Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Morinaga Jumbo Monaka
When I was a child, my mother used to buy big boxes of what were called "cake cones". Among ice cream cones, the "cake cone" was the trailer trash of the lot. Sugar cones and waffle cones were flavor and textural delights to go along with your ice cream. They enhanced the experience. The cake cone was like edible foam packing. It was mainly there to hold your ice cream while you licked it, not to make the experience greatly tastier.
My guess is that my mother bought those cones because, as kids, we really weren't discriminating about what we ate. After all, we thought Kraft macaroni and cheese was the bee's knees of dinner cuisine. If there was ice cream, that was good enough for us. The cake cones were a way of being able to make sure not one drop was lost. I'm guessing she also liked the fact that they didn't tend to drip out the bottom like ice cream in a sugar cone. Cake cones probably saved her from having to fight shirt stains, at least on occasion.
The Japanese have taken the notion of a cake cone and turned it into a sort of ice cream sandwich. Instead of flanking the ice cream with a cookie or slab of waffle, they've imprisoned it in a thin layer of cake cone material. Ice cream sandwiches made in this manner are called "monaka". Since I was never a great fan of the cake cone to begin with, and this is adding more cone to the equation, I haven't really sampled many monaka since coming to Japan.
Incidentally, monaka originally and are still made as sweetened beans or other fillings sandwiched between two "wafers". The fillings are made of varied substances as are the shells. My guess is that the quality of traditional monaka shells is quite a bit higher than the modified cake cone substance used for ice cream sandwiches.
I saw this Morinaga Jumbo Monaka in a 99 yen shop. I found it the best of a poor lot of ice cream on offer and I was in the mood for something different. I keep saying "ice cream", but this is actually ice milk. Many ice cream monaka just have plain vanilla ice cream in them, but this one has a chocolate inner coating and a plain of crispy chocolate running through the center.
This bar was introduced by Morinaga in 1972, but they added the chocolate (as a sauce) to the middle in 1980 and named it a "Deluxe" bar. It didn't grow up to be a "Jumbo" until 1996 when they made the center chocolate a thin, crispy wafer-thin piece of candy. The entire bar is 315 calories, and though you could easily eat it at once, it's pretty big and I ate only one-third of it in one sitting.
I allowed this bar to sit out for about 5 minutes before eating it because I think ice cream isn't as good when it's really hard. You can't really sense the creaminess of it unless it's softened up a bit. For ice milk, this was quite nice. It felt rich and fatty and had good flavor and sweetness balance. The first bites off the ends aren't as good as interior bites because there's too much of the monaka wafer and very little chocolate flavor. Once you get past the edges, it's better as the center chocolate sheet has a deeper, slightly bitter sweet chocolate taste and you get more ice cream and less cake cone.
I liked this quite a lot, though I'm still not going to be filling the freezer with monaka bars any time soon. I'd definitely get this again if I were in the right mood. The ice milk and chocolate can't be beat, and the monaka wafer adds some softly crunchy textural elements. It's also a lot easier to eat it in stages because of the way in which the little squares allow you to visually divide the bar into portions.