Posts Tagged ‘ice cream’

Today’s J-blip: Mister Softee in Tokyo

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Mister Softee in the house

Are you a fan of “soft cream,” in all its lower-in-milk-fat-than-ice-cream glory? Mister Softee, a ubiquitous soft-serve ice cream brand in the United States, has finally made its way to Japan. In a departure from the trucks and simple stands where it’s sold in the U.S., its first concession in Japan is located inside branches of Café Siry, a luxury Tokyo sweets shop.

The grinning cone-head is commonly associated with casual comfort food back in the States, because it’s doled out from trucks and franchises dotted across the country, particularly in the northeast. However, Mister Softee’s surroundings in Japan are sleek and posh: bottles of Veuve Cliquot are being sold alongside the creamy treats. The shop is inside Gyre, the high-end shopping complex in Omotesando. (A second shop, also partnered with Café Siry, is scheduled to open within the month in Sangenjaya.)

While its U.S. counterpart comes in only two flavors — good old chocolate and vanilla — the Tokyo version has over 30 original ones, with six on rotation per week. For the opening, these include avocado and caramel, sea salt and olive oil, and cactus. Ask for the secret menu and you might get a concoction whipped up from whatever the server has on hand to experiment with. (Careful what you ask for — the other day, it was wasabi!)

Professional flautist Andrea Fisher brought the brand to Japan after a five-year stint driving a Mister Softee truck in Brooklyn, New York.  “I thought the kawaii Mister Softee character, along with the fun and yummy menu, would appeal to the Japanese,” she told us. And all those funky flavors? “Vanilla and chocolate just aren’t enough for Japan!” she said.

Fisher says it wasn’t a viable option to go the truck route in Japan, so they decided to start with storefronts. That means there’s no need to gather neighborhood kids with a song from a loudspeaker, so we aren’t sure exactly what they’ll do with her J-pop inflected remix of the familiar jingle. But it’s just as likely to get stuck in your head as the one that blared from trucks when you were a kid.

Japan’s tomato boom not yet bust

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Back in February, a seemingly unstoppable river of tomato juice was flowing out of supermarket doors up and down the country as Japanese shoppers jumped on the latest food fad to hit the nation. The frenzy had been sparked by a report written by researchers at Kyoto University that seemed to indicate that consuming large amounts of tomatoes was effective in alleviating “metabolic syndrome” (read: getting rid of your gut). Nearly six months later, although the tide of red pulp has slowed somewhat, sales of tomato juice are still significantly up, indicating that the trend is still in season.

Tomatoes are still on the menu in Japan

Kagome, who own a whopping half share in the domestic tomato juice market, report that they shipped double the amount of tomato juice in June this year compared to the same period in previous years. A Nikkei Shimbun article reports that sales of fresh tomatoes are also up, with Summit supermarket recording a 21 percent year-on-year rise in tomato sales this June.

It would be easy to call the jump in fresh tomato sales a statistical anomaly, since radiation anxiety made last year an exceptionally poor one for fresh veggie sales. But there is other evidence that home-makers are flocking back to the humble tomato. Recipe website Cookpad now has about 105,000 tomatotastic recipes submitted by users. Before the tomato boom, there were about 1,000 contributions per month for new tomato recipes. After the fad hit, that figure rose to 2,500.

Meiji Dairies Corporation, along with the Japan Vegetable Sommeliers Association, has been trying to generate public interest in the idea of vegetable chocolate fondue since last summer. Tying in nicely with the trend for gourmet vegetables, the idea is that you can savor the tangy acidity of your tomatoes alongside the sweet taste of chocolate. (You can simulate the experience somewhat by grabbing a pack of Meiji’s Chocolat de Tomato.)

The trend of appreciating gourmet vegetables has run alongside the home vegetable gardening boom, and in this sphere too, tomatoes are prominent. Home improvement store Cainz reported a 50 percent increase in sales of tomato seeds in March this year. No doubt fears over food safety and temporary food shortages after the 3.11 Fukushima meltdown has had an effect on this sudden burst of interest.

