Niseko in Hokkaido is a playground for fans of the outdoors, making it the perfect place to build up an appetite for these great local foods.
Known for its perfect powder snow and summer alpine activities, Niseko is also blessed with amazing produce, thanks to the fertile volcanic soil and the pristine seas surrounding Hokkaido. The mountain area’s international population also lends a unique diversity to its culture and cuisine. Here are 11 foods to make a beeline for when in Niseko.
Because of its lush natural surroundings and pristine water, Niseko’s local sake is also immensely drinkable. Local restaurants and bars will serve sake from the region, or visit The Cabin Niseko for some guidance on more than 20 types. You will also be able to buy the delicious rice spirits in the many convenience stores that dot the area – our picks are Satsudora in Hirafu and Lucky in Kutchan.
Yes, unexpected in a Japanese mountain town, but Niseko was ‘discovered’ by Australians in the eighties, and as it grew in popularity, they also brought along their vibrant coffee culture (which was ingrained there by Italian and Greek migrants moving to Australia in the 1950s). All across Niseko, cafés serving artisanal blends and delicious brews have sprung up, making café-hopping in spots such as Graubunden an extremely enjoyable way to pass the time, winter or summer.
Hokkaido has the most dairy farms in Japan, supplying to the rest of the country and beyond. Milk, yoghurt, cream, ice cream and cheeses here are divine, rich, creamy and sweet – owing to cows grazing on the lush grasses and drinking from the pristine mountain springs. While in Niseko, don’t miss out on the Takahashi Dairy Farm Milk Kobo, worth visiting for its light fluffy choux puffs filled with vanilla creme patissiere, soft-serve and cheese tarts, or Niseko Cheese Factory to sample its award-winning cheeses, from the gouda and camembert-style cheese to citron-coated curd and spiced mozzarella. There’s also Niseko Fromage for Seko Akira’s handmade, natural cheeses, where the Crispy Cheese is a great gift to take home.
Who would have thought that Japanese whiskies would begin to win awards on the world stage, standing up to and overtaking Scotch single malts and blends? In Hokkaido, the whisky journey began with Masataka Taketsuru, who mastered the trade in Scotland in 1918, then opened his Nikka Yoichi Distillery in 1934. Masataka-san chose Hokkaido because he said that with its mountains and surrounding seas, the environmental factors were close to that of Scotland. The distillery is a 40-minute drive from Niseko, where you get to see the process, procure some bottles and also sample some of the award-winning spirits.
Rich, incredibly fatty and melt-in-the-mouth tender, Japanese beef will spoil you for life, but don’t let that stop you from trying it while in Niseko. Local Hokkaido Shiraoi black wagyu is intensely marbled and can be purchased at the supermarket for you to cook as you wish, or seek out any one of the many steak, shabu-shabu, yakiniku, yakitori or teppan joints in Niseko, such as Rakuichi Soba, for mouthfuls of ecstasy. It comes at a hefty price, though, so savour every single bite.
From pale and pumpkin ales to oyster stouts, IPAs and pilsners, Niseko’s artisanal beer producers pour out delicious brews that will leave you wanting more. Tour the brewery at Niseko Beer before sampling some beers, or skip touring and go directly to Niseko Tap Room in Hirafu, where you can sample a selection of Hokkaido beers on tap. Craft beers can also be bought at Lawson in Hirafu and other convenience stores in the area. Again, the quality of produce and water is the cause of the excellence of these pints.
Hokkaido seafood encompasses delights from sweet, succulent scallops to fatty tuna otoro, smoked flounder, marinated salmon roe, hairy crabs, oysters and creamy, briny sea urchin – each item is top of its category in terms of flavour, texture and freshness, and nowhere can you enjoy it better than in Niseko, where the restaurant scene is so varied and skilled that you are spoilt for choice. Keep it traditional at Sushi Kato, where owner-chef Kato-san and his partner JJ display their expertise in local seafood, paying it the homage it deserves.
Makkari is a village located a 20-minute drive from Niseko, on the southern foot of Mount Yotei. The village is most famous for the pork from its pigs, which live an idyllic life grazing on herbs and flowers. The resulting meat is fragrant and tender and features in most of the pork dishes from katsu (breaded and deep-fried) to curries, butadon (rice bowls), shogayaki (ginger-onion stir-fry), shabu-shabu (hot pot) and ramen (noodle soup). Taste the best of Makkari at French-style Maccarina or learn to cook with it at HOKKAIDian Homestead, where cooking classes incorporate the best of local, seasonal produce.
Niseko’s landscape changes from snow-blanketed slopes and plains to lush green mountainside and rolling fields, bringing prized vegetables such as sweet, creamy corn, juicy melon, fragrant strawberries, mikan (a satsuma / mandarin) and some of the world’s best potatoes. Look for these fresh in grocery stores and supermarkets, or as products you can take away such as strawberry jam, Jaga Pokkuru potato chips, sachets of corn chowder and freeze-dried melon pieces. In restaurants, these ingredients are highlighted in ways that best bring out their flavours, and many restaurants also serve the famed Kutchan 540 potato – potatoes that are aged for 540 days to develop their starch content, making them sweeter.
Acclaimed French patisserie Pierre Hermé Paris runs the pastry section of the plush new Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono, where they offer the most delicious green tea and adzuki (red mung bean) macaron, a unique creation available nowhere else in the world. The Macaron Depayse, as it’s called, can be enjoyed in the Pierre Hermé Paris Afternoon Tea – a sophisticated and exciting rendition of afternoon tea featuring mouthwatering morsels such as the smoked salmon monaka, deconstructed Ispahan and Hokkaido soft-serve, and much more in four decadent courses. The one-of-a-kind macaron is our pick for a luxurious, special gift to carry home.
The sparkling clean mountain spring water in Niseko also means the tofu made here is excellent! Smooth and creamy, with a light minerality, Niseko tofu is served in most restaurants, be it izakaya, robata or sushi houses. The tofu is so fresh and delicate that you will often find it simply dressed with light soy sauce and topped with a soupçon of grated ginger and spring onion. At Wakimizu no Sato, you will find a variety of handmade tofu items to sample, from pure unadulterated tofu to moist tofu doughnuts, soy milk drinks and fried tofu. Another plus – Wakimizu is located right next to the Mt Yotei mineral springs, which is the shop’s source for making its tofu.