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What to eat in Northern Hokkaido, Oct 2023 - Potatoes

It's October here in Hokkaido, which can only mean it's the season for one thing... the region's most popular crop, potatoes!

Have you ever met anyone who doesn't like potatoes? If you have, you should send them to Hokkaido and I promise you that you'll change their minds!

Autumn has arrived in our northern land and with it, the potato harvest. Potatoes are Hokkaido's biggest export-- in fact, Hokkaido is the region that produces the most potatoes in all Japan!

So it's fair to say, we Dohoku Locals don't play around when it comes to our beloved potatoes!

Four potatoes lined up in the earth. They are a pinkish-red colour, like a raspberry.
Pretty ruby-red potatoes! This variety is known as “Red Moon”.

The life cycle of North Hokkaido's potatoes begins as early as April. After the thaw, farmers begin preparing their fields for potatoes. You can instantly tell it's a potato field by these big mounds of earth. They look almost like modern art!

A Hokkaido field full of soil mounds in straight and curved arrangements, ready for potato planting. There is a tractor far away and the top of a mountain is visible over the hill.
Farmers should be known as artists! The “une” in this field look beautiful!

These little mounds are called une in Japanese (pronounced "oo-nay"). The part of the potato plant that is harvested is its roots, so rather than burying the potatoes deep into the earth where they'll be tricky to dig out, they're planted into these soft mounds instead.

A meadow of potato flowers on a very sunny day. The potato flowers are in full bloom. In the distance, a row of silver birch trees stretches along the horizon.
A meadow of potato flowers near to Biei’s famous Seven Stars Tree.

By June-July, these fields burst into colourful flowers. The colour of the flower betrays the variety hiding below the soil! White flowers tend to indicate that yellow-skinned potatoes have been planted in the field while purple flowers suggest purple-skinned varieties (but not sweet potatoes-- those are completely different crops that grow in a very different way).

Potatoes on a sorting machine on a metal conveyor belt. They are being bounced around and falling into a large metal container.
Potatoes tumble around on a sorting machine.

The flowers wither, the potato plant begins to turn yellow and speckled. We have arrived at the current season, autumn. Those soft mounds that the potatoes were planted in earlier makes the harvesting process very easy-- you can either simply dig through and pull out the potatoes by hand (the old-fashioned way) or you can use specialised potato-harvesting machinery to drive up a row of potatoes and dig them all out in one go!

It's then up to the well-trained eye of the farm helpers to separate the good, large and healthy potatoes from the small or rotten potatoes. And of course all the rocks and weeds that get mixed in during the process!

Watching them do it is quite amazing. Their hands move so quickly!

Two farmhands in gloves and masks ride on a big potato harvester. There is a coveyor belt with potatoes going past and the helpers are sorting good potatoes from bad potatoes, rocks and stems.
Sorting at the speed of light!

Once harvested, the potatoes are shipped off to wherever it is that they need to go.

So, where can you try North Hokkaido's potatoes?

Actually... it's very easy to do so! Have you ever tried potato snacks by large Japanese brands like Calbee or Koikeya? Many of the potatoes used in their tasty snacks are contracted with farms across Northern Hokkaido! There's a good chance that any pack of snacks you buy from a convenience store in Japan is using Dohoku-grown potatoes.

Of course, there's no way to tell for sure where the potatoes in your bag of chips came from. So if you'd like to be sure your potato came from the North Hokkaido area and you'd like to taste the natural sweetness of our potatoes for yourself, I highly recommend that you try jagabatā (pronounced jagger-bat-ah) during your visit. Jagabatā means "potato and butter" in Japanese and as you might imagine from the name, that's exactly what it is! This Hokkaido speciality is a baked potato simply topped with fluffy butter. You can try jagabatā across all of North Hokkaido. It is commonly sold at roadside stations (Michi no Eki) as well as food stalls or canteens at many tourism attractions.

A hand takes a scoop of a buttered potato in a paper cup.
A delicious Hokkaido baked potato, with Hokkaido butter!

Of course, restaurants and cafes around the Dohoku area will sell tasty potatoes when they're in season, too! Why don't you join us for a local food tour in Biei and experience the taste of freshly-harvested potatoes for yourself?

I wonder what delights will await us in November?

We'll see you then!

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