x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Food Obsession: mochi, the uniquely Asian way to eat ice cream

This heavenly ball of mochi-covered ice cream is available in the UAE, but my favourite will always be the traditional green tea flavour.

Mochi ice cream. Getty Images / Flickr RF
Mochi ice cream. Getty Images / Flickr RF

A friend in New York once placed a dusky green powdery ball in my hand. “Pop it!” she urged, prodding this edible version of a flattened ping pong ball towards me. The ball was cloaked in a smooth skin, with insides that hinted of an inexplicable, semi-solid instability. I placed the alien ball on my tongue, rolling it about in uncertainty as it powdered my lips and tongue. Seconds later, I bit into its gummy membrane, ready to conquer whatever substance lay within.

The punctured ball laughed back with an icy coolness, playfully dissolving into ice cream.

That was my first experience of Japanese mochi ice cream, a cloud of ice cream shrouded in a pliable doughy shell called mochi. I was amazed to discover that mochi lived a past life as glutinous rice, an ingredient that is an essential participant in many Japanese rituals.

The traditional approach to moulding mochi is an arduous one; the starchy grains are steamed, pounded into a viscous paste and then cast into different shapes stuffed with fillings such as fruit, red bean paste, or the exotically flavoured ice cream that eventually became a permanent resident of my cramped freezer in New York. Mikawaya – the company that popularised mochi ice cream in the US – skips the rice-pounding technique and attains a similar marshmallow-textured result by simply cooking rice flour in water.

I have encountered different flavours, ranging from mono-toned strawberry, chocolate, mango and vanilla, to more daring combinations such as caramel pudding and macchiato. But despite having deflated many a colourful ice-cream-encasing orb, my loyalties have remained with the authentic green tea, or matcha, version from my mochi debut in New York.

Word has it that in addition to many of the Japanese restaurants around town, the cafe at Kinokuniya in The Dubai Mall can make your book experience that much yummier with its own serving of mochi ice cream. It’s also available on the dessert menu at Nobu in Atlantis, The Palm and at Mondo Moderno in Abu Dhabi’s Khalidiya Mall. I sense that I’m only days away from “popping” an authentic green tea mochi that could cure the worst of my overheated summer blues.

Arva Ahmed blogs about hidden food gems in Old Dubai at www.ILiveinaFryingPan.com.