OTARU (Hokkaido), July 24 — It’s summer in Japan: what better time for ice-cream than now?
The Japanese revere Hokkaido ice-cream due to the fragrant, farm-fresh milk used in its making. As a result, Hokkaido ice-cream tends to be milkier in flavour compared to normal ice-cream. Also, no artificial additives are used — another point of pride and proof of the freshness of every scoop.
Let’s head to Otaru, Hokkaido’s largest port, for the best ice-cream of summer!
A brisk five minutes’ walk away from the scenic town’s train station is Yamanaka Dairy Farm Otaru. You can’t miss this unassuming shop with its signature metal milk container standing outside.
Unlike other ice-cream parlours which promise multiple flavours, this soft serve specialist offers only three basic ones – vanilla, chocolate and matcha (green tea).
This simple menu is intentional as it emphasizes the freshness of the ingredients delivered daily from the Yamanaka Dairy Farm nearby. Here the raw milk and pure cream used give the ice-cream its smooth texture and mild yet refreshing taste.
At Yamanaka, the milk is specially pasteurised at a lower temperature of 75°C for 15 minutes and less sugar is used to ensure the natural milky flavour is retained without an overly cloying sweetness.
The resultant soft serve has a paler sheen unlike most brightly-hued commercial ice-creams. This is the natural colour of the fresh milk, a nice change from having ice-creams that are neon blue or shocking pink. One imagines the black-and-white cows grazing in the fields of Yamanaka Dairy Farm would approve.
A word of caution though: don’t stop licking – the ice-cream melts fast as no stabilisers are added!
A scoop from the sea
Bored of the ubiquitous vanilla and matcha flavoured ice-cream one finds all over Japan? Closer to the Otaru Canal and hidden in back-alleys away from the tourist trails is another local ice-cream gem.
Housed in the old Shimatani timber-and-stone warehouse (itself a heritage building constructed in 1892), Kita-no-aisukurīmu Yasan — the Ice-cream Shop of the North — draws seekers of the unusual.
Boasting up to 20 different flavours at any time, Kita-no offers “safe” options such as black tea, sweet potato, lemonade, yellow pumpkin and fresh caramel. There are seasonal favourites as well, including muskmelon (masukumeron), cherry blossom (sakura) and white peach (hakutō).
However it’s the stranger flavours that ice-cream enthusiasts flock here for. There’s horseradish, bean curd and sake, which sounds as though they had swiped ingredients from a sushi bar.
What on earth are Coenzyme Q10 and ocean collagen, you may wonder? Are they scoops of ice-cream or the latest health supplements?
The claim for the oddest flavour of the lot may very well involve a three-corner fight. Could the winner be the sticky webs of nattō, made from fermented soy beans? Or is the crown due to the black-as-night squid ink (ikasumi) that might creep out even the most ardent of gelato aficionados?
My bet is on the sea urchin (uni) ice-cream — its name alone conjures up visions of spiky marine hedgehogs and their slimy innards. How could this taste good?
Yet it does — its sweet taste is similar to what you would associate with the freshest seafood but not overpoweringly so. There is also a subtle, underlying saltiness — a hint of the ocean, as it were. This scoop from the sea has my vote for sure.
So be brave and try some flavour you’ve never tried before today. Have a delicious adventure!
Yamanaka Dairy Farm Otaru
1-6-18 Ironai, Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan
Open daily 11am-6pm
Price: Single scoop soft-serve 250 yen (RM8)
1-2-18 Ironai, Otaru, Hokkaido, Japan
Open daily 10am-7pm
Price: Single scoop 300 yen (RM9.60), double 450 yen (RM14.40) & triple 600 yen (RM19.20)