Outside the ski season, one of the best times to visit Sapporo is June. The blocks of frozen ice have finally released their clutches on roads and sidewalks and the sunny days throw the entire city into a party mood. Given the quantity of snow that mounts up in front of door ways between November and April, it’s perfectly possible that many residents have been living on food care packages lobed through upper story windows for months.
In celebration of the fact it is now safe to remove your gloves while eating outside, Hokkaido University holds its annual ‘Hokudaisai’ festival. This four day celebration runs from Thursday to Sunday in early June and involves live music, dancing displays, costumes and –possibly the most highly anticipated– the international food festival.
Consisting of 40 stands manned by international students, these stalls showcase home cooking from around the world. With the aim being to promote cultural exchange, prices are capped at 500 yen, allowing visitors to sample a wide range of dishes on a very modest budget. There are also different displays sharing cultural information to feed your brain as well as your stomach.
With my laboratory being squarely in the middle of the action, I was practically obliged to ‘take one for the team’ and sample a large range of wares to ensure quality consistency and accurate journalism. You’re welcome.
My favourite was possibly the tent from Pakistan with their samosas and mango lassi, although the Ethiopian stand was a close competitor, selling falafels and ‘shawarma’; a chopped meat selection a little like a kebab. There was also boortsog from Mongolia (a fried doughnut-like snack), montadito tapas from Spain (bite-sized baguette pieces with amazing toppings), rotating Turkish-style donor kebabs and a range of meat skewers. For those with a sweeter tooth, candy floss, glazed fruit and pastries were in abundance. Frankly, it was amazing I still had the use of my legs by Monday.
The only slight confusion came when I thought one stand was selling skewers of horse meat. However, this turned out be the University’s equine club which was advertising next to a pile of chicken skewers. There’s a lesson to be learnt here involving visuals and foreign visitors.
The festival is open to everyone and is also a great opportunity to catch an unusual view of the campus not under several feet of snow. So if you’re planning a trip to Hokkaido, consider June. And not eating in May.