As promised, another ice cream adventure, The Virtual Häagen Dazs Japanese Classic Parfait! This has become my favourite ice cream here. Pricey, but well worth it, and I know I’m not going to be able to find it in Canada or Britain because it’s just too durn Japanese. Tea and beans in ice cream? O yes!
The parfait comes in a typical plum-coloured Häagen Dazs box, with bilingual labelling. However, Ed and I have yet to figure out why they sometimes call 抹茶 (matcha) グレーンチイー(green tea – yes, those strange looking letters are only used for foreign words – it’s called katakana – perhaps it looks “exotic”). I digress. Here is the front of the box:
and on the back – the layers:
Each layer will be explained in detail below. Mmmmmmmm.
Here is what the actual container inside the box looks like:
and my hand and a pen to give you and idea of just how small the serving sizes are here.
Of course, because 7-11 is a full service establishment, you cannot buy a Häagen Dazs parfait without being given the special spoon. When April bought one on her visit, she was given a non-special spoon. Perhaps her blonde hair and blue eyes distracted the cashier.
And now, the layers. In great detail…
Layer 1: Kuromitsu Sauce
Kuromitsu is black sugar. Basically molasses, but it is usually sold in chunk or powdered form here. Haven’t ever found actual molasses, but the top layer of this parfait is the closest thing I’ve had to it. You can buy kuromitsu cookies, candies, drinks, etc. etc. etc. I managed to addict both my mother and my sister Amy to kuromitsu when they were visiting here. The slightly grainy texture, the sweet sweet iron-like taste, the decadent coating it leaves on the tongue. mmmmm. Once you have broken through this sweet sticky layer, you find the ultimate jewel of Japanese cuisine…
Layer 2: Matcha Ice Cream
I’ve expounded previously on my love of green tea ice cream here. For those of you who have not experienced actual matcha (powdered ceremonial green tea) you are definitely missing one of the most exquisite taste sensations in the world. I love the stuff so much that I asked the Home Ec teacher at the high school I’m teaching at to show me how to make it, because I refuse to live without the stuff.
Matcha is a fine powder the texture of talcum powder, but it is green. It is made out of the highest quality tea leaves and is both bitter and sweet. It is quite high in Vitamin C, fluoride, and caffeine. Yes, fluoride. It makes me wonder how bad Japanese people’s teeth would be if they didn’t drink green tea.
Matcha is the tea used for tea ceremony, but is also enjoyed as a drink and a flavouring for many things – cookies, candies, cakes, ice cream (did I mention the ice cream?), mochi, rice soup, etc. etc. etc. In the spring many many things arrive on the shelves flavoured with it. I recently purchased a green tea/adzuki bean/cream Kit Kat bar. Yes, at 7-11. But it’s getting it’s own post.
To make matcha you need some specialized tools. A bamboo whisk being the most important. There are different styles of mixing the tea to give it more or less bubbles, but I’ve had it numerous ways, and it is SO good. mmmmm. (more on how to make matcha if you request it!)
Okay, I am really digressing from the parfait here. Layer 2 shares the smooth texture of ice cream with the gentle powder of matcha that lingers on the tongue. When mixed with the kuromitsu sauce the sweet/bitter/cream taste seems to breathe like the wind through spring leaves.
Now, just so you don’t get too accustomed to the smooth sensations mingling in your mouth, the next layer is there to give you a textural surprise:
Layer 3: Adzuki Beans
Yes. Those are whole adzuki beans! They have been boiled in sugar, but are still al dente. mmmmm. adzuki beans. This particular parfait didn’t seem to have as dense a layer of adzuki beans as I have had on other occasions.
I love adzuki beans. Have I mentioned that? One of my favourite Japanese dishes is zenzzai, a sweet adzuki bean soup with pieces of mochi (pounded sticky rice) with a cup of green tea on the side. mmmm. In Canada I used to cook up adzuki beans with short grain brown rice and hijiki seaweed. In Japan, adzuki beans are a totally different part of the food chain – a very sweet link in the chain. More on that for layer 5…
Now, this layer of adzuki beans is only there to test your faith in the wonder that is the Häagen Dazs Japanese Classic Parfait. Can you get through this thin yet substantial layer of beans to what our western palate is more used to and then on to the treasure that lies beneath?
Layer 4: Rich Milk Ice Cream
What can I say? Häagen Dazs’ reason for being. It’s good, and after all those amazing tastes, it cleanses your palate for the ultimate layer…
Layer 5: Adzuki Bean Paste
“Paste” is such an unappealing word. Let’s call it “Adzuki beans soaked in syrup, and cooked for hours in order for them to coalesce into a sweet beany butter.” Oh yes. The colour of wine, these beans will please you immensely.
You can find “Sweet Adzuki Beany Butter” in all sort of desserts here: hidden in mouthfuls of white mochi, lining cake, inside buns, etc. It is the Japanese sweet, and is even eaten by itself (best done with accompanying bowl of matcha).
After you have completed this final layer you are sated. And I mean sated. One thing I’ve noticed about Japanese food is that it is often of such high quality that you don’t feel a need to eat copious amounts of it. Ya, I joke about the small serving sizes, but it is rare that I feel unfulfilled after a traditional Japanese repast. (Ed & Jarrod are another story – bottomless pits that they are.)
Wasn’t that yummy?