2. Iwakuni Ice Cream
As a child, my favorite dessert was ice cream. Even though I celebrate my birthday in winter, I was going to have my birthday ice cream and enjoy it, dammit, even if my birthday party got canceled for a snowstorm. My favorite flavor was chunky strawberry, which is also delightfully out of season for winter in the US. I was either meant to be a June baby or to live in Japan, where strawberry season starts with Christmas cakes and continues through spring–but I digress.
I have a favorite local ice cream shop in every town I have lived in, and what will win you points with adult me is your selection of unusual flavors. When I visit my family in Cincinnati, I always make time to go to Graeter’s for their signature Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip. In college, my friends and I would head down to Bonnie Brae in the summer, standing in a line that stretched around the tiny shop; I’m a fan of their Lemon Custard, which tastes like a lemon Girl Scout cookie, as well as the Sinfully Cinnamon. In Ann Arbor, there was Stucchi’s White Russian. In Glen Arbor, any of the Cherry Republic cherry ice creams are a treat.
Japan’s ice cream shops have unusual flavors by the dozen. A lot of shops will sell prepacked single-serving soft creams that an attendant can pop into a machine, but I prefer the homemade ice creams and gelato. In the two years I’ve been here, I’ve had flavors like rose, salt, yellowtail (buri), sakura, and tofu. Matcha and azuki are pretty standard here, so I try to get the local specialty or the most unusual flavor when I travel. (One of which is mint chocolate, a standard in the US that is uncommon in Japan).
Iwakuni might be my dairy paradise, because after you cross Kintaikyô, there’s a small courtyard with at least three ice cream shops. (I stumbled upon this information when I was searching for a fun day trip from Hiroshima, and I was sold.) One shop has about 20 flavors, mostly standards like soy milk and chocolate. Sasaki-ya, where we had lunch, had about 50, with grape and kabocha options. However, I wanted to get one from the shop with 100 flavors. But what to get?
The limited edition flavors are golden kiwi and acerola. I overhear a high schooler say the acerola tastes like medicine, and I can’t eat kiwi.
Here we have (of the labels I can see) cups with syrup, Hokkaido vanilla, summer mikan, yogurt, mikan-yogurt, chestnut, matcha, matcha-chestnut, budou (Japanese grape), yogurt, chocolate, “make your own”…
Brown sugar, cinnamon, tart ume (plum), black sesame, kabocha (squash), tomato, yogurt…
I wanted to try something different, but since these are made-to-order (mix-ins), I couldn’t get a sample to see if a whole cone of tomato would be worth my yen.
Garlic, habenero, curry, ramen, banana yogurt, lactobacillus bifidus（ビフィズス菌), soy milk….
At this point, I’m feeling overwhelmed. Do I go with a safe flavor like chestnut? Do I attempt a whole cone full of ramen ice cream? What to do?
Aha! A list of the 5 most popular ice creams as ranked by men and women.
Women like 1. Cleopatra’s Tears (what is this?), 2. Acerola, 3. Golden Kiwi, 4. chestnut, and 5. tiramisu.
Ladies, you are not helping me decide.
Men like 1. Hokkaido vanilla, 2. Hokkaido vanilla-chocolate swirl, 3. banana cocoa, 4. Cleopatra’s Tears (again, what is this?), and 5. Iwakuni renkon (lotus).
Lotus, you say? I love lotus–and it’s a local specialty of Iwakuni!
Lotus root isn’t really sweet, but it has a light flavor well suited to ice cream. There were small pieces of renkon in the ice cream, and a nice Iwakuni spicy lotus chip on top.
Someday I’d like to go back with a group and order a bunch of ice cream so everyone can sample the weird flavors, but Iwakuni renkon is my strange-and-local recommendation. いただきます！