Traditional foods and seasonal flavors of the Northern Country recommended to travelers visiting Sapporo in the winter
Winter foods only found in Hokkaido
Winter in Hokkaido features wild game unique to the winter hunting season. This is also the season when you will find such traditional preserved foods as izushi and nishin-zuke, as well as foods you can only eat in the winter fishing season such as the quick-to-spoil tachikama and tachi tempura. For this article, we’ll take a closer look at winter foods unique to Hokkaido that you have to try on your next winter visit to Sapporo.
Winter flavors during hunting season
One of Hokkaido’s best known wild game is Sika deer!
One of Hokkaido’s most well known winter wild game animals is the Sika deer that can be found across Hokkaido, but mainly in Eastern Hokkaido. The hunting period is between October 1 and January 31, but this period varies from region to region. Among the hunters entering the woods opened for hunting, there are even restaurant chefs who head out themselves on the deer hunt to procure ingredients. They are able to control the aging of the meat and, as a result, provide cuisine that really draws out the flavor of the meat. Sika deer meat, which is low in fat and high in protein, is known for its robust red meat flavor. On you next dining-out experience in Sapporo in the wintertime, ask your server if the restaurant serves deer cuisine.
Hokkaido’s version of pickles!?
Izushi and nishin-zuke, both made from fish and vegetables
During the winter, Hokkaido’s fields are covered in snow and vegetables cannot be harvested until spring. Today, vegetables from across Japan can be bought throughout the year, but in the past, tsukemono, or pickled dishes, was once an important preserved food eaten in the winter. Izushi, which is fish, such as salmon, sandfish or herring, lacto-fermented with rice and salt, and nishin-zuke, which is dried, filleted herring fermented in rice malt, are two of Hokkaido’s most well known tsukemono dishes for winter. Some people buy these foods from the supermarket or seafood produce store, while others actually have the skills to make them in their own home. A unique scene in Hokkaido is people waiting in line at home improvement stores to buy large pickling jars and weights in preparation for the coming winter.
In the Ishikari area on the outskirts of Sapporo, giant spheres of cabbage called Sapporo Taikyu are grown for use as an ingredient in tsukemono because of their freshness and great texture. At nearly 20 kg, these spheres of cabbage are enormous and can barely be carried by one person alone. Given the efforts needed during cultivation, this has become somewhat of a phantom cabbage as production volume is now very small. If you see one in the store, be sure to remember this is a cabbage variety long prized for its use in the preserved winter foods of the Northern Country.
Tachipon, tachiten and tachikama!
The milt of walleye pollock is a unique winter food
Locals know it’s winter time in Hokkaido when the fresh fish department of supermarkets begins to carry tachi, which is the milt of the Pacific cod or the walleye pollock, a type of fish that is used as an ingredient in kamaboko and fish paste products. The most common foods served using this ingredient include hotpot, tachipon, which is parboiled milt eaten with ponzu sauce, and tachiten, which is milt tempura. Among these, tachikama, a type of fish paste, is a winter delicacy only made in Iwanai Town and Rishiri Island. The fish species has a large moisture content, which leads to quick spoilage, so it must be processed immediately after being caught. Therefore, tachikama is considered a rare food only available during the winter fishing season. The chewy and savory taste should be eaten with sake to be truly appreciated. If you find tachi on the winter menu of an izakaya or soba restaurant or for sale at a department store event, be sure to try it! Season tachi with a touch of soy sauce or wasabi for a side dish that pairs perfectly with Japanese sake.