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September 1, 2010

I decided to do my first product review today. This seems particularly timely since I haven’t done anything exciting in the last few days, and I only rode my bike to go to the grocery store, “Life”, yesterday. I spent the afternoon with the nephew, and as always, I indulged him (and myself) in ice cream on the way home. Said nephew pretty reliably gets the 7-11 vanilla cone, and for this reason, we always have to find a 7-11. Mini-Stop, Lawsons, Daily…. all these places are sub-par for him when it comes to ice cream. I find the 7-11 selection less than inspiring, but I’m not really a vanilla cone kinda girl.

Sometimes Nephew can be talked into a Morinaga Choco Monaka, which is easily split (broken in half, squares counted to ensure fairness) between us if we are sneaking in a pre-dinner ice-cream and don’t want to spoil our appetites; ice-cream as appetizer per se.

I remember these fondly from the vending machine in high-school. They are also great kid snacks because they don’t drip much.
But yesterday I thought I would try something new, so I reached for the Morinaga Rennyukori (Morinaga brand condensed milk shaved ice). I got the little tub shown to the right.

I’m quite a fan of shaved ice, although I think it is often severely over priced and I refuse to pay 5 dollars for one at a festival or restaurant. I keep my eyes open for those times when they are available at community fairs etc for dead cheap. It’s all the same ice covered in sweet syrup anyway. Personally I think they should really vary the selection of syrups a bit more and break out of the strawberry, lemon, mellon, blue-hawaii monotony.

Occasionally you see condensed milk. Once, a long time ago, some friends and I found ourselves at a festival with a bottle of baileys in my bag, and we had baileys over shaved ice, and it was divine…..

I don’t think though that I have ever had convenience store pre-packaged shaved ice before. It seems a little silly because it’s more than likely the ice loses all the fluffy light divinity of freshly and thinly shaved ice. Shaved ice seems to have a lot in common with cotton candy: it’s over priced half the time, and if you try and package it, it loses the “cloud” aspect.

But, the call of a tub of frozen condensed milk was quite alluring. I remember getting a spoonful of condensed milk out of the fridge as a child and slowly working my way through it like it was candy.

When I moved to Tochigi in the mid 90s, my friend Katie introduced me to the joys of condensed milk in a tube (like a toothpaste tube) that you could squeeze right onto strawberries and eat them pic-nic style.
To put it bluntly: condensed milk is yummy.

(look, it even recommends itself for strawberry season)

My first impression after opening the lid was, yes, as expected, it has none of the light fluffiness that is desirable in a shaved ice snack. It had the rock solid surface of a distant frozen planet. But I bravely fought on. At first it was just sweet ice. Really, nothing special. It was still nice and refreshing on the hot walk home as I watched vanilla ice cream spread across my nephews face, and the delight of grannies walking by seeing him, and the horror of business men walking by who I think feared his face might come in contact with their suits. Every now and then I would point to his face, and he would dutifully work his tongue (quite nimbly) across it until all visible traces were removed (although I imagine the stickiness remained).

Nephew tried some condensed milk ice. He agreed, it was good, but meh. And then my plastic spoon hit a vein of pure condensed milk running through the ice. Nephew and I agreed this more than made up for the “meh” factor. It was like falling on treasure. Sticky and cold and oh-so-sweet. On the one hand, I wish the whole thing was sugary like that. On the other, that would be really overkill and the mix of cold ice and then sweet sudden treat was it’s own kind of special.

So, overall, I would say, the Rennyukori is a good treat, but a treat that requires a particular kind of mood; one of quiet reflection and appreciation for subtle changes in flavour, but not one so contemplative that the texture becomes distracting. It is a good choice when full ice-cream seems too heavy on a hot day, or too likely too upset the stomach with all that milk. It has the milky-ness without the milk. I think you should try it. At a dollar twenty, it’s not going to break the bank.

Of course I completely advocate you getting a bunch of ice cubes out the freezer, sticking them in the blender and then pouring condensed milk over it. It won’t be fluffy either, so it would be a close approximation. You can write it off as cultural education, as widening your taste buds to the variety of the global convenience store. And if you don’t like it, maybe there is some Baileys in the back of your fridge.

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