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 seven 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.
1/F, Suiboku, 191-29 Yamada, Kutchan Town, +81 136 22 5620
We started going to the 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 Supply Company
190-13 Yamada, Kutchan Town, +81 136 55 8861
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 it’s 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 a pre-ski treat!
Sessa Wagyu Hotpot
133-14 Yamada, Kutchan Town, +81 136 23 2799
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!
Bang Bang & Bang Bang 2
188-24 & 188-29 Yamada, Kutchan Town, +81 136 22 4292
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.
191-33 Yamada, Kutchan Town, +81 136 22 6638
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.
Crab Dining Kanon
1/F, Pension Kanon, 165-25 Yamada, Kutchan Town, +81 90 2695 4945
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 two menu options are offered: the two crab feast, which includes an appetizer, snow crab hotpot, boiled hairy crab, crab gratin, a rice dish and dessert, or the three 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 kitchen to prepare.
Niseko Ramen Kazahana
170-50 Yamada, Kutchan Town, +81 136 23 3444
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!
162-22 Yamada, Kutchan Town, +81 136 22 4770
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.
1/F, 155-416 Yamada, Kutchan Town, +81 136 22 6979
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.
170-138 Yamada, Kutchan Town, +81 136 55 8505
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.
170-205 Yamada, Kutchan Town, +81 136 55 8309
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.
The 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.
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.
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 and 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!