larger port town in the late 1700s. Then, during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), Hakodate became one of Japan’s treaty ports, creating a thriving, international port city.
Hakodate’s international community included Chinese immigrants, which led to Chinese restaurants that sold ramen. Much like other foreign foods, ramen was changed to fit the Japanese palate and expanded upon. However, because of the cooler climate and the unique ingredients available on this island prefecture, Hokkaido spawned many popular variants and local varieties.
Based on what region you’re in, the style of choice changes, so let’s check out some of Hokkaido’s most popular ramen varieties.
Did you know that Hokkaido is where miso ramen comes from? More specifically, it comes from Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital and largest city. Apparently, in the 1950s, a shop was inspired by miso soup and created a miso-based broth that quickly spread across the country.
Miso tends to have a slightly nutty taste that goes perfectly with the thicker, wavier Hokkaido ramen noodles. The soup also has a perfect amount of fat that has two purposes. First, it creates a rich, savory taste that balances the slight sweetness of miso without being heavy. Second, the fat helps to keep the broth nice and hot even in Hokkaido’s cold winter.
This Sapporo creation is often topped with plenty of veggies—like beansprouts, cabbage or corn—as well as roasted pork. The vegetables help to absorb some of the excess oil from the broth.
Where Sapporo ramen can get really crazy is with the extra add-ins that influence the flavor. For example, as people’s interest in spicy food has increased over the years, spicy miso has become a popular option. A very luxurious option is Hokkaido crab.
One more popular topping is butter. Speaking of which…
Hokkaido Butter Ramen
Although this Hokkaido ramen style is just a variation of Sapporo ramen, it has become such a symbol of Hokkaido that we have to give it its own section. You see, one of Hokkaido’s most famous products is milk, so anything made with Hokkaido milk is known for being particularly delicious. In this case, it’s the butter.
Add the island prefecture’s delicious corn and butter to the delicious miso ramen and you’ll be taken on a flavorful journey. The butter adds richness and a touch of creaminess to the soup, while also helping the ramen to stay hot even longer. It’s the perfect way to indulge in the winter months.
Now, let’s head over to Asahikawa. This city is a popular tourist destination northeast of Sapporo. This city is popular for two reasons. The first is the Asahiyama Zoo. The second (and the one we love) is the Asahikawa Ramen Village. You see, Asahikawa has its own local variety of ramen that is rather unique and continues to gain popularity.
Asahikawa ramen is a shoyu (soy sauce) base ramen, meaning that it has a lighter, simpler broth. However, where this particular Hokkaido ramen differs from any other shoyu ramen is one main ingredient: lard.
Asahikawa is far enough north that the winter temperatures can drop to -30 degrees Celsius (-22°F), so lard is added to create a layer of fat that sits on top of the broth. This fat helps to keep the broth nice and hot even on the coldest of nights, making it a perfect dish for anyone in town during the winter.
The Asahikawa Ramen Village features eight different shops, all with their own recipes and unique shoyu bases. Whether you want a shoyu base with a chicken, pork or seafood stock, you can find a delightful, warming bowl of ramen here.
Sapporo has miso while Asahikawa has shoyu (and tonkotsu as well). Meanwhile, Hakodate holds down the fort with its delicious shio (salt) ramen. Together, these three cities are called the Three Great Ramen of Hokkaido.
Hakodate is quite important to the spread of ramen in Japan, so it’s only natural that this port city became famous for its own ramen style. Although shio ramen is popular all over Japan and abroad, Hakodate ramen has a clear broth made with chicken bones and kelp. Also, while Hokkaido ramen noodles tend to be wavy, Hakodate shio ramen uses straight noodles.
Add the fact that this ramen uses simple ingredients and you are sure to enjoy a lighter yet flavorful experience. That being said, some of the Hakodate ramen shops also add a bit of pork bone to the broth for added richness.
While this ramen style doesn’t make the cut for the Three Great Ramens, it is a very close fourth favorite for many in Hokkaido. Hailing from the city of Kushiro in eastern Hokkaido, this style of Hokkaido ramen is known for its lighter taste and the different style of noodles used for the dish.
The soup is a shoyu base with a light soy sauce taste and a faint seafood flavor. This is because the stock is often made with bonito. Meanwhile, the noodles are curly and quite thin, especially compared to Hokkaido’s thicker noodles.
Back in the day, fishermen in the city used to eat at ramen stalls during their lunch. Supposedly, because the fishermen had limited time for lunch, the noodles had to cook quickly. Because these thin noodles can usually be prepared in less than a minute, the thinner noodles were combined with a lighter broth for quick eating without feeling heavy.
However, the downside is that you can’t let the ramen sit for too long, or else they soften to the point of sogginess.
Muroran Curry Ramen
Last but certainly not least, we have a delicious fusion of two amazing dishes—Japanese curry and Hokkaido ramen. Muroran curry ramen is a popular dish coming from—you guessed it—Muroran, on the southwest tip of Hokkaido. This particular ramen was invented around 1965 by a ramen shop called Aji No Daio.
Thanks to its introduction by a famous Muroran native on TV, both this ramen and the shop have been going strong. In fact, there is a Muroran Curry Ramen Group that promotes the ramen wherever they can.
This ramen captures people’s hearts with its delicious soup and thick noodles that soak up the soup. The broth combines sweet and spicy curry with a tonkotsu (pork bone) base to create a deliciously rich ramen experience unlike any other.
Every shop will have their own curry soup recipe, so there are plenty of flavor variations. However, most shops will top their curry ramen with bean sprouts, wakame (seaweed), and roasted pork.
Fun fact: Aji No Daio is still open almost every day for lunch and is still loved by locals and tourists alike.
That’s our short guide to Hokkaido ramen. There are actually even more local Hokkaido ramen styles to learn about. Would you like to learn more? Which one would you want to try? Are there any that piqued your interest? Leave a comment and let us know!