Japanese ice cream makes me happy!

It’s been a long cold winter, there is still snow on the mountains and I am eating and blogging about what makes me happy 🙂 My new year’s resolution of living my life instead of letting life live me has, so far, been a pipe dream and I have not come anywhere near actually making it happen. However, one of my additional little resolutions, New Year’s Eve and Summer is finally here,  has been well and truly ticked off the list. I am proud to say I have raced down that road and rung the bell (or at least caught up with the the guy ringing that happy bell!)

Says it all!
(Photo by Leo Reynolds, that I have lifted from Flickriver. Thanks Leo!)

I have noticed on my travels, that the colder the climate the more readily ice cream seems to be available and the more open everyone is to eating it! I was absolutely delighted to find that when we landed in Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan and home to the snow monkeys, they are obsessed with ice cream! YAAAYYYY!!!! I won’t bore you with details of travel and sight seeing, I will just show you and tell you about the marvellous soft serve that I ate. The island of Hokkaido is the bread basket of Japan, so cows and fruit abound.  For the Japanese, soft serve is the ice cream style of choice. Smooth, refined, soft and delicate, everything that appeals to the Asian palate. I am used to the big bang, flavours of Aussie style cuisine and  I swing from loving the icy, bite in the mouth, gelati, to full bodied, richly creamy, home style, custard based, ice creams. Soft serve was always the poor cousin relagated to cheap choc dips and McDonald’s 50 cent cones, with that strange milky sweetness. Well, my mind has been changed!

Black sesame and milk, a really old school favourite flavour.

Our first stop, and we found a real old school favourite, Black Sesame. Black sesame, in any Asian dessert, has a slightly gritty texture and a pleasant deep bitterness that contrasts beautifully with a sweet finish. Both hot and cold desserts are made with this flavouring but ice cream is a perfect carriage. The smoothness of ice cream gives the ground sesame a soft bed to carry it and contrasting it with a plain milk is simply, genius.This is my dad in law’s hand…of course, he loves it!

Next ice cream stop, Hakodate tower. Hakodate, is the Southernmost fishing village on Hokkaido. Home to the

Cherry blossom ice cream, a truly romantic flavour, with a view of Hakodate.

3rd most spectacular night view on earth, as our tour guide tells us! I can vouch that the view was spectacular and that it was absolutely freezing too boot! Obviously didn’t stop us from eating more ice cream. This beautifully soft, and delicately flavoured Cherry blossom ice cream was what a lot of us imagine Japan to embody, all piled high on a crisp, wafer cone. Over 1000 cherry blossom trees are planted here, however, I missed out on that view by just a few weeks. Plenty of snow, just no cherry blossoms:(

And, this is where it starts getting weird. The Japanese seem so nice, so normal and then you dig a bit deeper and things start to get just a little strange! So, guess who went straight to the counter to order what no other adult, no matter how much they thought of themselves as gourmands, could bring themselves to do? Yes, my son ordered squid ink ice cream and ate the whole thing. Of course I had a taste, it tasted like, squid ink. Bitter. Bitter without the subtlety of black sesame and because it is such a novely, unfortunately not made with as much finesse. Icy and probably needing seasoning, I would even go as far as adding sea salt and herbs. I think we might be on to something Heston Blumenthal!!

Did I say I love the big bang flavours we get in Australia? Did I say I love

Yubari melon ice cream. MMMMMMM I love rock melon gelati and I love Yubari melon soft serve!!!

rock melon gelati? Actually, I didn’t, but I couldn’t get enough of this magnificent Yubari flavoured soft serve. It was larger and fancier than any of our previouis ice creams and the flavour made me question my allegiances, aaaaaaaaaaah.  Yubari is the Japanese take on rock melon, make it more amazingly perfect and packed full of flavour than any other rock melon on earth and these babies can sell for a record, 2.5 million yen for a pair! (That is a measly AUD 25,000 for 2. Don’t forget to bring a couple over for my get together next week!)

Camembert ice cream, makes complete sense!

Next stop, Camembert ice cream.  Of course.  How does that not make sense?  It makes so much sense that it is inspiration for a couple of great recipes that I am forming for the Summer holiday season. However, this little cone just didn’t have enough punch for me.  A great idea, not such great flavour.  Shame, shame.

Such great ice cream memories for 2012,  with recipes to come!  Please leave me a comment if you like my blog and don’t miss my recipe posts by subscribing or following my adventures!

