Buy the Fresh Morning Catch from Sapporo Nijo Market and Have it Cooked at a Local French Restaurant in Susukino at Night



(Written by Isis Berns)

 Sushi, a worldwide culinary favorite, owes its fame not only to the skill of masterful chefs but also to the origins of its key ingredient: the seafood. While high-end Tokyo restaurants painstakingly select the finest catches from local markets, many culinary connoisseurs journey to the northernmost island of Japan in their quest for unparalleled quality. Hokkaido, encircled by the ocean and renowned for its abundant marine life, boasts the freshest and most varied seafood in Japan. This island, famous for its crab, scallops, sea urchins, and salmon, offers a treasure trove of ingredients that form the cornerstone of Japanese cuisine. These high-quality offerings are celebrated not just within Hokkaido but across Japan and beyond its shores, gracing tables worldwide.

 Why is Hokkaido so famous for seafood? The secret lies in its unique geographic location, surrounded by three distinct oceans. Along its western coast, the Sea of Japan teems with an array of vibrant and flavorful sweet shrimp, including the Pink Shrimp, Botan Shrimp, White Shrimp, and even the whimsically named Cherry Blossom Shrimp — feeling a little Forrest Gump vibes in the Hokkaido oceans here! This region is also the proud source of the coveted Snow Crab (Zuwaigani), celebrated for its delicate, sweet flesh. To the north, the Sea of Okhotsk’s chilly waters are home to the highly sought-after autumn salmon, among other treasures. Meanwhile, the eastern coastline, facing the vast Pacific Ocean, yields large and richly flavored Sea Urchin (uni) and scallops. Hokkaido probably has every type of seafood delicacy you have ever heard of, and many more waiting to be discovered. The freshness and exquisite taste of its offerings are unparalleled, earning Hokkaido its well-deserved global acclaim as a seafood paradise.

 My husband Johannes and I, hailing from Germany and Canada, have been fortunate to call Sapporo, Hokkaido our home for over a decade. Initially, we weren’t big fans of seafood — a sentiment that might draw sighs of ‘What a waste!’ from some of you. As a city girl from Toronto, my seafood experience was limited to the occasional California roll or Canadian King Salmon sashimi.

 However, my perspective began to shift when I started working as an ALT in Shiranuka Town, located on Hokkaido’s Pacific-facing eastern side. The town takes immense pride in its daily seafood catch, which I got to experience first-hand through our school lunches while teaching at the local elementary schools. The menu was a marine parade: deep-fried fish, fish in miso soup, mini silver fish atop rice bowls, fish in salads, squid ramen, and even squid pasta. I vividly recall my adorable third-grade students playfully chiding, “Sensei, Miss Isis didn’t eat her fish, so I don’t have to eat mine either, right?” In those moments, embarrassed, I would focus on my white rice, avoiding eye contact with my fellow teacher.

 Over the years, living in Hokkaido has transformed our palates. My husband and I have not only grown to enjoy but also crave the rich umami flavors of the sea. We owe a heartfelt thank you to Hokkaido for helping us overcome our seafood aversion!



 On a brisk November day, we were invited to join a tour that took us to the Nijo Market in central Sapporo City. Our mission was simple: select fresh autumn seafood for a special culinary experience. Despite our growing fondness for Hokkaido’s seafood, I rarely prepare it at home for our family of four. My childhood memories of fishing in Canada with my father, catching impressive fish but never quite mustering the courage to gut them, still linger. Here in Hokkaido, my sole venture into seafood preparation was an unforgettable experience in Hakodate, where I learned to slice their famously fresh squid—now that was a slippery one! It’s a challenge I highly recommend!

 But what if you want to enjoy the freshest catch without the hassle of cooking? Or have you ever wondered, ‘Where in Sapporo can I take the seafood I’ve purchased or caught to be cooked to my liking?’ or ‘Can I just enjoy my market-bought crab in my hotel room?’ These questions are often asked by seafood enthusiasts. Well, you’re in luck, because we’ve discovered a delightful local restaurant where you can bring your market finds to be transformed into exquisite dishes. This culinary gem allows you to savor the freshest seafood, prepared just the way you like it.

