Hokkaido Food gets the attention it deserves from American Diners
- February 12, 2023
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Takashi Igarashi, NR’s executive chef, speaks passionately about the quality of Hokkaido ingredients and the uniqueness of the prefecture’s cuisine. “Potatoes, corn, carrots—a lot of Japan’s best produce comes from Hokkaido,” says Igarashi. As a tribute to Hokkaido, where Igarashi grew up, he added soup curry to NR’s menu when he joined the restaurant in 2020. Soup curry reflects Japan’s love of curry spices and differs from the roux-thickened Japanese curry popular in the United States and mainland Japan. Soup curry consists of a thinner dashi broth base, along with toppings like fried kabocha squash slices, hard-boiled eggs, and braised chicken drumsticks.
In addition to soup curries, Hokkaido is known for ramen, particularly in the Asahikawa region in the center of the island. Asahikawa even has its own ramen village, which has eight ramen restaurants on one strip. While ramen shops across Asahikawa offer their own variations of the dish, Asahikawa is known for a broth that includes both seafood and pork and is topped with Japanese soy sauce. Asahikawa-based restaurant chain Ramen Santouka sells bowls of this Hokkaido-style ramen to outposts in cities like Boston, Chicago and Edgewater, New Jersey.
While the island’s signature soups and ramens have gained traction in the United States, perhaps no product is more associated with Hokkaido’s reputation than dairy. Cafes in Hokkaido offer different types of milk for lattes and milk-based treats like cheesecake, creamy truffles and cheesecake. Just as Vermont butter and cheese are known across America, Hokkaido has a reputation for high-quality dairy products that are, on average, higher in fat than their US counterparts. Whole milk from Hokkaido often has at least 3.5 percent fat, while whole milk in America is around 3.25 percent.
This would explain why Sono found upon his arrival in the US that, as he puts it, “American milk tastes like water”. Keisuke Kobayashi of Indigo Cow, a Hokkaido soft serve store in Seattle, was similarly disappointed with the quality of the local dairy. He worked for two years importing Hokkaido dairy before opening his shop in 2021, offering soft serve that the Seattle Times praised as “flirquily sweet” with “natural notes of vanilla.” While vanilla is often the standard at American ice cream parlors, Indigo Cow encourages customers to appreciate the purity of Hokkaido dairy by offering a “Hokkaido milk” soft serve along with a rotating list of monthly flavors like black sesame and Japanese sweet potato.