Featured in the August 2011 Japan Blog Matsuri “Summer Lovin’.”
I pass by or through Kanazawa’s bustling Ômicho Market (近江町市場) at least once a day on my commute. I love looking at all the fruit for sale, shopping at the import store, and traveling underground to the M’Za デパ地下 (depachika, basement-level department store grocery and deli). I have to bob and weave through the crowds if I go in the afternoon, but in the morning and in the evening, it’s actually quite quiet.
Last week, I was wandering around the market and came across Healthy Lab (へるしいらぼ), a small permanent stand at the M’Za entrance of Ômicho that specializes in ice cream and donuts made from okara (おから), a tofu byproduct. I’d only ever sampled the donuts, which have the density of sweets made with fresh okara, but okara soft-serve ice cream sounded perfect on a blazing August day in the two weeks when we had no rain.
A sign on the stand claims that okara ice cream has 40% fewer calories than regular ice cream and that it also doesn’t melt as fast as regular ice cream. According to 栄養計算 (“Nutrition Calculator,” a very useful website for looking up weight-based nutritional information on Japanese food) 50 grams of okara has only 56 calories and 34% of your daily recommended dietary fiber, so I can’t say I’m surprised that the nutritional value and the melting point are different. The favor is very vibrant vanilla; the price is fairly average for Japanese ice cream, and I felt it was a good size for soft serve–maybe 100 grams, not including the cone.
The flavor of the plain ice cream reminds me of tofu-flavored ice cream with a hint of vanilla. (If you’ve never tried tofu ice cream, you are missing out!) As for the texture, okara-based sweets are always a bit off from the “normal” version, and this is no exception. Baked goods like donuts or cakes tend to be denser and heavier but not rich or greasy. The ice cream is very creamy but has a sort of an unusual texture at the end of a bite: it’s not exactly gritty or even finely gritty but reminds me of when you have a little bit of ice in the ice cream. It might be because of the okara, either because it freezes or because of the natural texture, but I found that I didn’t even notice once I was eating the cone itself.
Right now, Healthy Lab is serving Japanese shaved iced (kakigôri, かき氷) with okara ice cream –definitely something to try before the end of summer.
920-0917 Ishikawa-ken Kanazawa-shi Shimotsutsumi-chô
At the M’Za Entrance (エムザ口) of Ômicho at the Musashi-Minami intersection (武蔵南交差点).
Open weekdays 10:00-19:00; weekends and holidays, 10:00-18:00
5-min walk from JR Kanazawa Station (JR金沢駅)
Car parking available at the Ômicho Market Parking Lot (近江町市場館駐車場)
There is a free bike parking lot near the Jikkenmachi entrance (十間町口).
330-400 yen for ice cream