Niseko is a destination snow-town on Japan’s northern-most Island Hokkaido, near the dormant volcano of Mt. Yotei. It has more annual snowfall than the last ice age and its neighbouring mountains are peppered with ski lifts, hotels and resorts. Our visit earlier in the year to what should be called “Powder Heaven” or “Land Of Permanent Blizzard” saw us pounded with so much snow we never even saw Mt. Yotei, one of the biggest and horizon-filling volcanoes on the Island. It was forever being puked on by the snow gods, so we’re not complaining too much.
Between travelling all over Hokkaido and (of course) snowboarding in the best powder imaginable, we needed to eat, so took that chance to visit a lot of ‘secret’ foodie spots. It did help that Dan had been to Niseko seven times already and that I am also a food critic and photographer when not writing about snow sports. Our food research and visit wishlist game was strong.
While you don’t need to be a member of a secret society to know about these venues, if you don’t speak/read Japanese, haven’t been told about a place, or done some research, then you are likely to never know about the following epic foodie havens.
GUZU GUZU BAKERY
FOOD: Bakery food specialising in Dutch Babies, Pancakes and everything else to make you squeal in delight
THE WRAP: A bloody marvel of a place and possibly my favourite bakery in the world. Seriously, the Dutch Babies (below) changed my life and their hot chocolate and other baked goods were insane! For more information check out my full gush piece – HERE.
FOOD: Chankonabe, Sashimi
THE WRAP: Chankonabe is a hotpot dish that is famous for not only its size but also because it is the food Sumo Wrestlers use when they want to gain weight. Ryougoku is run by an ex-sumo and his family and their food is out of control delicious. The meal we had was a Chankonabe feast. I dare you to try and finish it with a partner.
It started with the most beautiful piece of tuna on a paste and Shiso leaf. The tuna was divine and while the Shiso leaf looks like simple garnish it is a MUST eat. The care and flavours in its preparation were sublime. Next up was a plate of beef ribs, followed by a platter of the freshest sashimi I have ever consumed…. and then came the beast. A Hotpot with 21 different ingredients. Two of us couldn’t even eat half of it! If you are ever in the Niseko/Kutchan area this is a MUST visit restaurant.
FOOD: Ramen, Tempura, Japanese Curry
THE WRAP: The only real Izakaya on the mountain. Located on the slopes of Grand Hirafu it is a welcome warm retreat from the cold. They serve beer, epic hot snacks and a ramen so good you will get a little too comfortable while your clothes dry hanging around the pot belly stove. This is one place Dan said we HAD TO FIND. It’s not the best ramen in Japan but the entire experience of board-in/board-out along with the view, the warmth, and the beers make it one of the better on-mountain lunches you can have in Niseko.
THE WRAP: The Japanese name for this venue literally translated to “Okonomiyaki Tree”. Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake (of sorts) made with various ingredients. We tried the seafood, pork and mixed versions. There are also vegetables in the mix and they are best devoured with beers and/or hot sake. Getting to this place was a treat – so much snow!! Cannot recommend a night here for dinner. It is close to Izakaya style and the lower room can see you and your friends sitting at the low tables, playing games and drinking. This is one of the places where shoes will need to be removed.
NISEKO FOOD TRUCKS
FOOD: Multiple vans and food choices. Subs, Curries, Fish and Chips, Pizza Rolls and more.
THE WRAP: This is a must. But rug up. While we ate pizza wraps our beers froze into slushies haha. It was dumping and we wiped down a table to eat at and devoured pizza rolls – soooooooooo good!! The table was completely covered in snow within 15mins, pretty sure it was Minus 13c while we ate and yeah, frozen beers. But one of the best food experiences of the trip to Hokkaido. And OMG those rolled pizzas!!! HEAVEN
An IZAKAYA is a type of informal Japanese bar venue in which a variety of small, typically inexpensive, dishes and snacks are served to accompany the alcoholic drinks. In translation the “I” means “to stay,” and ZAKAYA becomes “sakaya” which means sake shop. Historically they started as a simple sake venue where you would stand and drink sake. This evolved to the barrels being used as seats and eventually, snacks were added. Now they are more about the food but I highly recommend you get into some sake or beer when visiting Izakayas. They are spread throughout Japan and could be considered the Japanese comparison to the Spanish Tapas Bar.
They are must-visit places and you will find some of the best dishes and conversation in these smaller styled eateries, They are usually run by families and are very intimate.
FOOD: Large Menu – we ate seafood but they had many choices
THE WRAP: Realistically Izakaya Raku was too large to be considered an authentic Izakaya in our Niseko Eats article but it is in the title. Of the Izakayas we visited this was our least favourite but this mostly came down to our food choices. We aimed for unusual choices and tried some larger whole sardine-like fish. I had to spit it out but Dan devoured them and survived. We then went for the single largest scallop we both had ever seen. It was about the width of a coffee mug base and we chopped it in half. It wasn’t like any scallop I had previously and I was not a fan, Dan, again finished it.
Raku would be suited to larger families, it is more restaurant styled and close to the centre of Niseko, just around the corner from the Rhythm store.
FOOD: Yakitori, Chicken wings, Deep Fried Cheese, Oden Stew
THE WRAP: My favourite Izakaya in Niseko. We did an Izakaya crawl on our last night and sadly we didn’t get to spend enough time at Ebisutei. It was traditional, intimate, steamy warm and incredibly friendly. We watched the Winter Olympics while here, smashed a few beers and devoured only two dishes. The chicken wings were some of the best I have eaten and the deep fried cheese was next level. Apparently, they are quite popular for their Oden Stew, a dish now on the top of the list for my next visit.
The staff were wonderful, the food we did have was epic and I loved it so much I bought the uniform and now rock my Ebisutei tee whenever I can. Put this one on the list!
FOOD: Yakitori, Sashimi, Hotpot, they even have Pizza
THE WRAP: The last of our tour is also a little larger, by the time we got here there had been a few beers consumed and we ended up in costumes. We again only demolished two smaller dishes and had some beers. This place would be ideal for families, the dress-ups are a little bit of fun and the food is delicious. We tried the pork and the chicken yakitori at Yui and they were both marvellous! The beer was great and swinging samurai swords at each other was hysterical. Not a difficult walk from the centre of Niseko.
For more posts on Travel Mountain Eats check out our previous articles HERE.