As we say goodbye to 2012 and welcome a New Year I thought it would be fun to have what I can only describe as a trivial look at Hokkaido. Probably not what you would find in a guide-book. Just some quirky observations I have made over the years. And no I haven’t been drinking too much sake. Travel to a different culture often involves taking yourself outside of your comfort zone and experiencing something new and different. Providing a new perspective on how we see things.
I absolutely adore Japan. I first visited for work in the mid eighties and travelled extensively through the main island Honshu. Fast forward to the mid noughties. My husband, an avid skier discovered the powder snow in Niseko. Vast plumes and drifts of powder dumped on the island of Hokkaido by strong Siberian winds.
On a clear day, high upon the ridge of Mount Annapuri you can actually see across to Vladivostok, Russia. Strange but true Niseko is closer to Vladivostok than Tokyo. I know. I have had countless discussions about this. In summer there is a 6 1/2 hour ferry from Otaru in Hokkaido (about an hours train ride away from Niseko) to Korsakov in Russia (just outside Vladivostok). My husband and I have had many whimsical conversations about perhaps spending a summer in Niseko and taking that ferry ride to Vladivostok. From there we would board the Trans-Siberian Express which would take us to Moscow. Then another two-day train ride to Paris via Berlin. A pipe dream perhaps? Definitely something to add to our bucket list.
But I digress. Perhaps because there is so much to tell you about this fascinating part of Japan. Despite the island being practically submerged by snow for at least six months of the year, Hokkaido’s primary industries involve agriculture and fishing. And this brings us back full circle to my current favourite regional specialities.
Regional Speciality No 1. Choux Pastry Puffs filled with Custard Cream.
These are large and substantial. Filled with a lush custard cream only once you order them. With strict instructions that they are best consumed immediately or within the hour. At the very most two. I love the cute tissue paper packaging. Little sleeves adorned with cream puff men imploring you to eat them.
Hokkaido is well-known for its dairy products. Ice cream yoghurt, milk and cheese. The whole of Japan has the most amazing cake shops filled with jaw dropping gateaux and tortes. So naturally these choux pastry puffs are top of my list.
These particular beauties were purchased from the Fuji Cake Shop in Kutchan town. Just around the corner from my favourite Japanese supermarket. The Coop. Opposite Kutchan train station and the all important taxi rank for lugging home the groceries. I have on occasion also purchased them from the farm-gate so to speak at Milk Kobe en route to the Hilton at Niseko Village. Well worth a visit but perhaps not as easy to access without a car.
Regional Speciality No 2. King Crab. Any Which Way.
Hokkaido is well known for its seafood. King crabs are a local delicacy and in season in winter. At the height of the ski season. These are delicious whichever way you care to consume them. Available fresh or frozen. From the supermarket, souvenir shop or specialist seafood providore. Do not leave Niseko without trying them. Chilli Crab Ramen. A favourite, local dish. Available on piste at Hanazono 308. I have truly lost count of the number of times I have specifically skied to Hanazono for a lunch time fix.
Regional Speciality No 3. Chocolate Coated Potato Chips.
Hokkaido is famous for its potatoes. A local delicacy. Every time we visit Hokkaido we are confronted by these chocolate covered potato chips. As much as I adore Hokkaido potatoes I have never been able to bring myself to eat these. To my western palate they seem bizarre. I have included these solely for their quirkiness. It must be a Japanese umami sweet- salty flavour combination thing. All I know is that Japanese tourists buy these to fulfill their omiyage gift giving traditions in droves. I have witnessed it with my own eyes. My children have tried them though with mixed reactions. Two think they are amazingly good. The other is not quite sure. I think I’ll stick with eating my delicious Hokkaido potatoes au natural. Or transformed into gnocchi. As we intend to do tonight with Motoko’s home-grown potatoes.
The regular potato chips sans chocolate are delicious. There is even a Calbee potato store at New Chitose Airport that freshly fries your chips to order. Crinkle or thinly cut. With preferred seasoning.
And there you have it. A fun, if trivial, look at Hokkaido. Here’s hoping you have a wonderful start to the New Year and that 2013 brings you much success and happiness.