The Japanese diet is a healthy one for the most part, but people here still have a soft spot for ice cream. Freezer section ice cream in convenience stores and supermarkets became especially popular in the 1970s, and certain products have stuck around for decades. In this article, I want to introduce you to five of my favorite ice cream products that have been around since I was a child growing up in Japan. They make great sweet treats for the on-the-go traveler and can be found at almost every convenience store in Japan. Here are my top five:
1) Ice cream cones (variety of brands)
Japan loves its ice cream cones--you can find fresh soft serve cones in just about every corner of the country. As such, it only makes sense that the ice cream cone concept would be something that would be readily available in their frozen foods sections as well. There really is not a specific brand that takes the lead on ice cream cones--each supermarket and convenience store will offer something different--but it does not really matter because they all taste the same. You may see some varieties like plain vanilla, plain chocolate, vanilla/chocolate swirl (pictured), or seasonal options, but stores tend to keep it simple with this classic ice cream option.
2) Choco Monaka "Jumbo"
What the Ice Cream Sandwich is to the United States, the Choco Monaka Jumbo is to Japan. It has been around for 45 years, and continues to follow the same recipe: vanilla ice cream surrounding a chocolate bar and encased in a chocolate shell. Wrapped around all of that is a crisp waffle crust. The beauty of this ice cream is that it is clean and easy to share (the waffle crust lets you snap off bits to give to others without making a mess).
3) Essel Supercup
The Meiji Company has been making ice cream since the 1920s, and in the nineties after decades of tinkering with new concepts, the company decided to make a product that harkened back to its roots. The company decided to settle on something that was both "Essential" and "Excellent"--hence the name "Essel." Supercup is a must-try for ice cream aficionados, and a wonderful treat for anybody who likes a good scoop of vanilla. Don't worry about a utensil--the stores will provide a small plastic spoon for you to be able to enjoy this delicious treat.
Parm is Japan's answer to Haagen-Daaz ice cream bars and is meant to be the "luxury" option for those craving an ice cream bar. Unlike the competition, the chocolate coating on Parm bars is more velvety and soft than crunchy, which pairs well with the equally smooth ice cream. Parm traditionally comes in vanilla or chocolate with chocolate coating, but there are also a number of special varieties like the one pictured above.
Photo Courtesy of WordPress (https://japan365.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/pino.jpg)
Pino have been around for 41 years, and it is easy to understand why: these little chocolate-coated ice cream treats are a clean, smooth, palette-cleansing delight. The bell shaped ice cream treats are bite-sized and come six-in-a-pack with a small serving pick, making them good for sharing or individual consumption. They do come in a variety of flavors, but vanilla with chocolate coating is the old standard.
Bonus: Gari Gari Ice
In case any of you readers out there do not like ice cream or are lactose intolerant, I wanted to offer an alternative that is just as woven into the fabric of Japanese lifestyle. Gari Gari Ice is an "ice candy" popsicle that gives you a sweet treat that is not overly sugary. The standard flavor is "soda" flavor that comes in Gari Gari's now iconic blue color, but there are seasonal options almost always available as well. So there you have it: my top five quintessential Japanese ice cream treats. If you happen to have a craving for sweet treats along your journeys in Japan and want something quick and delicious, I say zehi, give one of these a shot!