Japanese Ice Cream: in weird flavors
By Geoff Botting
When the world-renowned Fat Duck restaurant in England came out with ice cream with the flavor of bacon and eggs, it caused a huge stir in the world of cuisine. The item was part of chef's Heston Blumenthal's approach of experimenting with people's basic perceptions toward food.
However, anyone familiar with the esoteric ice cream emporiums of Japan would hardly be surprised by bacon and eggs as an ice-cream offering. For the last few years, some of the strangest and most unlikely flavors on the planet have been available in iced form in Japan. How about an ice cream tasting of octopus or squid?
One place to find these and many other mind-blowing flavors is the Cup Ice Museum, which is part of Namco Nanja Town in the Sunshine City shopping complex in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district (access Yamanote and various other lines). Name a type of food you like, and chances are it's available in ice-cream form here. Got a penchant for beef tongue? How about Indian curry? Yep, they are both here, frozen, creamy and ready to be consumed either at the premises or in takeaway form.
This museum (it's actually a retail store) is divided according to region. Hokkaido, a vast land of diary farms and vegetable fields, takes up a large portion of the shelf space, not surprisingly. Here, you can satisfy any craving you might have for iced Jaga Butaa (buttered potato) and a range of other regional delicacies.
Offerings from Miyagi Prefecture, in Northern Japan, are not to be outdone. Prominent is "tan" (beef tongue) flavor ice creams. "Surprise your friends," says the container's label - and if you give it to them you no doubt will!
There's also miso ramen flavored ice cream - a perfect dessert after, um, a hot bowl of ramen, perhaps. How about salt? That's right, just plain old salt. The operative ingredient, the label tells us, comes from a bay famous for its high-grade sea salt - one natural resource Japan has never really run dry on.
Indeed, it seems the role of many of the ice-cream products is to showcase regional delicacies and ingredients. A container of kelp-flavored ice cream advertises itself as a "unique kind of ice." "Made from pure kombu (Japanese for "kelp") that's full of vitamins and created from an especially high grade of kombu," it reads.
Filling out the seafood selections are octopus, squid and a long thin fish called Pacific saury, sanma in Japanese, flavors beyond the threshold of this squeamish writer but all tastes based on popular Japanese seafood dishes, albeit not often found in such a form.
"The weirdest flavor would have to be Pacific saury," nods a young woman employee. "The most popular flavor among the Japanese visitors is beef tongue, and with the foreigners it seems to be the Indian curry" she adds.
The prices here are a tad steep. Cups of 130 milliliters each sell for 350 - 400 yen. But keep in mind, the ingredients are natural and the products, many of which are claimed to be "handmade," are meant to be savored slowly, not gulped down.
Given the plethora of strange flavors, it might come as a surprise that plain old vanilla occupies a prominent place in the Cup Ice Cream Museum. Being a neutral flavor, vanilla seems to be a way for the ice-cream makers to showcase their standards and quality. These products are made from fresh and rich creams, clearly not for those on a diet.
A vanilla cup produced by the Nagato Diary Farm Ice Cream company bears a somber-looking crest featuring a cow in a pasture. The 120 milliliter cup is priced at 440 yen. Clearly, this stuff is for purists and connoisseurs.
Booze is also featured. A cup of amazake (sweet Japanese sake seen in the colder months and at festivals) goes for 350 yen. The fad for shochu, a distilled beverage, hasn't been left out, either. A shochu variety made from rice is on offer, made at a Suntory distillery on Kyushu Island in Southern Japan. Beer-flavored ice cream can also be had.
Yet you needn't be a masochist or a connoisseur of the weird to enjoy ice cream in Japan. Conventional ice cream counters typically have the familiar flavors: vanilla, chocolate, rum and raison, and so on. But a handful of surprises will be thrown in as well. The Blue Seal chain of ice cream counters, for instance, offers Chura Imo (sweet potato flavors from Okinawa) and Shio Chin Sukou (salted biscuits).
Bacon and eggs ice cream never sounded so conventional - did it?
I haven't been here but found out about this place through a korean tv show that I saw months ago. A lot of travelers from all around the country visit here to explore and taste many interesting icecream. It's not on the article but there are also: rose icecream, tofu icecream, miso ramen icecream, dracula(garlic)icecream, salt icecream, black rice icecream, vegetable icecream, pearl icecream, crab seafood icecream, squid icecream, sake icecream, soysauce icecream, astronut icecream, etc.
-So Jung Cho