Vegetable Ice Cream: Worth Driving Out For!
Making a special trip just to get some ice cream is always fun, and for many of us, having done so with our families when we were kids remains with us forever, among our strongest and fondest childhood memories.
Still, some make a face when I suggest a drive to or stopover at my favorite ice-cream parlor, HOKUTO NO KAI, which is located way out in Kasumigaura City, along Route 354 (the road Tsukubans take to get to the beach). This is surely because this unique shop, in advertising itself, pairs up two words which are on opposite ends of the TASTE spectrum. They call their product “VEGETABLE ICE CREAM” a word-coupling bordering on the sacrilegious, which jarringly combines the most beloved and most hated foods of our pre-adolescent world view (weren’t these the first strong opinions we ever had?).
When I see the reaction that this often elicits, I quickly dispel any doubts by telling them more about this special place.
Hokuto no Kai Vegetable Ice Cream (北斗の会野菜アイス) uses cream from Jersey cows and fresh Ibaraki produce to whip up 40 different flavors of ice cream. Not all of these are available at once, though, as this shop shifts its menu in accordance with the seasons. In fact, the flavors available seem to change on a day to day basis, as the staff, making new batches every day, uses the freshest in season ingredients. This month’s special flavors are roasted sweet potato, chestnut, blueberry and potato!
Here are some more tastes you might want to sample. (There is no problem with asking for tasting samples.) Carrot, peanuts, grilled corn, natto, spinach, pumpkin, mugwort, sesame, miso, ginger, fig, sake, beer, wine and lotus root, cherry blossom and many more…
Of all the flavors I’ve tried so far on my many stops, on the way to, and then back from the beach (which have had a marked affect on my waistline!), my favorites are fig (ichijiku) and to my great surprise — salt! (Ask for soruto: it’s a real surprise.)
Besides freshly made ice cream generously served in cones or cups, they sell frozen rice burgers, soups, pottery and even BAT GUANO (dried bat poop for use as fertilizer). I’m sure it must be the only place in Ibaraki where you can do one-stop ice-cream, soup and guano shopping!
Hokuto no Kai has been around for eleven years and the word is finally starting to spread. This summer I heard talk about the vegetable ice cream from satisfied families, couples and beach bums, many of whom make the 40 minute trip just for a scoop (or two) of their favorite vegetable flavors.
To get there take the Tsuchiura Gakuen line to the far side of Tsuchiura Station (using the overpass) until you are stopped by the traffic light. Turn left and go for a few kilometers until you hit a T-junction. Turn right and keep driving for about 10 minutes. You will see the green, dairy farm-style building on your right. When you get out of the car the earthy smell of cows and their dung, wafting from the nearby farms, will gently wash over you. You are reassured that this ice cream will indeed be FRESH! (In fact the cream does not come from neighboring farms, but you don’t have to mention that to your friends!)