The Grand Finale!
Banana, Chocolate, Milk, Yubari, Green Tea, and Strawberry.
Thank you Hokkaido 🙂
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Hatyai!! Mango and Glutinous Rice Recipe

Pad tai, Tom yum, Satay…Hatyai!!

Chewy, gelatinous colour coded sweeties. Green for pandan, brown for coconut and dark brown for the daring….durian!

It might sound like your Grandfather sneezing or an action, exclamation from your favourite Manga cartoon character, but Hatyai is actually a little  town near the Siamese-Malaysian border, (read Thai border, but Siam sounds so much more exotic!).  This little hub has been a mecca for Malaysian tourists looking for a great deal, for about 20 years now.  Everything is highly geared towards the local tourist dollar, from the array of body and foot massage centres, to the vast numbers of Chinese food outlets.  Amazingly, it was actually quite a struggle to find Thai food at all!  One shop owner when asked what traditionally Thai dishes she served, screwed up her nose at me and quite flatly, said, “None”.

Well, this was not exactly the beginning to the great Thai, culinary adventure that I was hoping for!

What a display! Do you recognize any of these desserts?

It actually took some leg work, getting amongst the street stalls and doing a bit of sticky beaking,  to find some more traditional snacks and drinks.  As you can imagine, I automatically gravitated towards anything sweet and dessert like.  Some were familiar to me from Thai restaurants I have visited and some, well, I couldn’t get an explanation of what they were, even when I was trying  to buy them! Like most Asian desserts, gelatinous textures with complex sweet and salty flavour combinations were the main themes.  It took eventually coming across a drink stall, which was packed with people, to really highlight to me, how limited our Western palatte and diet really is.  From pennywort and chrysanthemum to basil there was a board of at least 20 types of herbal thirst quenchers,  that customers were lined up for.  Chilled bottles were handed out in twos and threes across the sea of heads, amongst the noise and chaos that typifies a sweltering evening at the night market.  Having just been blown away by the amazing variety of flavours, I walked on…and then there it was.

There is always one dessert that rises up above all else and really, it doesn’t have to be the biggest, the most expensive or the most complex, just the most memorable 🙂

Freshly sliced, Thai mangoes served with a fragrant glutinous rice and coconut milk.  Oh, it took my breath away, sublimely simple but the Thai mangoes are fresher in taste,  and have less of the juicy, over the top sweetness that we demand from our Queensland mangoes.  The simple smooth, firm freshness, of the mangoes, paired perfectly with the fragrant pandan infused, slightly salty, glutinous rice.  Definitely my most memorable food moment this trip.

Simple roadside snacks can be so memorable 🙂

Here is a recipe for Kao Niow Ma-muang which I have tweaked (no surprises there!) that you might like to try.

  • 2 cups glutinous rice (available from Asian grocery stores)
  • 2 cups coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2-3 fresh or frozen pandan leaves (available from Asian grocery stores)
  • 2 ripe mangoes, peeled and sliced

Place rice in a large bowl and rinse the rice with cold water

Fill bowl with water so that the water line is about 5 centimetres over the rice line.  Soak overnight.

Line a bamboo steaming basket with a clean tea towel.  Spread the rice evenly over the tea towel.

Place covered steamer basket over boiling water and steam for approximately 30 minutes.

Open the steamer basket, stir the rice to help cook it more evenly, and sprinkle approximately 1/2 cup water over the top of the rice.  Cover basket and steam for a further 30 minutes.

Heat coconut milk, sugar and salt together in a saucepan.  Do not boil.  Stir until smooth.

Hand shred  2-3 pandan leaves and tie them into a knot.  Place pandan leaves into coconut milk and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.

Remove pandan leaves and squeeze liquid from leaves back into sauce, before discarding.  Keep sauce warm.

Transfer cooked rice to a large bowl.

While rice is still hot, stir through half of the coconut sauce.  Stir well with a large spoon, making sure all grains are well coated.

Let rice stand for approximately 15 minutes.

Serve 1 scoop of rice with sliced mango on the side. Top with some basil or mint, and maybe a scoop of coconut ice cream to add a little ‘Bliss’!

Serve coconut sauce in a separate jug so that anyone who would like extra sauce can help themselves!

Dream of warm, sunny beaches or bustling, teaming night markets.  Either way see you in Thailand 🙂