Not Ice Cream, But Ice Crin (Japan)

While studying abroad in Tokyo years ago, thanks to an article in an expat magazine, I had come across Namjatown, in the district of Ikebukuro.  Namjatown was a theme park, with carnival games, arcade consoles, and food-themed areas, namely a gyoza (dumpling) section, and an ice cream “stadium.”

Ice Cream Stadium used to have flavors such as “salad,” “garlic,” and “beef tongue.”

Namjatown is still there, though greatly diminished both in quality and quantity.  That is to say, as much as I love eating gyoza, what really sold it was the ice cream  stadium, which no longer exists.

Viper (マムシ mamushi) Ice Cream

Ironically, I don’t eat ice cream much – it’s too good.  But just as I would to unique flavors of other foods, I acquiesce to seldom seen flavors of ice cream.

Kudzu (Arrowroot) Soft-Serve Ice Cream, Nara, Japan

Take Yoshino Hon Kuzu (吉野本葛) as one example.  Whereas to botanists in the Southern US, it’s an invasive species, to chefs, it’s a horse of a different color.  Kuzu, kudzu, or arrowroot, is a tuber best known as a thickener for soups and sauces, and as a primary ingredient in wagashi (わがし 和菓子), or traditional Japanese sweets customarily eaten with tea.

Fast-forward to 2019, after a stint volunteering at a restaurant on the artsy island of Naoshima.  I spent a few days in the small but extremely appetizing city of Kochi, where I discovered that ice cream wasn’t the only chilled dessert in town.

At Hirome Market in downtown Kochi, as I was weaving through the cramped aisles filled brimming with good eats, I was struck by this sign:

Ice Crin (アイスクリン), a Kochi, Japan-Specialty

The sign read “ice crin.”  What???

Apparently, ice crin is a Kochi specialty, made with eggs and powdered milk, though clocking in at less than 3% butterfat, it’s a bit less “unhealthy” than the heavy cream and milk combo that composes ice cream.  Ice crin is also somewhat crunchy, which makes it a cross between ice cream and shaved ice, or kakigoori (かき氷).

For some backstory, Japan had known about ice cream since the 1860s, when a Japanese delegation was introduced to it on a boat while visiting the US.  Although the frozen treat spread quickly around Japan, it was through the ravages of World War II, when certain foodstuffs were in short supply – in this case, fresh milk – that gave rise to ice crin.  With the post-war proliferation of cars, ice crin stalls were set up along highways, further adding to its appeal and convenience.

One cool aspect of Kochi is that it’s subtropical, so the local flavors that can be added to ice crin – yuzu (a citrus fruit), my favorite, green tea, tangerine, and pomelo – are all fresh.

Have you ever tried ice crin?

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