Hokkaido 北海道 is the northernmost prefecture of Japan and the second largest island in the country. The capital of Hokkaido, Sapporo, is the fourth largest city in the country and hosted the Winter Olympics in 1972.While it's known for its agricultural products and seafood, the snowy winter season is what brings thousands of tourists to Hokkaido each year. Because Hokkaido is home to volcanoes and mountains, snow sports are extremely popular for both locals and visitors.The island of Hokkaido offers something for everyone as the terrain makes it an exciting place for adventurers and the thriving food and beverage culture appeals to all appetites. Here are a few of our favorite attractions in Hokkaido for the next time you find yourself in or around the island.1. Crab / Seafood MarketsSeafood is the star in Hokkaido, and for good reason. The cold sea around the island is filled with many different species of sea animals, including an abundance of crab. Different species are available at different times of the year so while crab is always on the menu, uni and salmon roe are also popular choices. Markets such as Sapporo's Nijo Fish Market will have some of the freshest, seasonal seafood available.2. Miso RamenSapporo is the birthplace of Miso Ramen - a fairly new style of ramen made with a richer, heartier broth to keep the cold at bay during winter months. While Miso Ramen is advertised to have corn and butter as a garnish, the bowl of noodles is built with a slightly thicker noodle and stir fried vegetables. More "luxurious" joints will offer Miso Ramen with crab meat and scallops.3. OtaruWhile the food and beverage culture across Hokkaido is prominent, the growing scene in Otaru (a port city on the island) is a great reason to make a trip. A walk along the Otaru Canal is peaceful, but a walk down Sakaimachi Street is a feast for the eyes as you pass glassmakers, bakeries, and restaurants. While mochi and Kamaboko fish cakes are local favorites, other recommendations for the area include Naruto's fried chicken, Sankaku Fish Market, and the Otaru Wine Gallery.4. Yoichi DistilleryYoichi Distillery is located 30 minutes from Otaru and is one of the two oldest distilleries in the Nikka whisky family. Yoichi whiskies are rich and peaty, which reflect both the land and the heated distillation process. Three sides of the distillery are surrounded by mountains while the fourth side faces the coast. Guided Japanese and self-guided tours are available with a tasting of three products at the end.5. Winter PowderHokkaido has lush summer seasons and while tourism is popular year-round, winter is an experience in itself. Some of the highest quality powder falls on Hokkaido during the winter, making ski resort areas like Sahoro, Niseko, and Rusutsu, popular destinations for snowboarding and skiing. If snow sports aren't really your thing, catch the Sapporo Snow Festival in February.
After Japan's Michelin stars for 2017 were revealed, it became clear that Tokyo reigns supreme. And one of Tokyo's 161 one-starred restaurants is Nakiryu, a ramen shop located in Otsuka (the same neighborhood as Toshima - the first ramen shop to receive a star in 2015).Unlike its ramen counterparts, Nakiryu is known for their dan dan noodles - spicy Sichuan noodles with ground pork and scallions. Meals cost between 800-1,000 yen (US$7-10) and with its newfound Michelin glory, the shop attracts very long queues. Image Courtesy Ramen Adventures
The popular Japanese ramen chain, Ichiran, has opened its first US shop in Brooklyn, NY. Ichiran focuses on what they call “low interaction dining” where guests dine alone in booths and focus solely on their food. Diners are not greeted upon arrival, nor do they need to speak to a server to order. Customers check their ramen preferences on a menu printed on a chopstick sleeve which is placed over an electronic eye on each table.While Yardbird’s motto is “sharing is caring”, Ichiran’s success reveals that sometimes, people just don’t want to share. Some say it's the delicious ramen, others say it’s the mindfulness of eating without distractions, but with 60 locations in Japan and Hong Kong that are open 24/7 and crowds waiting to dine at the new NY outpost, Ichiran is definitely on to something. Or maybe we just need a little solo time with a big bowl of hot noodles once in a while. Image Courtesy: Grub Street