I am travelling to Hokkaido in a couple of days and will be visiting Sapporo, Asahikawa, Furano, Kushiro, Lake Akan and Shiretoko. Have searched through the board but haven't been able to find much chowhound ideas. Has anyone been to these cities? Any recommendations?
This sounds like a great trip. I hope I'm not too late in resonding. For eating, I would concentrate on seafood in Hokkaido. In Sapporo, there's a central market (a smaller version of Tsukiji) with an area just outside the main building (the jogai) with many places to eat (here's a website in japanese: http://www.jyogaiichiba.com/osusume.html ). I've seen on some Japanese travel shows that you can get fresh donburis or chirashi with lots of ikura and uni. Basically, they empty an entire package of fresh uni on top of your rice for about 2000 yen. And don't forget about the crab. The show Moshimo Tours, a japanese tourism-variety show aired a program on competing travel itineraries: natural heritage tour in Hokkaido vs. cultural heritage tour of kansai and western japan. (Here's the link to the episode: http://www.fujitv.co.jp/moshimo/tour/070324/index.html ) The natural heritage tour was similar to your itinerary. The aquarium in Asahikawa looks like a place not to miss.
I remember another episode of the program where they were up in Hokkaido doing a culinary tour, and they went to the wholesale market in Kushiro where you can buy a donburi of rice (or maybe sushi rice) and some of the markets have a buffet-like set-up so you can choose whatever fresh sashimi ingredient you want to put on your donburi. An okonomi-kaisen donburi (or chirashi sushi). That looked awesome, and a fine bargain for some of the freshest seafood you'll find in Japan. Here's a link to that episode: http://www.fujitv.co.jp/moshimo/tour/...
The other fish that is available in northern Hokkaido is hokke. While hokke is a semi-dried fish and available all over Japan, only in Hokkaido is it available fresh (though it might not be the season for hokke now). And as others have mentioned, once you're out of the coastal areas, lamb is widely available. There are also many dairies in Hokkaido and it's said that some of the best milk products in Japan come from Hokkaido, so that could also be worth investigating. Mixing butter and shoyu is a popular flavoring technique in Hokkaido. Hope you enjoy the trip.
If you are looking for a good place to experience lots of different kinds of sushi, go to the kaiten (revolving) sushi place inside the JR tower at Sapporo station - its so good and cheap! They have SOOO many different kinds of fish - and lots of fish I had never seen before!
Hanamaru Kaiten Sushi
JR tower Stella Place 6th floor
Also... Asahikawa has some good ramen - lots of chain ramen places
Sapporo also has this placed called the Kirin Beer Garden - there are actually a couple of them in the city - they do a crab all-you-can-eat thing at dinner for about 4500yen a person? i forgot.. but they give you salmon sushi, jingisukan, AND HUGE HUGE HUGE taraba crab - it is the BEST crab I have ever ever had. Well actually they give you three types of crab, but the taraba crab is the best. After you finish eating everything in the first round, then you can order back individual plates of either the salmon, the meat or the crab (I would recommend the taraba if you still have room for food!) But even without the AYCE, they have tons of stuff on their menu and the service is really good =)
Kirin Beer Garden - Urban store
Minami 3jyo, Nishi 4cho me
Urban sapporo bldg. 7th floor.
They have another one by Nakajima-park too
As someone who's heard about the cuisine in Hokkaido but hasn't actually been, I'll just mention what I've always wanted to eat there:
Ghengis Kahn (jingisukan): basically lamb and veggie korean bbq or hotpot
Ramen: this area is famous for their miso ramen
BEER!: Sapporo brewery
Seafood based food is supposed to be especially good in this region, so give sushi a shot.
Sapporo HQ is actually in Tokyo and the Hokkaido brewery isn't in the most convenient location, but the Beer Garden/ Museum is in the middle of the action and is a good, albiet touristy, place for Ghengis Kahn and frosty mugs of brew. They'll probably have a variety of different types on tap that you can't get anywhere else. http://www.sapporobeer.jp/english/gui... .
There are good local "gourmet" write-up magazines in Sapporo and probably for the other towns as well if you can read Japanese. I loved izakaya in Hokkaido more than any place outside of Tokyo, though that was in the winter time, a better food season in Japan. Unfortunately, I lost my notes from my visits there. Asahikawa is well known for ramen (there's a chain of shops nationwide that have co-opted the town name). I had a bowl of miso ramen that I can still remember nearly 15 years later. But alas, those notes are gone as well.