 First, let’s delve into what one should consider buying at the Sapporo Nijo Market in autumn. Autumn in Hokkaido heralds the arrival of salmon, an iconic delicacy known for their vigorous journey up many rivers in Hokkaido, with a notable presence near the New Chitose Airport. For those who relish salmon as a sushi topping, a visit to Salmon Park Chitose is a must. Here, you can observe these magnificent fish in their natural habitat, and right next door, you’ll find a charming road station featuring a salmon-themed toy crane game at its entrance — even veteran fishers have a good laugh seeing that one!

 Upon arriving at the Nijo Market, the first spectacle to greet us was the seasonal salmons, prominently displayed. These impressive fish, measuring about 1 meter in length and priced upwards of 10,000 yen each, shone like aquatic jewels under the market lights.

 All the seafood lay on ice to keep it fresh, but there was almost no need for it on such a cool autumn evening like this. Even a few snowflakes coated the roads. What adds to the charm of Nijo Market is the thoughtful cover over the stalls, offering shelter from rain or snow. A delightful touch that caught my eye was the quaint salmon-shaped wooden planks marking each shop, and the glass buoys used over a century ago for fishing now transformed into lamps dangling from the roof. Try looking around for these atmospheric decorations the next time you take a stroll through the Sapporo Nijo seafood market.

 We encountered an older Japanese gentleman, clad in a thick apron layered over his warm jacket, crouching close to a heater under the market roof. He greeted us with a smile, ready to satisfy our curiosity.

 “Which crabs here were caught in the oceans of Hokkaido?” I asked, trying to decide which crab to order for our dinner.

 With a knowing nod, he replied, “Today, we have three different crabs: the Red King Crab (Tarabagani), Snow Crab (Zuwaigani), and Horsehair Crab (Kegani),” gesturing towards each distinctive red shell as he spoke.

 One thing that always strikes me about crab is its vibrant color – a mix of bright orange-red and beige. The crabs at the Nijo Market were particularly eye-catching, their hues almost unreal in their intensity. Every time I pass by these stalls, the temptation to capture the moment with a photo is irresistible.

 I asked the vendor, “How do the different crabs taste?”

 He explained that the Kegani, or hairy crab, is popular locally, especially for its edible innards which are considered a delicacy.

 I recalled my first experience trying ‘Kani-Miso’ with a shot of Sake mixed with it inside the shell. “That wasn’t bad, with the Sake!” I explained.

 “That’s a popular way to enjoy it, that’s for sure.” The vendor nodded knowingly. “But the innards of other crabs should be removed to avoid affecting the taste,” he added.

 Johannes and I exchanged surprised glances at this new information, “We didn’t know that!”

 When we asked which crab would be best for cooking, the vendor suggested, “All are good raw, but for cooking, the Tarabagani (Red King Crab) is meatier.”

 “We’ll take that then.” my husband decided.

 “You can grab the one you like,” the staff offered as he went to grab a tray.

 “Oh, it won’t hurt?” I asked my husband Johannes.

 “Try to touch it!” he encouraged with a grin.

 “I wish we went for the hairy one now!” I felt a bit uneasy looking at the sharp spikes on the King Crab. Encouraged by Johannes, I gingerly picked a crab from the ice. Its spikes were sharper than I expected, giving me a small start, but it was all part of the experience. Now I know how effective the crab’s defense system against predators is.

 “Great! What else?” The staff, ever efficient, was already moving on to the next part of the market, leading us to another display brimming with fresh, ice-chilled seafood.

 “Can we get a whole salmon? I’ve never actually bought one before,” I remarked with a mix of excitement and curiosity.

 Johannes, eyeing the large fish, pondered, “True, we always eat salmon at our local sushi restaurant, but we’ve never actually bought it ourselves.”

