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The Food Nomad – Ultimate Food Guide to Niseko, Japan

Niseko Hokkaido ski

The Food Nomad’s Guide to Snowy Niseko, Hokkaido 

As a Vancouverite, I’m slightly ashamed to admit that my first snowboarding experience was not on towering Blackcomb mountain in Whistler, but on the snowy peak of Annupuri, Niseko in Japan. Since our first trip to Niseko 7 years ago, we’ve been returning at least twice each year for the exhilarating powder runs, the soothing onsens, and of course, the incredible food. Over the years, we’ve watched the upswing of Hirafu’s boom, transforming drastically from a somewhat sleepy ski village to a vibrant resort town brimming with modern, chic accommodations and world-class restaurants. There’s always something new and delicious opening upon every ski season, but we also make sure to revisit our old favourites. There’s simply too many amazing food options in Hirafu, so I’ve opted for a shorter format this issue in order to do justice to as many outlets as possible! Without further ado – here’s my MUST EAT list.

Upper Hirafu:

Abucha 2
1/F, Suiboku, 191-29 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 0136225620
We started going to Abucha 1 years ago before it transformed into the current Niseko Supply Company. The new-ish Abucha 2 is set in a modern concrete building along the main street leading up to the ski-lifts, and serves a mix of hotpot and izakaya favourites such as fried chicken karage, tofu tomato salad and hotpot. There’s always a massive line there – although we think the hype is overrated. Make sure to make your reservations in advance, as Abucha is one of the most popular restaurants in Hirafu! And while there, say hi to the “drunken” teddy at the bar!

Niseko Abucha 2 Hirafu

Bang Bang & Bang Bang 2
188-24 & 188-29 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 0136224292, 0136220480
With over 30 years of history, Bang Bang has been around long before Niseko became an international ski destination. Founded by Saito-san and his wife, who was drawn to Niseko by the skiing (of course!) and the excitement of frontier living, Bang Bang has been wildly popular ever since. So popular, in fact, that its sister restaurant, Bang Bang 2, has sprung up in recent years. Go for the grilled Hokke fish, the crispy Hokkaido sausage, mentaiko-stuffed chicken wings and the grilled sweet potato here.

#bangbang

Niseko Supply Company
190-13 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 0136558861
The revamp from Abucha 1, the Niseko Supply Company is the ultimate breakfast joint for powder chasers to fill up before a long day of carving the slopes. Scrumptious, buttery croissants, raisin breads and pain au chocolate are on offer, alongside egg and bacon toasties. The restaurant opens at 7:30am, but you better make sure to get there on the dot, as its a mad grab for the fresh croissant! Come afternoon, the place is still packed for “crepe-o-clock”. We absolutely love the salted caramel and Nutella crepes here as an apre-ski treat!

Niseko Supply Company Hirafu

Sessa Wagyu Hotpot
133-14 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 0136232799
Nothing warms a winter’s night quite like hotpot. Our stomachs grumble just thinking about the sumptuous Wagyu shabu-shabu, with snow-flake fat marbling of A5-A4 Japanese beef. There’s also a local seafood hotpot option, as well as vegetarian choices for those who could forgo Wagyu. A free car-pickup and drop-off service is available upon request, so nothing can stand between you and hotpot!

Niseko Sessa shabu shabu Hirafu

Izakaya Raku
191-33 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 0136226638
This is an Oldie but a Goodie.  We’ve been going back to this bustling izakaya for years, for our fix of cold draft Sapporo beer and kushiyaki. The buttery grilled Hokke fish is some of the best we’ve had anywhere in Japan, and the grilled king crab legs are also famous here. We drool over the crispy grilled salmon belly, and fried chicken karage is the perfect beer food. This is a no reservation joint, so make sure to either arrive super early (before the opening time at 6pm) or arrive around 8:30pm to catch the second round of seating. It’s definitely worth the wait.

Niseko izakaya raku Hirafu

Hotel Ivy Snow Castle

188-19 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 0136221123

One of the newest hotels just a stone throw away from the ski lifts of Upper Hirafu, we stayed here earlier this year. This winter, we returned for the opulent omakase meal in celebration of Christmas, and were impressed with the high quality ingredients, all executed with meticulous care. Our meal was packed full of luxury ingredients such as toro (medium fat – my favourite!), giant prawn (so fresh it still moved when we bit into it!), briny mullet roe, uni, foie gras, black truffle and Wagyu. A little touch of refined Kyoto in the wilderness of Hokkaido, with a hefty price tag.

Niseko Hotel Ivy Snow Castle omakase

Lower Hirafu:

Crab Dining Kanon
1/F, Pension Kanon, 165-25 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 09026954945
Hokkaido is renowned for its seafood, in particular, its meaty crabs. The crab feast at Kanon is like no other, and will guarantee a happy overdose of the sweet-fleshed crustaceans. Only 2 menu options are offered: the 2 crab feast, which includes an appetizer, snow crab hotpot, boiled hairy crab, crab gratin, a rice dish and dessert, or the 3 crab feast, which has the added course of grilled king crab. Prices are very reasonable for the quality and quantity, and range between 5000-6000 yen. Reservations are a MUST as you need to pre-select your meal set for the kitchen to prepare.

