One would think Japan was famous for ice-cream, the way I consumed it. I thought I’d share photos of the stuff you can’t easily see in North America. Yes, Japan has Haagen Dazs, but the flavors are different.
I love that combini (Japanese convenience stores) carry personal-portion containers. Even when I stayed at hotels without the convenience of a mini fridge, I was able to gobble up the yuminess before anything had time to melt.
My ice-cream trip started in Osaka, at this food truck. My eye went straight to the orange-colored treat. Alas, it was the only flavor sold out that day! I craved to taste Satsuma Imo (orange sweet potato) throughout my Japanese adventure, but nobody else seemed to carry it.
In the meantime, I found some other dairy treats to tide me over.
My first try of mini Haagen Dazs combined two of my favorite ingredients in Japanese sweets. Kinako – a roasted soybean powder with a nutty aroma, and Mochi – that stringy stuff that looks part tantalizing and part…suggestively gross in the above photo. It was a bit weird because when frozen, mochi becomes difficult to manage with a spoon. But it tasted nice!
On the same day, I also ate this Macadamia Nut flavor. I didn’t capture a photo of it because frankly, it was just off-white ice-cream that could’ve been mistaken for vanilla. However, the TASTE!!! I liked it even more than the mochi kinako.
Asakusa became my favorite spot for soft-serve. A little boutique along Nakamise-dori (dori = street) had quite an array of flavors. The staff was unfriendly and brusque, but I kept going back because of the yumminess. The pretty Sakura (cherry blossom) cone tasted faintly of cherry and had little bits of…something spun through it. I was quite intrigued by the technique they used to prepare the treat. In a freezer were pre-portioned cups of each flavor. The staff popped a cup into a machine that broke the frozen block up into a textured swirl. In North America, we have ‘twist’ style soft serve, but it always comes out smooth. Japanese soft serve of this type always has a bit of a ‘frill’ at the edges from the machine they use. In the above photo, I’ve eaten half the scoop already, but you’ll see in pictures coming up below, that the deckle-like edging looks lacy and attractive.
I also had Soba flavor from this same shop. Soba does not necessarily mean “noodles”. It is simply the flavor of the buckwheat itself that the noodles are made from. Its taste is hard to describe to anyone who hasn’t tried soba noodles. For more Western palates, perhaps it would be something close to buckwheat pancakes or crepes.
In Kyoto, I had a Mattcha Affogato, thinking it would be espresso poured over green tea ice-cream. In fact, it was cold mattcha with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream! I’ve never had a cold affogato, so it was a bit strange. Not off-putting strange, just not what I thought I had ordered! Nevertheless, it was a nice iced treat.
More Haagen Dazs snacks! That’s Marron Glacé in the first picture. Sweetened chestnut puree swirls over vanilla ice-cream with a gooey centre of what I can only assume was a chestnut-based caramel-like sauce. In the second photo was my least favorite of these HD cups; Japanese Pumpkin. This is when I realized the difference between pumpkin and kabocha. All these years, I thought I’d had what I thought was “kabocha”, when in fact, I’d never had access to it until going to Japan! Kabocha is in fact a squash with a dark green rind and the flesh is a bit more creamy compared to the Halloweenie type. As ice-cream, it just wasn’t that terrific.
In a historical theme park called Kabuchanmura, I wandered into a mini Saké museum. They offered free samples, but also whipped me up some fresh Saké ice-cream. My friend asked the attendant if she could have some. She was driving, and Japan has a strict no-tolerance law against intoxicated driving. Sadly, the alcohol content was too high, so I enjoyed the treat solo. It was refreshing with a bit of a kick!
I returned unexpectedly to Asakusa for one day, and was eager to visit my favorite ice-cream shop. As luck would have it, I came across a store that specialized in Kuri (chestnut) snacks. Their main offering was Taiyaki with red bean and chunks of chestnut. Though I couldn’t resist that, I also greedily ordered their kuri soft-serve, which was delicious!
I fell in love with this other HD treat sold mostly in the Lawson combini chain. Though I sampled two or three flavors throughout my travels, the first was the best. A paper-thin wafer sandwiched chocolate ice-cream surrounded by raspberry sorbet. Refreshing because of the fruit, and sweet due to the chocolate. Soft yet crispy and addictive!
I wandered through Japan deprived of that Satsuma Imo from Osaka. And then suddenly…
It was in my ice-cream crazed paws!
Upon returning to Osaka as my trip came to a close, this was the best way to end my adventures in dairy products. Randomly wandering through Shinsekai (“New World”) district, I saw a shop poster boasting over 21 flavors. When I approached to get a better look, I realized it was a franchise of that SAME vendor at the beginning of my trip. And they had that pesky sweet potato flavor! It was light and creamy, and it made me smile 🙂
Finally, I felt I could return to Canada fulfilled. Get it? Full and filled? Sorry, stupid joke!