 I added, “I usually pick up sliced salmon at the supermarket. It’s convenient since it doesn’t require any gutting.” The size of the fish on display, with their gleaming silver scales, was indeed impressive. “I had no idea salmon could be this big!” I admitted, feeling a bit naive but fascinated.

 “Why don’t we try one? Does it come with eggs?” Johannes inquired.

 “This one doesn’t have eggs. However, we do have flavored salmon roe. Would you like to sample some?” the staff member offered.

 Intrigued, we agreed. The staff presented us with a tasting jar, handing us small spoons filled with eggs marinated in a homemade soy sauce mixture. The roe was large and burst with flavor in our mouths.

 “It’s incredibly fresh!” I exclaimed, savoring the taste.

 Johannes asked, “When does the salmon roe season end?”

 “It’s probably ending this week,” the staff member informed us. It was late November, a reminder for all salmon aficionados to visit Hokkaido in October and November for the freshest catch.

 We decided on a large salmon, requesting the best one around 10,000 yen. Additionally, we picked up a jar of salmon roe for our daughters back home. At 5 and 7 years old, they both adore ‘ikura’ at our local sushi shop. Our eldest couldn’t wait to heap half the jar onto freshly cooked rice for an ‘Ikura-don’ lunch the next day – a true luxury meal in the comfort of our home!

 “Look at these scallops, they’re saying hello!” I couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight of scallops in the water tank, opening and closing as if greeting us. “We should definitely get some of these,” I suggested enthusiastically.

 “Certainly,” the vendor responded, adding a few to our tray.

 Curious, I picked one up from our tray for a closer look. “Wow, look at the size of this!” I exclaimed, holding it near my face for comparison. “It’s enormous! I’m used to the smaller ones, but this is something else.” The prospect of seeing and tasting the meat inside these gigantic clams filled me with anticipation.

 I pointed out one of Johannes’ favorites: the ‘Okhotsk atka mackerel,’ locally known as ‘Hokke.’ This fish is caught in the waters of the Okhotsk Sea.

 Johannes inquired, “How does the Hokke from Hokkaido compare to those from other areas?”

 “The Hokkaido catch is richer in natural oils, which makes it tastier,” the staff member replied with evident pride. Then, pointing to another tank, he suggested, “How about some octopus?”

 The size took me by surprise. “Those legs are enormous!” I remarked, noting that some suction cups were larger than a 500 yen coin.

 Johannes and I exchanged a glance, both pondering the same question: “How are we going to eat that?”

 “Takoyaki comes to mind, but let’s leave it to the chef’s imagination,” I said, my excitement growing at the thought of a professional chef preparing our selections.

 The staff swiftly sliced off an octopus leg, adding it with a thud to our already laden tray. Johannes, struggling to balance the heavy load, exclaimed, “This is getting heavy!”

 I reached out to help, only to realize the heft for myself. “You’re right. It looks like we’ve got more than enough for dinner,” I said, laughing.

 After expressing our gratitude to the accommodating staff who neatly packed our seafood in a cool box, we embarked on a short drive down the street, eager for the culinary adventure that awaited us.



 Central Sapporo City is a paradise for food lovers, with thousands of restaurants serving any type of Japanese dish you could imagine. Seafood, being a specialty in Hokkaido, features prominently. But do you know any restaurant in Sapporo that will cook any ingredients you bring into a high-quality French-style meal? We were guided to a place just across from the Ferris Wheel at the Norbesa building in Susukino.

 I’ve lived in Sapporo for 13 years and have been to Norbesa many times, but I had never noticed this building before. The entrance was a simple glass door leading to a single elevator, quite understated and easy to miss. There were very few signs and nothing to show what was upstairs. It was almost like, “If you know, you know” as if it were a well-kept local secret. As we headed up in the elevator, we were curious about what we would find, excited to try something new in a city we thought we knew so well.