Niseko Crab Kanon hirafu

Niseko Ramen Kazahana
170-50 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 0136233444
One of the most unique ramen shops I’ve seen thus far, Niseko Ramen is the ultimate lunch spot for a quick energy top-up before heading back to the slopes. We love the spicy miso ramen here, but our favourite is the Niseko spicy ramen, which comes topped with a creamy fluffy cloud of “potato foam”. The rich potato cloud gives the collagen-rich pork bone broth an even more buttery taste. Hokkaido is known for its flavourful pork, so make sure to order extra helpings of their buttery sliced pork!

Niseko ramen kazahana potato

Cafe If…
162-22 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 0136224770
Run by elderly Mamiko-san and her brother, the only word to describe Cafe If is “darling”. Usually almost completely buried in thick layers of snow, the cozy little cafe is encapsulated in an indoor greenhouse of plants. Romantic classical music murmurs in the background while guests flip through backdated issues of NatGeo and sample Mamiko-san’s homemade cakes, all topped off with freshly whipped Hokkaido cream.

Niseko Cafe If Hirafu

Restaurant “Yo”
1/F, 155-416 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 0136226979
Thoughtfully-prepared, intricate, multi-course meals define the menu. Diners can choose between either a meat, fish or vegetarian course dinner, but just make sure you reserve well in advance. Our fish dinner came with small plates of sashimi, tempura, hotpot, udon, grilled fish, and had us bursting at the seams. The irori (Japanese hearth) dinner is also notable here, and truly atmospheric. Free transportation available upon request.

Niseko Restaurant Yo hirafu

Yosaku Yakitori
170-138 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 0136558505
Charcoal-grilled yakitori and cold draft beer are essential at the end of a long day on the slopes. We’ve been returning to Yosaku over the years for its simple, no-fuss grilled skewers. In particular, we love the juicy chicken heart skewers, a specialty of the shop. Arrive early around 6pm to grab a coveted spot by the smokey grill and watch the chefs at work.

Niseko yosaku yakitori Hirafu

Nabe Nabe
170-205 Yamada, Kutchan Town, Tel: 0136558309
A newcomer to the Hirafu dining scene this ski season, Nabe Nabe is all about traditional Japanese comfort eating. Snuggle under a heated duvet covering the traditional Japanese kotatsu seating and ladle up bubbling broth from the salmon, chicken or king crab hotpot. We almost overdosed on sweet king crab here, along with starters of fresh sashimi and crunchy daikon salad. To cap off the feast, rice is poured into the remaining broth, with each kernel plumped up with the umami crab juices, and simmered into the most intoxicated seafood congee!

Niseko king crab nabe nabe Hirafu

The Food Nomad Picks:

Too bruised to endure another day on the slopes? Check out Niseko Gourmet for a cultural day of Japanese cookery. During my class, I learned how to make rolled pork yawatamaki, and Japanese pumpkin tofu salad. Plus, you get to eat your hard work afterwards! But keep in mind that the classes are not challenging, and suited for beginners.

Niseko Hirafu village

Soak those sore muscles in the various onsens (hot springs) dotted around Hirafu. We love the open-air onsen at Hotel Alpen, as well as the tiny yet centrally-located onsen at The Vale. Go for a swim at the massive 25m pool at Hotel Alpen if you have enough energy.

Posh Bites: We personally prefer the laid-back ease of izakayas, especially after a long day of snowboarding. But for those in search of posher fine dining, there’s French-Japanese fusion Kamimura, refined An Dining at Hotel Ki, 3-Star Michelin chef at Asperges in Hanazono, and immaculate omakase at Snow Castle in Hotel Ivy.

Niseko snowboard ski winter

Quick Energy Boost: Slurp up piping hot, super addictive crab ramen at Hanazono 360 if you end up on that side of the mountain.

Shopping spree: Make sure to leave at least an hour of ample time to browse the seafood & sweets emporium at the Chitose airport. The seafood selection is fantastic, and the staff will pack everything in ice and thermal boxes so you can bring a bite of jet-fresh Hokkaido seafood back. We always stock up on giant king crab, mentaiko and sashimi grade jumbo scallops here!

Chitose airport seafood

3 Comments

  1. Glad to find your extensive list on my search. Great post. This Christmas is our third year in Hirafu village. With all the new restaurants popping every time we visit, the limited time and the difficulty in finding a seat (we also usually book the restaurants a few months in advance), I’m excited to try your other restaurant recommendations. I was just surprised that for Bang Bang, you didn’t mention their Wagyu steak, which makes Bang Bang a landmark in Niseko. Unless someone is a vegetarian, I feel that dining at Bang Bang is not complete without their signature Wagyu steak.

  2. Wow, this list sounds great, where’s the best place to stay to enjoy all of these and get access to the slopes?

    • Hope you had fun in Niseko! Sorry for the late reply but best place would be Hirafu village to stay close to the slopes and also the restaurants mentioned in this guide :)

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