Recently, I traveled to Sapporo, Hokkaido (the northernmost prefecture of Japan) to see the annual Snow Festival. While traveling, of course I like to enjoy vegan restaurants, but it’s also important to have a chance to try local foods. In Japan, every prefecture and most well-known cities have regional speciality foods (and goods) that you are encouraged to try while visiting. Of course, as a vegan, this can be a bit difficult to do – Japan really, really likes fish, and somehow it finds a way of sneaking into everything.
So, each time I travel, I want to share with you local treats that you (probably) can enjoy! Of course it’s always good to ASK before trying – even if a recipe usually doesn’t contain butter or fish sauce, certain cooks may vary their recipes. But, here’s a rough guide of things you may be able to try while visiting!
A. Local Treats that are Often Vegan:
1. Sapporo Beer
Sapporo Beer is, as you might expect, from Sapporo (at least, originally – now it has several breweries in Japan and Canada). So, it’s highly recommended to order Sapporo while you’re out, or even try some after doing the Beer Museum tour in Sapporo.
2. Haskap Berry Products (ハスカップ )
The Haskap is a native plant to Hokkaido which produces blue-purple berries, and you can find delicious Haskap products everywhere in Sapporo. I saw Haskap jam, tea, hard candies, gummy candies, and even wine while I visiting Sapporo. Many of these products are vegan, so it’s a great opportunity to either try or take home a local good!
3. Royce Dark Chocolate* (read special note)
Royce Chocolate is a chocolate company founded in Sapporo, and in souvenir shops throughout Sapporo, you can purchase large Royce chocolate bars for only about ¥350. And, from what I can tell, their dark chocolate seems to be vegan! Most dark chocolate in Japan has whole milk powder, but this doesn’t!
*NOTE: It does, however, contain lecithin, which may or may not be vegan. In the US it always seems to come from soy, but I’m not sure about Japan. Also, at the ingredients it says that there may be traces of milk, which could either be in reference to the lecithin or to the machinery it’s produced on (since Royce produces milk chocolate).
4. Imomochi / Potato Mochi (いももち）
Mochi is a Japanese treat traditionally made with rice, and every region seems to have it’s own special way of preparing mochi. At the Yuki Matsuri, after interrogating the poor shop staff because I was very skeptical of this delicious-looking snack’s vegan-ness, I ended up getting imomochi. And it was AMAZING. I’m a huge fan of starch products and oil and am I always happy when the two join forces. It’s apparently a very popular road-side snack in Hokkaido, and while I didn’t see it anywhere besides the festival, if you do see it, please try it! Of course, with this kind of product, it’s always good to ask the seller to verify the ingredients. After searching online it seems that it’s almost always vegan (see recipe here), but occasionally people use lard for frying in Japan, and butter is very popular in Hokkaido, so do check!
5. Grilled Corn (焼きとうきび )
Hokkaido is also famous for corn. In fact, there’s a very popular character I kept seeing around town who appears to be a very adorable, huge-eyed ear of corn. Butter-and-corn Ramen is popular dish to eat while in Sapporo, and at souvenir shops you can buy vacuum-sealed ears of Hokkaido corn to bring back to your friends and coworkers. So, if you have a chance, try some! Festival often sell grilled corn, and while you would think this would involve butter, it seems in Japan then generally use vegetable oil or no oil at all (Of course, always better to ask each griller to be sure). I ordered this ear of corn at the Yuki Matsuri, and was assured that the only sauce used was soy sauce. However, it was grilled on the same grill as meat, so if this bothers you, be careful and watch what else they’re grilling.
6. Hangan-Sama （はんがんさま ) – Warm Sweet Bean-Filled Rice Cake
I actually have no idea if this is something native to Hokkaido – a cursory google search provided me with next to no information on it’s origins or really much of anything about it. However, at Hokkaido Jingu Shrine (which I highly recommend visiting), there’s a shop calle Rokkatei which serves free tea and offers a number of Hokkaido food goods, mainly sweets. There, you can purchase Hangan-sama Rice Cakes, and watch them heat them on the grill in front of you. They also served them pre-packaged, so I checked the ingredients first to make sure they were vegan, and they were!
I also got this manjyuu sweet at the cafe, and it was quite good!
B. Things that Usually Aren’t Vegan (but are Very Sapporo):
1. Soup Curry
Soup Curry is a much soupier version of Japanese curry, and was developed in Sapporo. There are lots of restaurants that serve it, but I generally assumed that it wasn’t vegan – most soups in Japan have a fish base. However, please ask! It’s possible that some restaurants have a vegan or vegetarian version!
If you are unable to order some, though, I recommend making some of your own! You can make it with curry roux (which isn’t highly recommended, and is also hard to find vegan), or from scratch (easier to make vegan). Here’s a recipe for a version with curry roux and here’s a recipe for one from scratch. Just substitute what you need to make it vegan! I made my own with prepackaged curry roux, but I’d like to try making it from scratch soon.
2. Corn & Butter Ramen
Another famous Sapporo dish is corn & butter ramen. For obvious this reasons, you’re probably never going to find a vegan version of this in a restaurant. However, I’m going to try to make it soon, since it seems like a such a delicious option!
C. Vegan & Vegetarian Restaurants in Sapporo
- Aoi Sora Organic Cafe (all vegan) – my review, Happy Cow page
- Cafe Chienoki (all vegetarian, vegan-friendly) – Happy Cow page
- Cocoon Nest (all vegan) – HappyCow Page
- Heureuse Vie (all vegan) – Happy Cow page
- Hiro Vegetarian Cafe (all vegan) – Vegi-Navi Page
- Itadakizen (all vegan) – my review, Happy Cow page
- Lohas Raw Food Cafe (omnivore, vegan friendly) – my review, Happy Cow page
- Natural Food Holo (all vegetarian, vegan friendly) – HappyCow Page
- Shindo Fuji (all vegan) – HappyCow Page