Savor fresh seafood from the Okhotsk Sea, Pacific Ocean, and Sea of Japan
Eastern Hokkaido verges on the Okhotsk Sea and Pacific Ocean. The chance to enjoy freshly-landed fish and shellfish is one of the true luxuries of visiting a coastal fishing port town. But in fact, inland regions also offer excellent seafood. For example, at Asahikawa City (Asahikawa / Sounkyo Area), you can enjoy fresh seafood from three different coasts.
Asahikawa City is located roughly in Hokkaido's center, a considerable distance from the ocean. While this inland location seems an unlikely place to find fresh seafood, visitors might be surprised to find an excellent supply of fish and shellfish from around Hokkaido, thanks to advances in distribution. Asahikawa is roughly the same distance to three coasts, and serves as a hub for seafood shipments from their fishing ports. No trip to Asahikawa is complete without visiting the Sanrokugai nightlife district, where you will find fresh seasonal food paired with excellent liquor. Be sure to try the sushi. Very popular with the locals, Konishi Sushi (Asahikawa City) offers nigiri (hand-formed) sushi platters from 650 yen. Kita no Yoridokoro (Asahikawa City) takes pride in their selection of premium Hokkaido shellfish, such as scallop, Sakhalin surf clam, and whelk. Their wonderful selection of Hokkaido delicacies includes horsehair crab boiled immediately after landing, and wagyu beef from the neighboring town of Biei, paired with sake from three local Asahikawa breweries.
Noted for drift ice, the Okhotsk sea is home to bountiful fishing resources. Its major fishing ports are Monbetsu and Abashiri. One of Monbetsu's best known local products is snow crab. Maruma Matsumoto Shoten (Monbetsu City) offers a variety of ways to indulge in this delicacy, such as kora mori (body meat, leg meat, an innards roasted inside the shell) and kani-don (rice bowl topped with crab). Abashiri overlooks the Okhotsk Sea, and is also a treasure trove of fresh fish from four nearby lakes: Lake Abashiri, Lake Notoro, Lake Mokoto, and Lake Tofutsu. Abashiri is also Hokkaido's only whaling station, and one of few places to experience the rarity of kujira-ryori (whale cuisine). This region has had a deep relationship with whales since ancient times. Sakanatei Kihachi (Abashiri City) offers dishes which highlight the unique flavor of each cut of whale, a once-in-a-lifetime gourmet experience.
The fishing port of Utoro is situated on Shiretoko Peninsula's Okhotsk Sea coast. This small town accounts for over 80% of Hokkaido’s salmon and trout catches, and offers a wide variety of other fresh seafood. At Utoro Gyokyo Fujinbu Shokudo (Shari Town), a restaurant run by wives of fishers of the Utoro Fishery Cooperative, visitors can experience the heartwarming flavor of genuine mothers’ cooking.
The city of Kushiro lies along the Pacific Ocean coast. The Kushiro Washo Ichiba is considered one of Hokkaido’s great three seafood markets, along with Sapporo’s Nijo Ichiba and Hakodate’s Asa Ichi. The market’s best known dish is the katte-don (“do as you like rice bowl”). Visitors purchase a bowl of steamed rice from the market’s delicatessen, and then wander the shop floor choosing their favorite toppings from each dealer, to create a one-of-a-kind seafood experience that perfectly matches each diner’s taste. Ganpeki Robata (Kushiro City) offers another simply perfect way to enjoy fresh seafood as robata-yaki – roasted over a charcoal hearth. In fact, the now internationally-famous robata-yaki style of cooking was pioneered in Kushiro.
Horsehair crab is one of Hokkaido’s signature culinary experiences. The best season for horsehair crabs caught from the Okhotsk Sea is March through June. In particular, crab caught just after the drift ice has receded, called umiake no kani (“clear seas crab”), is renowned as the very pinnacle of flavor. On the eastern coasts centered about Kushiro, the best season is September and October. Eastern Hokkaido is host to an incredible variety of succulent seafood – line-caught kichiji rockfish (Abashiri), freshwater mussels (Lake Abashiri), hokkai shrimp (Lake Notoro and Lake Saroma), Scallops (Tokoro-cho, Kitami City), oysters (Akkeshi Town), just to name a few. With so much selection and variety over the changing seasons, seafood lovers come back to visit this region again and again.