Try King Crab, Masu Salmon and Other Delicacies at Hakodate’s Best Restaurants

Japanese Kegani crabs grill on a stove in Hakodate
Japanese Kegani crabs grill on a stove in Hakodate | © Chisanu LIENGPAN / Alamy Stock Photo
Matthew Wilcox

The Japanese port city of Hakodate has the icy northern Pacific on its doorstep. Come here for the seafood unequalled anywhere else in the country, and stay for the city’s diverse culinary scene.

Located on the southernmost tip of Hokkaido, Hakodate was one of the first ports to open to foreigners in the 19th century. The legacy of this can be seen in the city’s smart red-brick buildings and cosmopolitan tastes. Begin exploring the city’s culinary scene at the famous Morning Market. A minute’s walk from the train station, the market’s streets are fragrant with the smell of smouldering charcoal and noisy with the call of vendors selling a range of seafood. You could spend months exploring the 250 restaurants and stalls here, but don’t neglect the rest of the city’s excellent offerings. For anyone interested in food, this is one of Japan’s premier destinations.

Hakodate’s Asaichi fish market brims with activity everyday
Taraba crab is a must-try in Hokkaido

1. Ebisu Sushi Shokudo

Restaurant, Japanese

For thirty years, punters in the know have been flocking to Ebisu Sushi Shokudo at the heart of the Morning Market for their famous donburi (a Japanese comfort food of assorted ingredients served over rice in an over-sized bowl). There are more than 50 combinations to choose from here, but if you’re baffled by the sheer choice, it’s impossible to go wrong with the jusshunen kinen don, a heaped bowl laden with fresh king crab, enormous shrimp, salmon roe, herring eggs and fat scallops. This lavish but extremely well-priced donburi showcases the best of Hakodate and its amazing seafood.

2. Ajisai

Restaurant, Japanese, Ramen

The first port to be opened up to foreigners after American naval officer Commodore Perry’s journey to Japan, Hakodate has long hosted foreign food cultures – ramen, of course, was originally Chinese. Unlike the unctuous miso ramen in Sapporo, Hakodate ramen features a delicate clear broth made from chicken bones and kombu (kelp). The best regarded ramen shop in Hakodate is Ajisai, established more than 80 years ago. There are four branches across the city, but the original is located next to Goryōkaku Park, the star-shaped fort at the heart of Hakodate. The queue can be quite long if you arrive at lunchtime, but the line moves quickly and service is fast.

3. Ikasei

Restaurant, Japanese

Is it the giant king crab hauled up from black depths of the deadly Bering Sea? Or is it the incomparably delicate masu salmon, arriving in the rivers each year as the first cherry blossoms begin to fall? In Hakodate, if someone asks you to name the true king of the Morning Market, there is only one answer… squid. The squid connoisseur lives by the seasons – in the first half of the year it is the delicate, sweet yari ika (spear squid) cut fine as noodles and eaten sashimi-style. As the days begin to lengthen, it is the time for thick legs of meaty surume ika (Pacific flying squid) grilled over the market’s aromatic charcoal braziers. For the squid novice, the only place to go is Ikasei – at the station end of the market. There, using squid off-loaded live from the ships in the harbour each morning, chefs will prepare for you ika so fresh that the legs, glistening with soy, ginger and clinging to glowing orbs of orange ikura, still kick and slither as you usher them into your mouth. Order the katsu ika odori domburi (dancing fresh squid bowl), for a reasonable ¥1,890 (£14).

4. Milkissimo

Ice Cream Parlour, Ice Cream

The ice cream at the classy parlour, Milkissimo, is made from milk from Hakodate farms. Housed in the Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse, the elegant, distinctly Japanese flavours are a match for the chic location. Highlights include black sesame, green tea and purple sweet potato, as well as cherry blossom, of course – this subtle pink sakura flavour includes salted cherry leaf for an unexpected crunch.

5. Uni Murakami

Restaurant, Japanese

Devil’s spawn, hell’s eggs, erizo de mar, sea hedgehog, or just plain uni. For true gourmands, sea urchin – with its natural sweetness and creamy texture – is the taste of the ocean. While uni is found around the world, nowhere on earth consumes more than Japan. And, as any child can tell you, the best urchins come from Hokkaido. And the best place to eat urchin in Hokkaido? The Morning Market’s Uni Murakami, a Michelin-listed shack devoted to all-things sea urchin. The most popular dish here is the urchin bowl.

6. Kyu Chaya Tei

Cafe, Japanese

If you are searching for somewhere quiet to enjoy a bowl of matcha and some traditional Japanese sweets, then look no further than the stylish Kyu Chaya Tei located in the city’s Red Brick Warehouses. The interiors of this amazing café feel straight out of the Meiji Era. The owner will also conduct a tea ceremony for you for a small fee.

7. Lucky Pierrot

Restaurant, Japanese

People eating in Lucky Pierrot burger restaurant opposite the Red Brick Warehouse at Hakodate Bay in Hakodate, Hokkaido, Japan
© Wibowo Rusli / Alamy Stock Photo

Is this the best burger in Japan? The country’s Nikkei Newspaper certainly thinks so. Beloved by locals, this chain has 17 branches across the city… but nowhere else in Japan. The item that made the reputation of this local favourite is the sensational Chinese chicken burger, a sweet-and-spicy number with a kick of ginger. All the food is prepared upon order using fresh local ingredients. Luppy (as it is affectionately known) is too good to be missed.

8. Meimei Tei

Restaurant, Japanese

In 1918, the Japanese government came up with a plan to populate the archipelago with a million sheep. Five sheep farms were established in this effort to turn the Japanese into a nation of lamb eaters. The idea quickly failed, except for in Hokkaido where the locals enthusiastically took to mutton, resulting in the local speciality, Jingisukan (“Genghis Khan”), an all-you-can-eat grilled mutton specialty. In Hakodate, the place to try it is at Meimei Tei located next to Kanemori Red Brick Warehouse. Tables are readily available at lunchtime, but for dinner a reservation is a good idea.

9. Gotoken

Restaurant, British, American

Founded in 1879, and located a few streets back from the warehouses that line the waterfront, Gotoken is an old-fashioned “Western-style” restaurant where they serve the normally quotidian dish of curry rice on a white tablecloth from a silver pourer. It might be the power of suggestion helped along by the elegance of the surroundings, but there is something undeniably different about the curry here. Curry otaku (geeks), who spend their time trying to trying to get to the bottom of such mysteries, believe that the secret to Gotoken’s famous curry is the addition of mango chutney during the cooking phase. Go there and try it for yourself; Gotoken is a must for curry aficionados.

10. Ryotei Fumoto

Restaurant, Japanese

Michelin-listed Ryotei Fumoto is widely regarded as the finest restaurant in Hakodate. Housed in a traditional Japanese building in the streets behind the harbour, this kaiseki restaurant is noted for its meticulous attention to detail and use of the best of Hokkaido’s ingredients. Meals are presented on the owners’ beautiful collection of ceramics. Reservations are essential.

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