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Historical Asahikawa and Kushiro, Innovative Okhotsk

Of Eastern Hokkaido's ramen, Asahikawa ramen is hailed as one of Hokkaido's three great ramen, and is closely pursued in popularity by "Kushiro Ramen". Along the Okhotsk Sea coast, "Okhotsk Hoshi Kaibashira Shio Ramen" has taken hold as a new regional dish. A time-honored tradition or an innovative new sensation? Indulging in local ramen is part of any trip to Eastern Hokkaido.

Ramen is a large part of Hokkaido’s food culture. “Asahikawa Ramen” stands with Sapporo Miso and Hakodate Shio as one of Hokkaido’s three great ramen. Asahikawa Ramen is most remarkable for its “double soup”, which combines pork or chicken bone stocks with a seafood broth. Since long ago, Asahikawa has been a major pork ranching region, so pork bone stock was a natural choice. In order to balance out the heavy meatiness of pork and round out the soup’s richness, chefs tried adding niboshi (dried sardine) and konbu (kelp) stocks, and Asahikawa’s signature double soup style was born.

For example, since the establishment of the time-honored Ramen Hachiya Gojo Sogyoten in 1947, the soup base has been made with pork bone broth and dried horse mackerel stock. The medium thick, curly noodles pick up plenty of soup with each bite. It’s said that topping of roasted lard was originally added to keep the soup warm in Asahikawa’s freezing winters, which often dip below -30 degrees Celsius. While Asahikawa ramen is best known for shoyu (soy sauce) flavor, the miso (bean paste) is also very popular, and offers an interesting variation from Sapporo-style miso ramen.

The “Asahikawa Ramen Village” was established in 1996, and contains 8 ramen restaurants. There is even a ramen shrine, which whimsically blesses newlyweds to have “a friendship as warm as soup, stretching long like noodles”. A fun place to enjoy a delicious bowl of noodles.

There are several theories to the origin of “Kushiro Ramen”. One theory is that Kushiro Ramen was started in by a Chinese person who came to Kushiro from Yokohama during the Taisho Period (1912-1926). Originally, Kushiro Ramen used a light bonito broth. Nowadays, there are a number of variations including pork bone or chicken bone stock. The noodles are firm and thin. Maruhira serves old-fashioned Kushiro Ramen. Another place to try Kushiro Ramen is the Kushiro Ramen Genki Yokocho, which combines four of the city’s ramen restaurants. Comparing the two, you can see how Kushiro Ramen has evolved. Don’t miss the special menu items only available at the Yokocho.

“Okhotsk Hoshi Kaibashira Shio Ramen” is a local food made with Okhotsk scallops. Like many local cuisines, there are official rules, such as “Steam dried Okhotsk-produced scallops to rehydrate, and use them whole as a topping”, “Season the soup with salt, using ingredients such as natural Okhotsk sea salt and natural scallop extract”. There are seven rules in total. (Source: Okhotsk Hoshi Kaibashira Shio Ramen Official Website) A must try for scallop lovers. Available at Rest House Tokoro in Kitami City.

You'll find a number of local ramen variations throughout Eastern Hokkaido, such as "Kamikawa Ramen", which is made using Daisetsuzan spring water, and "Nakashibetsu Milky Ramen", which is made with fresh local milk.