Hokkaido’s temperate climate and expanses of rainbow-bright flower fields have long made the northernmost island a popular escape in the summer months.
But there is one particularly compelling culinary reason to make a pilgrimage to Hokkaido this season: its melt-in-the-mouth uni (sea urchin). The region has long been known as a major producer of Japan’s popular orange seafood delicacy, thanks to its kelp-rich waters.
Those setting off in search of the ultimate uni should start in Hokkaido’s mountainous Shakotan Peninsula, two hours west of the capital city Sapporo, ideally between mid-June and mid-August. Order uni don (sea urchin on rice with soy sauce) from any of the region’s countless local restaurants.
One such spot is Misaki, a popular establishment run by a local fisherman (osyokujidokoromisaki.com).
The most intrepid of uni seekers should venture even further north to Hokkaido’s far-flung Rishiri Island in the Sea of Japan – perhaps one of the most remote spots in Japan, complete with a thriving summer uni trade. Hop on a ferry from Wakkanai city and travel the 20 kilometres west to explore Rishiri (and, if time allows, the neighbouring Rebun Island). In addition to tourism, Rishiri’s main industries are uni and kombu (a type of seaweed). The best time to visit is between July and September. Almost all of the island’s local restaurants serve an array of uni treats, from uni don to uni ramen. For a foolproof feast, head to one of the restaurants near Oshidomari Port.
Those who are unable to venture quite so far can still enjoy exquisite uni from the comfort of Hokkaido’s main city, Sapporo, where chefs are spoilt for choice when it comes to using the highest quality uni in their cuisine. One standout spot is Sushi Miyakawa, recently bestowed three Michelin stars (sushi-miyakawa.com).