 It’s common in Japan for many shops, especially eateries, to be somewhat ‘hidden’ away like this. You might be familiar with alleyways lined with brightly lit signs for snack bars, ramen, and yakitori shops. In the same vein, buildings like the one we entered near Norbesa are typical, housing a variety of small bars and restaurants with limited seating on each floor. It was like an indoor, multi-level alleyway.

 As we explored one of the floors, we passed several intriguing shops. With no windows to peek through, the interiors remained a mystery. It was early evening, around 6 p.m., so many places were still closed or had signs indicating they were preparing to open.

 We navigated two corners and entered through a sliding door marked with a large chalkboard sign announcing ‘French Cuisine cantine SEL.’ Inside, the setup was cozy, with an open kitchen, a few red counter-seats, and several tables. The chef, Yuusuke Kurotaki, welcomed us with a grin, eyeing our bags of seafood eagerly. “Let’s see what you’ve brought!” he said.

 Chef Kurotaki, a native of Ashibetsu in Hokkaido, has over 15 years of experience in French cuisine. His vision was to create a casual French restaurant where people could stop by easily for dinner. He opens only in the evenings, focusing on cheeses and local Hokkaido ingredients.

 “You can call me Kuro-chan!” he said with a warm smile, his hands skillfully and quickly gutting and cleaning the salmon. He meticulously arranged all our chosen ingredients on separate large plates, presenting them for us to see.

 “First, I like to let customers see exactly what they’ve brought in,” Kuro-chan explained, motioning towards each ingredient. “Then, you tell me how you’d like it cooked. Your preference is key, anything you want!”

 Feeling a bit out of my depth, I confessed, “I’m not too familiar with French dishes.”

 Kuro-chan replied with an easygoing air, “It doesn’t have to be French cuisine. I can prepare these in Japanese, Chinese, or any other style you like.”

 “Wow! That’s very accommodating of you,” I said. “For the crab, how about some pasta?” I suggested, craving crab pasta that evening and thinking it would pair well with some wine.

 “Great!” Kuro-chan agreed. “I sometimes get customers from abroad who have had their fill of Japanese food, so they prefer something like pasta or potatoes. I can do that with no problem. And how about the salmon?”

 “Since we have so much, maybe we could try a couple of different dishes?” I asked.

 “I could do that,” the chef nodded.

 “I would love it grilled,” I requested, my favorite being the lightly grilled ‘Aburi-salmon’ with lemon on top.

 “I like hollandaise sauce,” my husband chimed in.

 “Okay, how about something similar but with a tomato base?” Kuro-chan suggested, thinking on his feet.

 “Sounds interesting,” Johannes said, intrigued.

 “For the scallops,” I pointed at the clams, “I remember eating them fresh off the grill with a big piece of Hokkaido butter on top. It was delicious. Can we do that?”

 “Absolutely. Hokkaido Butter Hotate,” Kuro-chan confirmed confidently.

 “And,” I said, feeling a bit embarrassed, “we’re not very fond of the ‘Mimi’ of the scallops, so you don’t have to include those.” I was referring to the squiggly beige ring around the scallop. Did you know all those small little black dots around the scallop are up to two hundred eyes?

 “Okay, good to know. I usually offer all edible parts of the scallop, but I’ll set those aside,” Kuro-chan responded with a smile.

 “What should we do with the octopus?” Johannes and I wondered aloud.

 “What about a type of salad? Like those thinly sliced octopus dishes?” I suggested, recalling a delicious octopus carpaccio I once had in the Sowa region of northern Hokkaido.

 “Sounds good, and I can also make some octopus pasta. Looks like we have a full-course meal here!” Kuro-chan beamed, eager to start cooking.

 “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!” we bowed in thanks and took our seats at one of the tables.

 “First, I have some quiche I baked earlier today for an appetizer, and I see you’ve brought some wine and local beer,” Kuro-chan said. “Please relax while I prepare your meal.”

 We toasted with our glasses and settled back, perusing the handwritten menu on a chalkboard on the wall.