Tomato growers have been quick to cash in on the increased interest. Sasaichi sake brewers in Yamanashi, for instance, has developed a tomato liquor made from fresh tomatoes grown in the area, while in Takasaki, Gunma, a tomato ice cream has been on sale since July 27. So it seems the juice has not quite yet run out of the tomato boom.

Photo by tooony [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Pulsations (04.27.12)

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Here are the latest Pulsations, links to fresh stories and visuals about Japan, shout-outs to fellow bloggers, and highly clickable stuff that we think you might enjoy.

In no particular order, they are  . . .

  • On Making Ice Cream Out of Plastic in Japan (from This Japanese Life): Japan is world-famous for its varied cuisine, and pictures just aren’t enough.  This Japanese Life goes through the history and production method of Japan’s fake plastic foods.
  • The end of the line (from The Adventures of a Foreign Salaryman in Tokyo): In an unexpected break, Mr. Salaryman finds himself in a park alongside a homeless guy and another salaryman, who is looking sad. From this, the author draws an extreme conclusion.
  • Turntable Rider lets bike riders be DJs (from Spoon & Tamago): You know the feeling — you’re riding through Yoyogi Park, doing kick flips on your BMX, but it’s just not enough street cred for you. Why not DJ at the same time? Leave it to the Japanese to make “being cool” more time efficient.
  • Japanese astrology and warrior robot condoms (from Japan Sugoi): Some people choose their partner based on his or her zodiac sign. Of course, if you go this far, you might as well go all the way and choose your birth control by zodiac sign, too.

Summer’s ‘hottest’ ice treats

Friday, August 13th, 2010

Stocks of Gari Gari Kun were running dangerously low during July's heat wave

Stocks of Garigari-kun were running dangerously low during July’s heat wave

It’s official: This summer is a scorcher. According to Japan’s meteorological agency, July was 1.42 degrees hotter than the seasonal average. It was so hot in fact that Akagi, makers of Garigari-kun (Mr. Crunchy), one of Japan’s favorite summer time treats, officially apologized to the country on Aug. 3 for the recent shortage of their popular range of frozen desserts, which had apparently been flying out of the stores. When the the news of this popsicle stampede reached us, we thought it would be a good time to take a look at what’s popular and new on Japan’s frozen treat scene.

Collect cow points for prizes.

Collect cow points for prizes.

According to the Nikkei’s POS information service, the No. 1 sold aisu (popsicle or ice cream) this year is a peculiarly Japanese treat: the Azuki Bar from Imuraya. Also No. 1 last year, the Azuki Bar is said to have a pleasant texture that comes from using real azuki beans (sweet beans).

Second place is held the European Sugar Cone. Climbing up an impressive seven places from its No. 9 spot last year, the cone’s popularity reflects the fact that Japanese have an appetite for Western as well as homegrown flavors.

What both these leading products have in common is their value: the Azuki Bar and the European Sugar Cone come in packs, making them an extremely reasonable frozen treat.

My personal favorite value-for-money ice lolly is Lotte’s Hokkaido Vanilla Bar. Once you’ve eaten the lolly, you can collect the cow points displayed on the popsicle stick to claim free prizes, which include cow-pattern lunch boxes and cushions.

Haagan Dazs' salty butter biscuit was one of this year's new products

Haagan Dazs’ salty butter biscuit was one of this year’s new products

This year also saw a slew of new products hit the shelves, the most intriguing (or off-putting, depending on your perspective) of which is Moringa’s Camembert Ice Cream, which apparently has a distinctive salty taste.

Speaking of salty flavors, Häagen-Dazs also released a Salty Butter Biscuit flavor to the Japanese market this year which I can confirm is totally yummy. Another slightly weird one was Futaba’s Lemon Ice Milk, which must be employing some serious voodoo-style food science dark artistry to prevent the whole thing from curdling.

Other fruit-based products were a little more down to earth: Eskimo brought out a banana version of their Mow ice cream this year, and Glico also launched a new fruit flavor with their Yuzu Sherbet.

If you’d like to know more about Japan’s frozen treat scene, we recommend you read this article from Ping Magazin, which has a great photo gallery and interesting information on the history of Japan’s popsicle culture.

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