Takashi Igarashi, the head chef at NR, speaks fervently about the quality of Hokkaido ingredients and the uniqueness of the prefecture’s cuisine. “Potatoes, corn, carrots—so much of Japan’s best produce is from Hokkaido,” says Igarashi. In an homage to Hokkaido, where Igarashi grew up, he added soup curry to NR’s menu when he joined the restaurant in 2020. Soup curry is an expression of Japan’s love for curry spices, and is distinct from the roux-thickened Japanese curry that is beloved in the U.S and mainland Japan. Soup curry features a thinner dashi broth base, along with toppings like fried slices of kabocha squash, hard-boiled eggs, and braised chicken drumsticks.
Along with soup curries, hokkaido is known for ramen, particularly in the Asahikawa region at the center of the island. Asahikawa even features its own Ramen Village, where there are eight ramen restaurants on one strip. While ramen shops throughout Asahikawa offer their own variations of the dish, Asahikawa is known for a broth that draws from both seafood and pork and is finished with Japanese soy sauce. The Asahikawa-based restaurant chain Ramen Santouka sells bowls of this Hokkaido-style ramen at outposts in cities including Boston, Chicago, and Edgewater, New Jersey.
While the island’s signature soups and ramens have gained prominence in the U.S., Perhaps no item is as tied to Hokkaido’s reputation as dairy. Cafes in Hokkaido offer various types of milk for lattes and dairy-based treats such as cheesecake, creamy truffles, and cheese tarts. In the same way that Vermont butter and cheese are recognized throughout America, Hokkaido has a reputation for high-quality dairy that is, on average, higher in fat than its U.S. counterpart. Whole milk from Hokkaido is often at least 3.5 percent fat, while whole milk in America hovers around 3.25 percent.
This would explain why, when Sono first arrived in the U.S., he found that, as he puts it, “American milk tastes like water.” Keisuke Kobayashi of Indigo Cow, a Hokkaido soft serve shop in Seattle, was similarly disappointed about the quality of local dairy. He worked for two years to import Hokkaido dairy before opening his shop in 2021, offering soft serve that the Seattle Times praised as “flirtatiously sweet” with “natural hints of vanilla.” Whereas vanilla is often the default of American ice cream shops, Indigo Cow encourages customers to appreciate the purity of Hokkaido dairy by offering a “Hokkaido milk” soft serve, along with a rotating roster of monthly flavors including black sesame and Japanese sweet potato.