Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I love ice cream, but I'm fairly good at resisting the impulse to eat it. On the occasions when I do indulge, I tend to go for fairly reliable types like Haagen Daas, Lady Borden, or Baskin Robbins. My recent experiences with unimpressively packaged snacks being far better than expected has opened me up to the possibility that some of the cheap-looking treats might be okay. In the spirit of that open-mindedness, I picked up this ChocoBari ice cream bar at the local 99 yen (about a dollar) shop.
Since I'm not familiar with Japanese ice cream makers, I'd never heard of the maker, Sentan (センタン), before though they make quite a lot of Japanese frozen dairy products. It's a division of an Osaka-based company that has been in business since 1949 and it makes a lot of Japanese ices (kakigori) that mimic the shaved ice treats covered in syrup that are available in summer (like a snow cone).
The chocobari seems to come closest to being a signature product for the company. I say this because it has the most developed and distinctive packaging, but also because they're having a contest for the bar where certain sticks are prize winners. If you get one of the prize-winning sticks on your ice cream bar, you tape it to a letter and send it to them. There are even instructions on the outside of the package telling you exactly how to tape it down in case this feat of dexterity eludes you.
I chose this bar because it reminded me of a cookie coated bar I had on rare occasions as a kid. It's been so long that I can't remember the name of the bar but it was probably the Schwan's chocolate sundae crunch bar. One of the problems with choosing something because it reminds you of a childhood favorite is your expectations are high and it's hard for a Japanese confection, with all the alterations to suit Japanese tastes, to live up to them.
I should note that this is an ice milk bar, not ice cream so my expectations of the ice cream were low. When you open the bar, it looks kind of grey and unimpressive. It smells ever so vaguely of chocolate. The coating looks like nuts, but it's a processed crumbly substance made mostly from flour and peanuts. This sounds bad, but it is tasty and easy to chew. Real nuts embedded in ice cream bars don't always work very well.
When you bite into the bar, the coating doesn't shatter or break away from the bar in shards like some chocolate-coated ice cream bars. It's soft and cleaves easily. The coating has a very weak chocolate flavor, but the ice milk has a solid, pleasant vanilla flavor and the sweetness level is right. It's quite creamy. I'm not sure I'd really notice it wasn't ice cream unless I was doing a side by side comparison. The crumbly nutty part adds nice texture and crunch and leaves you with a nutty finishing taste.
I like how the bar seems designed not to crumble or fall apart when you eat it. I've noticed that food which won't embarrass you or stain your shirt is relatively common among Japanese snacks from salted, seasoned foods that don't leave a ton of heavy residue on your fingers to cookies that don't crumble all over the place. I have to imagine this is something manufacturers are cautious about since many Japanese people snack on the job and in front of other people.
I will definitely buy this bar again if I'm allowing myself such a treat. It's no sundae bar, but it's very good, especially for the price.