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The top brand for Hokkaido confectionery is Ishiya for their most delightful tasting "Shiroi Koibito (White Lover)" Langue du Chat biscuits. The popularity of this brand has even spawned a suspiciously similar-looking knock-off brand called "Watashi no Koibito (My Lover)".
I've tasted both brands, and Ishiya the famous one is by far the best..... even though they were exposed in a quality control scandal in 2007 by which it was discovered that raw material ingredients whose use-by dates had expired were used regardless.
They pulled their products off the shelves, rehabilitated, and came back with a vengeance, as this product is now consistently sold-out even several months after re-introduction. Marketing gimmick? Perhaps. But we were "lucky" to be in the right place and right time at only one of many shops visited and finally able to purchase even just a limited number per customer.
Ishiya introduced another confection in 2005 called "Mille Feuille", and whose taste was just as excellent as their flagship product, and perhaps too unknown yet to be consistently sold-out. It's a small rectangular bar of crispy mille feuille with either of caramel, marron or blueberry cream interspersed, covered with chocolate (and white chocolate for the marron).
By the way, in one of the minor photos, the recent advert of the poor man's version of the famed langue du chat biscuit reads like this:
"Safe!" "Rest assured!"
"For 20 years, we've been placing importance on our quality controls to keep our customers smiling!"
There are so many local brands for other Hokkaido confections here, but to name some of the better ones, there are Royce Chocolates (http://www.e-royce.com/) whose chocolates are also well-received favourites, as well as the nationally available Juchheim Baumkuchens which have Hokkaido-only versions of kuchen/cheesecakes which are nice. Hori Confections are another local brand whose taste is not so bad.
Updated Feb 18, 2008
The tourist shop industry is well established in Hokkaido, and since the last visit in 2004, has made rather remarkable progress in making the infrastructure international-friendly, attracting mostly our neighbouring Asia-Pacific friends.
Fresh seafood products and fresh seafood are well known, and varieties of crab, ikura (salmon) roe, tarako (cod) roe, salmon, squid, uni (sea-urchin) are especially typical and well-loved Hokkaido seafoods. For the domestic traveller, there is secure infrastructure to ship frozen or chilled seafood anywhere within Japan.
As for processed seafood products, vacuum-packed "hokke" dried Atka mackerel or salmon, rice-stuffed boiled squid, dried kombu seaweed are easy to store and carry home.
It is also easily arranged and not too expensive to ship these as packages within Japan as well.
Local supermarkets and basement grocery sections of department stores will more or less have the same products for cheaper prices, though only the posher department stores can also arrange to domestically ship your purchases.
Updated Feb 18, 2008
Well known are agricultural produce especially potatoes, corn, and the famed Yubari melons (the ones which cost several hundreds dollars for one, or rather for the best and sweetest ones, measured electronically).
Here are freeze-dried flakes of potato, corn, carrots, pumpkin which are handy for cooking. Vaccuum-packed boiled corn and other portable products are available.
As for non-food items, lavender things. lavender-themed limited edition toys (i.e. in the way of Hello Kitty stuffed dolls), wood-carved local craft and the like are seen.
Written Feb 17, 2008
It is easy to find take-home ramen packs at any of the tourist shops, or the better local department stores. Though the concentrated soup packs are securely packed, most of the noodles are fresh semi-dried type with an use-by date of two weeks or so.
Caveat: The ramen in the minor photos are not from the packs but from the actual Sapporo ramen shops!
Updated Feb 17, 2008
It's actually more like a group of shops in Farm Tomita in Nakafurano. It's got lots of souvenirs or presents you can bring back and mostly it's made from lavender. From potpourri to tea, from lotion to air fresheners, whatever you can think of that lavender can be made of, you can find them here. Oh and the nice thing is that they will give you extra packagings, complete with their stickers. It's all very well thought of.
What to buy: Any of the lavender-based products will serve as a good souvenir
What to pay: from 200 yen to thousands of yen...depends on what you are getting
Written Oct 22, 2006
Address: Farm Tomita
In Sapporo's shopping district, you can find a long lane consisting of 7 sections separated by roads. You can find all sorts of shops along these sections, selling all sorts of goods, from clothing to Japanese knives to discount items and sports wear.
On lane 4, you can enter the underground subway station, which leads to an underground shopping mall, which in turn is connected to other above-ground shopping malls in the area. If you're hungry or thirsty, there are cafes and restuarants. If its raining and you need an umbrella, you'll find a variety to choose from here. Ladies' and men's fashion, also available.
You can find speciality shops here too, such as kimonos and other traditional dress, socks and leg-warmers, etc. Unfortunately, Japanese goods do not come cheap.
What to buy: Budget shoppers may try their luck at the sales rack, which certain shops have, or at shops targetted at young people.
Written Sep 19, 2005
The Ishiya Chocolate Factory is home to delightful made-in-Sapporo confectionary. Ishiya's white chocolate cookies are most popular among its range of chocolates, cookies, cakes and ice-cream, all of which can be ordered on-line from its internet store.
Although visitors may imagine that they will get a glimpse of how these goodies are made by visiting the factory, it is not so. However, the factory's extensive grounds are open to the public. There is a garden, a clock tower and fountain. The Europeanisque building itself is something of an attraction, with large cartoon models of bakers scaling the brick walls.
What to buy: The Shiroi Koibito range of chocolate cookies are to-die-for! Two pieces of cookies with a slice of chocolate (milk or white) in the middle, individually wrapped. The ones with white chocolate are in the dark green wrapping, while those with the milk chocolate are in the white wrapping. Available in boxes of 12, 18, 24, 28, 36 (mixed) and 54 (mixed).
What to pay: A box of 12 chocolate cookies go for 630 yen, while a mixed box of 54 costs 3150 yen.
A 55g slab of chocolate (5 different varieties to choose from) costs 158 yen.
Written Sep 9, 2005
Address: 11-36 Miyanosawa 2-2, Nishi-ku 063-0052, Sapporo
Hokkaido is famed for its wooden carvings, expertly hand-made. You will find alot of carvings of its wildlife like the bear , the deer, the crane, the owl and the kitsune - fox.
The Ainu seems to have a very deep infinity with the wildlife which may have been important to their survival and their culture. Many wildlife appears not only in their local handicraft, but also their folklore and dance.
What to buy: Wildlife carvings
Ornaments like boxes, keychains, etc.
What to pay: Carvings can range from US$10 to a few hundreds for a larger, more intricately carved piece.
Written Dec 16, 2004
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