 Chef Kuro-chan has been offering this unique ‘bring your own ingredients’ service since he opened his restaurant in 2013. He started it in response to friends frequently asking, “Could you cook this for us?” While he does have a regular menu, when customers bring their own ingredients, he delights in crafting entirely new dishes tailored to their tastes.

 “Nothing I make is on the menu; it’s all about matching the dishes to the customers’ preferences,” explained the owner-chef.

 How does this ‘bring-your-own-ingredients’ system work? He charges by the gram for the ingredients brought in, with prices varying based on the type of food. There’s also a charge per glass for any alcohol you bring. The atmosphere is cozy and casual, allowing you to watch the chef at work and chat with him while he cooks.

 “Do people often bring in large salmon like the one we brought today?” I asked, sipping my wine.

 “Oh, definitely,” the chef responded. “This is the 13th salmon I’ve worked with this year, and the first one came in on October 2nd. I even make my own ‘Ikura’ salmon roe jars for Christmas and New Year’s.”

 “That’s impressive! I’ve never gutted a salmon in my life, and you’ve done 13 in just two months!” I said with a laugh. Curiosity got the better of me. “What other kinds of ingredients do people bring here?”

 “Deer meat,” Kuro-chan answered promptly.


 “Yes, hunters often share their catch with friends and neighbors. Many don’t know how to cook it, so they bring it here,” he explained.

 “That’s fascinating!” I remarked. Deer hunting is increasingly popular in Hokkaido, especially with deer populations on the rise. Yet, strict regulations and the rarity of hunting licenses make cooking fresh deer meat quite a unique experience.

 “Fishermen bring their catches too, like flounder,” Kuro-chan added, continuing his culinary work with rapid skill and precision.

 “Then there’s the Hometown Taxation System; I receive all sorts of food ingredients through that,” Kuro-chan explained. This system involves sending financial support to local Hokkaido towns, and in return, you receive a thank-you gift filled with local produce, like seafood, steak, or boxes of fruit.

 “Wow, that sounds incredible!” I exclaimed, the thought of a large box of steak making my mouth water.

 “You’re aware of Hokkaido’s fame for fruit picking, aren’t you?” Kuro-chan asked. “People can go to ‘all-you-can-pick’ fruit farms and then bring their haul here. I’ll turn it into a meal.”

 “That’s amazing! So, you mean with cherries or apples?” I inquired, intrigued by the concept.

 “Any fruit!” he said with a grin. “I can incorporate fruits into meat dishes, salads… the possibilities are endless.”

 I was awed by the idea. Not being much of a cook myself, especially since my father and brother back in Canada are professional chefs, the thought of a fruit-based French meal crafted by Kuro-chan sounded delightful.

 So, what culinary delights did our French chef conjure up for us this evening? We had brought a full tray of fresh seafood from the Sapporo Nijo Market, and here’s what he served:



Grilled Hokkaido-Butter Scallops

 Artfully grilled and presented atop their shells, a single large scallop was the star center on our plates. The rich sauce, infused with butter as we requested, perfectly accentuated the scallops’ natural, slightly salty flavor.

 I savored each bite, delighted that it met my expectations for a perfectly grilled scallop. Johannes tasted his and expressed surprise, “This is really good.” He confessed, “Scallops usually aren’t my favorite – they’re actually in my top five seafoods I avoid – but how they’re cooked here is exceptional. It must be the buttery flavor.” It was a testament to the chef’s skill: even seafood that you think you might not enjoy can be transformed by Chef Kuro-chan into a dish that changes your mind.

Octopus Carpaccio

 This dish featured thinly sliced octopus with each oval slice layered to create a white and red spiral on the plate. It was adorned with a lavish sauce made from grilled bell peppers and vinegar. The combination was not only delicious but also visually striking with its symmetrical and appealing presentation on the plate. The raw Hokkaido octopus was a standout, proving that its reputation for quality is well-deserved.

Salmon Beignet

 This dish presented a thick chunk of salmon, expertly deep-fried in the kitchen to achieve a hot and juicy interior. The chef skillfully incorporated Konbu powder (seaweed), balsamic oil, and a blend of spices, creating a rich yet balanced flavor profile.

