Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Travel Tastes: Mochicream (Honolulu)

Like a Box of Chocolates Without a Scorecard

HONOLULU
There’s no denying the Japanese influence on Hawaii. Growing up here, Japanese-Americans were the largest ethnic group in the state. And Hawaii’s No. 1 industry—tourism—continues to rely on visitors from Japan. So it’s no surprise that many trends from Japan hit the shores of Hawaii before they get to the continental United States (what we locals refer to as “the mainland”).

Earlier this year, Food & Wine came out with a list of foods to taste in 2008. One of the things mentioned were mochicream, made from the traditional Japanese rice cakes but injected with a creamy filling. Not since the explosion of mochi ice cream in the 1990s has such a mochi treat created such buzz.

I searched for these in San Francisco’s Japantown and nobody heard of this, although I could find regular mochi in an assortment of flavors like mango and chocolate. Mochi, for the uninitiated, is a chewy, sticky rice treat shaped into balls and made into various colors, but mostly white. It’s traditional for the New Year but popular like candy the rest of the time.

As far as I can tell, Hawaii is the only place in the United States where you can find the aforementioned mochicream. (If you know anywhere else to find them on the mainland, let us know in the comments section!) So during my recent vacation, I visited Shirokiya at the Ala Moana Shopping Center to check out this mysterious new taste for 2008.

Shirokiya is one of the largest department stores in Hawaii that’s specifically focused on Japanese goods. From house wares to specialty Japanese foods (fresh and packaged), you’ll find it at Shirokiya. On the first floor across from its bakery, they’ve set up a spot for mochicream, selling it under glass like jewelry.

First off, they all look soooo pretty. The varying pastel shades were like a canvas of springtime. There are also many flavors to choose from, and you can easily mix and match to choose a box of mochicream. The cost is a premium for the tiny mochi balls: $1.50 each for straightforward flavors, $1.60 each for special yogurt fillings and $1.80 each for the ultra fancy truffle creams.

I got a box of six and the flavors I selected were Green Tea, Sakura (Japanese cherry), Caramel, Melon, Peach and Double Mango (this was one of the $1.80 ones). The woman behind the counter says the mochicream can sit out for two hours at room temperature, but any longer they should be refrigerated because of the cream filling.

I should also note that I had heard mixed reactions from my sister and niece who had already tried the mochicream. Still, I brought my box home, cut them into pieces and forced my family to do a taste test with me.

All the mochicream have a wonderful, soft exterior that was the right consistency of fresh mochi. And like I said, they were all very pretty. But the distinguishing factor is the filling, which can often be a sweet (or too sweet) cream.

My niece and I liked the peach flavor, which wasn’t overly sweet like how many mochicream flavors can be. But we felt the melon flavor fell into that category, almost like achingly sweet candy. The sakura flavor was very subtle, almost bland, and the double mango was just OK.

The worst was the green tea, with the exterior coated with powdered macha. (None of us could finish our bites.) It had a nasty flavor that didn’t blend well with the mochi. But my favorite was the caramel, which reminded me of eating a light Chantilly cake.

I’m sure there are other mochicream flavors that might be enjoyable, just like how there are probably some like the green tea flavor that might turn you away from trying another mochi treat ever again. Unless you try it often, mochicream is like a box of chocolates. Some are surprisingly good while others you just want to secretly sneak back into the box. (As for me, I rather stick with mochi ice cream.)





Shirokiya at the Ala Moana Shopping Center, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu. PH: 808.973.9111. Web site

7 comments:

Verena said...

I had mochi cream last summer while visiting Tokyo and really liked it ... I even risked bringing a box of the special "purin" (pudding) collection back to the US while hoping that the mochi cream won't melt into a big mess. :P

It's too bad you didn't enjoy it as much as you wanted. I tried the sakura too and enjoyed its subtle floral hint which was balanced by a light saltiness, as well as the passion mango, black molasses kinako, milk tea ...

Chef Ben said...

Interesting point-counter point, Verena. I guess choosing the right flavors is a big part of it too. I would rather get mochi ice cream or even a good cupcake.

I can't believe you carried it all the way on the plane ride back from Japan. Weren't you worried it'll spoil? Or a passenger would steal a bite while you're sleeping? ;-)

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I've seen that available somewhere here down in the South Bay, Chef Ben. I have a Hawaii-transplant mochi-fan friend here who is sure to know for sure. I'll ask her and get back to you :-)

Carroll

Verena said...

hee hee, i guess i enjoyed mochi cream a lot and they aren't available in the US that i gave it a shot and brought some back. fortunately they survived the trip - only part of the pudding filling squirted out, and they still tasted pretty good.

just a thought, do you think they adjust the flavors of the mochi cream in hawaii to cater to american tastes?

Chef Ben said...

Verena, I can't say 100 percent but I'm pretty sure the mochicream are imported from Japan, so they don't make it in Hawaii. And even though they ship it to Hawaii, I doubt they'd go through the trouble of changing the recipe to make it sweeter for American tastes. But I do think culturally American tastes are probably different than the Japanese. That's just the facts of life. There will always be culinary difference in tastes, and that's the fun of exploring!

rreijman@indobynight.com said...

HI,

I would like to know how to contact the company behind mochicream? Would like to ask them about a franchise in Indonesia...Perhaps anyone can help me or knows this info?

Regards,

Romeo
rreijman@indobynight.com

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm really surprised that you didn't like it. the Matcha one is among my favorite flavors--though it looks like your matcha mochicream was still a little frozen when you cut it up, which might have messed with the flavor. I really liked the sakura, too, which is expecially tasty as a seasonal treat during hanami. but my favorites are by far the black sesame and the rasberry with the cookie inside (i forget the actual name). it took me a while to warm up to flavors like chocolate and coffee (mochi should be traditional japanese flavors! I thought) but it turns out the the cappuccino flavor is really good. over all mochicream is my all-time favorite dessert, and not having one near me is one of the worst things about being back in the states--along with missing bathhouses, easy travel, and of course, my friends.