Japan has a reputation for unconventional and adventurous flavors that few others would think or even dare to attempt. Here are 5 must try soft serve flavors that highlight Japan’s unique taste profiles and the regions famous for their interesting flavors.
1. Plum (Ume)
Let’s start off with the tamest of the bunch. Not to be confused with plums commonly found in the United States, the Japanese variety or ume is more closely related to the apricot and is not suitable to be eaten raw. Ume is most often eaten pickled (umeboshi) or used to make wine (umeshu) but it also makes a delicious soft serve with a distinct floral note and sweetness. You can grab a cone and admire the famous plum blossoms (late February – mid March) while strolling through Mito city’s Kairakuen gardens located in the Ibaraki prefecture just 2 hours northeast of Tokyo.
From Tokyo take the Hitachi or Tokiwa express line to Mito station and then take the Kairakuen bus directly to the garden.
Most westerners wouldn’t conceive of the spicy green paste most often associated with sushi converted into a sweet cold treat but the resort town of Izu, in Japan’s Shizuoka prefecture, has perfected the confection. Waterfalls such as Jyouren no Taki deliver clean mountain spring water downstream to delicate beds of wasabi plants or wasabiden, making Izu renowned for its quality wasabi. The soft-serve itself has a sweetness similar to vanilla with a distinct spicy aftertaste. One can enjoy this unconventional treat just outside the trail to the famed waterfall which leads tourists through a lush green forest and past the wasabi paddies. A definite must visit.
From Mishima station take the Izu-Hakone railway Sunzu line to Shuzenji station and then take the Tokai bus to Jyouren no Taki bus stop.
Few flavors are as singularly Japanese as miso. The fermented soybean paste has been a staple of the Japanese diet for centuries and is used in countless dishes from simple soup stocks and marinades to sauces for meat and vegetables. Visitors to the Nagano prefecture can take a break from traversing the Japan Alps and head down to the Takeya Miso Kaikan on Lake Suwa. There you can learn about the centuries old art of miso while sampling the many delicious culinary incarnations. Be sure to try the miso soft serve while you are there for a salty sweet flavor experience that you’re sure to remember.
Take the Chuo Main Line to Kamisuwa station and it is just a short 15 minute walk to the Takeya Miso Kaikan.
4. Bitter Melon (Goya)
Okinawans often attribute their notable longevity and health to their diet of native fruits and vegetables, specifically the goya or bitter melon. This vitamin rich fruit is an Okinawan staple and is used in many dishes; the most well-known is the Okinawan stir fry dish known as goya champuru. There is even a whole park (Goya Park) dedicated to goya that is open to the public free of charge. There you can sample this bittersweet soft-serve treat along with many other goya based foods while you walk the grounds.
From Naha Airport, go to the bus terminal and take the Nago Tousen bus to the last stop where taxis are available.
http://www.goyapark.com/park/index.php (Japanese site)
5. Squid Ink (Ika Sumi)
The area of Hakodate in Japan’s northern most prefecture of Hokkaido is renowned for its seafood. The morning market in Hakodate is a great place to sample and purchase the freshest seafood Hakodate has to offer. So fresh in fact that a favorite tourist pastime is squid fishing in the market’s fish tanks, where a successful catch can be instantly prepared as sashimi. Hokkaido Farm, a popular ice cream parlor at the far end of the market, has found a way to marry Hakodate’s famous seafood with Hokkaido’s high quality dairy products with their squid ink soft serve. The shop boasts a delicious soft serve that is free of additives and uses only the freshest cream. Visitors who can look past the gray color are in for a sweet surprise.
Hakodate Morning Market is located just across the street from Hakodate station.