 As he enjoyed the dish, my husband Johannes noted, “Anyone can fry salmon, but this is exceptional. It’s not just fried – it retains all the rich, natural taste of the fish without relying on a heavy sauce. The chef’s choice of seasoning enhances rather than masks the salmon’s flavor. The chef needs to cook the salmon in a way that respects its freshness and inherent taste. Whatever sauce he used supports the original taste. You want the chef to cook the salmon but not kill the natural flavor. This hits the mark well.”

Creamy Tomato Crab Pasta

 As soon as the dish was served, the rich aroma of crab and oil wafted through the room, instantly whetting our appetites. Atop the creamy mound of pasta sat a crab shell, promising a hidden treasure beneath.

 Kuro-chan, with a knowing smirk, urged, “Try lifting the shell.”

 With a mix of anticipation and hesitation, I gently lifted the shell, only to be pleasantly surprised as a generous portion of crab meat tumbled out onto the noodles below. Kuro-chan’s laughter filled the air, adding to the joyful atmosphere. Each bite of the pasta was a delightful blend of flavors, and the visual presentation added to the overall enjoyment.

 Despite feeling full from the previous courses, the allure of the dish was irresistible, and I found myself eagerly savoring each forkful.

Octopus Pasta

 This dish was a delightful blend of garlic, oil, and a hint of red pepper, creating a flavor that was consistently engaging. Pasta dishes are often filling, but the exceptional flavors in these two pasta servings only intensified my appetite. Alternating between the crab pasta and the octopus pasta, I reveled in their distinct and rich tastes. I found myself switching back and forth, eager to savor and remember each unique flavor. I was thoroughly impressed with the striking difference in the taste of both kinds of pasta.

Tomato Salmon Hollandaise

 This dish featured salmon expertly sautéed in wine, then adorned with a unique hollandaise sauce enriched with tomato purée. As accompaniments, renowned Tokachi mushrooms and spinach were grilled to perfection, completing the ensemble. This creation was my personal favorite of the evening. It seemed as though each dish Chef Kuro-chan presented was a culinary crescendo, surpassing the last in flavor and finesse. Each plate was a new peak in our gastronomic journey. C’est délicieux!

Dessert: Shine Muscat Grapes on Oshamambe Cream Cheese

 The dessert featured Shine Muscat grapes, large, yellow-green ovals known for their sweetness and muscat flavor, a popular treat in Japan this time of year. Chef Kuro-chan, ever the innovator, didn’t simply serve them fresh. Instead, he marinated the grapes in alcohol to enhance their natural taste, then delicately placed them atop what initially appeared to be a scoop of vanilla ice cream. However, he revealed it was actually cream cheese from Oshamambe, a local Hokkaido town, ingeniously blended with a rich mousse. It was a sophisticated and delightful way to enjoy these special Japanese fruits, perfectly rounding off our exquisite meal.



 The dinner at Chef Kuro-chan’s restaurant was undoubtedly one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in Sapporo. Each dish was not only fancy but also tailored to our individual tastes, prepared fresh and made to order. We thoroughly enjoyed the BYOB option, savoring a Sapporo Hakkenzan Winery red wine and local Hokkaido craft beers alongside the meal. Despite our best efforts, we couldn’t finish all the seafood we brought, but fortunately, Chef Kuro-chan was well-prepared for such situations. He provided us with paper to-go packs, allowing us to take home the leftovers for lunch the next day.

 If you’re looking for a unique and memorable way to celebrate a wedding anniversary, birthday, or any special occasion in Sapporo City, I highly recommend starting your evening with a visit to the Nijo Market to select your own fresh seafood ingredients. This dinner course is not just a meal; it’s an experience that’s sure to impress whether you’re with family, a business partner, or on a date. Don’t miss the opportunity to make your evening truly unforgettable by booking this one-of-a-kind culinary adventure.