A year and a half ago on a trip to Honolulu, I spotted a display in the Shirokiya department store window that confused the hell out of me. There, in a glorious rainbow of colours, was a selection of round little flat things that either looked like squashed gummy pool balls or miniature dead jellyfish.
Foodie curiosity got the better of me, so I popped into the store where a man at a counter of refrigerated glass cases was selling the strange treats.
I asked him a question or two, but we didn’t get very far. His English wasn’t very good, and my Japanese was even worse (ie. doesn’t exist), but I picked up words like red bean, rice, and cream. I handed over some greenbacks and pointed at (if memory serves) what I gathered to be the chocolate flavour. I took a bite … it was utterly bizarre, but entirely good.
Near as I can tell from the research I’ve done, mochi is a chewy, stretchy rice paste made by pounding the bejesus out of a particularly glutinous type of rice. Daifuku, a related Japanese confectionary treat, uses the pounded mochi rice paste to contain a non-frozen filling (red bean, say), while daifuku ice cream is effectively just a lump of ice cream wrapped in a mochi shell. (Please, please, please — correct me if I’m wrong.)
The texture is crazy. The sticky, stretchy mochi shell — not solid, despite the freezing temperature — pulls away from the ice cream inside as you try to bite off a piece of it. It’s gummy and cold, alien yet familiar. The shell has almost no flavour, but its texture messes with your mouth.
These miniature daifuku mochi ice cream snacks from Lotte don’t have red bean in them, but they preserve the chewy texture of the mochi shell I remember from the shop in Hawaii. There are three flavours in the box:
Green Tea: Meh. I’m not big on the whole green-tea flavour trend, so this isn’t my bag. But if you like green tea, you’d like this. (I get a fishy sort of taste in it, too. Damned if I know why. One more strike against it, though.)
Vanilla: Straight forward. The filling is a light vanilla ice cream, minus the cream. Without a strong flavour to the ice cream, the shell’s taste is more pronounced, especially once the milk has melted away, leaving only the mochi in your mouth.
Chocolate: The real winner. Not very sweet, and not very creamy, but with enough chocolate to be enjoyable. Compared to other chocolate ice creams, the filling is middle-of-the-road at best, but the shell makes it better. If the whole box contained nothing but these, I’d be a happy fella.
RATINGS AND DETAILS
Cost: $7.37 for a box of 21 pieces, each one 14 ml, at T&T in West Edmonton Mall.
Value for cash money: Not cheap, but it’s also easy to spend $7 on a tub of Haagen-Dazs, so no complaining from me.
Availability: Well-stocked Asian specialty stores. Look in the freezer case next to other ice cream products.
Nutrition?: 67 calories per 3 pieces. Remarkably low-cal. Likely reason? Made with skimmed milk powder, not cream.
Others?: I’ve tried a strawberry version from another brand, and it was equally (if not more) delish. There are more flavours out there, and more takes on the same basic formula, so try them and see what you think. You may have a greater selection in your corner of the world than we do in Edmonton.
The verdict: It’s a foreign snack that’s both mind-bendingly different, yet not challenging at all. Kids will get a kick out of it.