Yes, kelp ice-cream, you read that correctly.
One hot afternoon, after our stroll in Nakanoshima Park, my friend Kyoko said to me, “Let’s have some ice cream, Kombu sofuto!” My first reaction was, “Kombu sofuto? You mean kombu, the seaweed? Kelp?”
“Yes, kelp soft-serve cream, it’s really good!” Kyoko was very persistent so I dutifully followed her to Kansou (神宗) in Yodoyabashi.
After walking for about 15 minutes, we arrived at the shop. Kansou was far from what I imagined. The shop is well hidden on the first floor of the beautiful Yodoyabashi Centre Building. Kansou has been specializing in kombu for about two centuries. Kombu, being a vital ingredient in Japanese cuisine, is used in stews and broths giving them the delicious “umami” taste. We could see the shop from inside the glass walls, easily recognized with the noren (Japanese curtain) with the words 神宗(Kansou).
As we entered the shop, I thought I was in the lobby of a typical Japanese museum with a souvenir shop next to it. The interior of Kansou is designed to depict the Tenjin Matsuri, one of the three biggest festivals in Japan. There were puppets dressed in kimonos, a TV playing the scenes of the festival and even boards on the wall showing the history of Tenjin Matsuri. There was a counter at the corner displaying various kombu based products. The most famous products in Kansou are shio kombu (salted kelp) and katsuo kombu (bonito kelp), normally eaten as accompaniments to white rice or mixed together to make onigiri (rice balls).
We sat at a table and ordered ourselves the kombu (kelp) sofuto (soft serve ice cream). Shortly, the ice cream came in a porcelain bowl, together with pieces of macha (green tea) cake on the side. Frankly, I was quite impressed with the presentation of the ice cream. The ice cream was served with the very famous Kyoto Tamba red beans and a piece of langue de chat. The kombu sofuto has a tinge of yellowness, which looked quite classy and enticing. There was even a note on the tray, explaining the ingredients and the taste of the ice cream.
We dug into our ice cream, and I was pleasantly surprised! It was so smooth and creamy and what’s more, it didn’t have the taste of kelp at all! Kansou puts a great amount of effort to use the freshest ingredients. The kombu sofuto is moderately sweet, and you can immediately taste the richness of the milk with a tinge of umami. Pure bliss! I can say this is one of the best soft serve ice creams I have ever tried in Japan, simply delicious!
The shop serves onigiri (rice balls), miso soup and drinks as well. The onigiri are made with Kansou’s kombu based products. We were given some onigiri to sample and they tasted fantastic—a perfect combination of white rice with the right amount of kombu and salt. Kansou maintains a stringent quality to ensure the freshness of their products. I even learned that people come to Kansou just to get the kombu based prodcuts as premium gifts or souvenirs. You can also find Kansou’s products in department stores like Takashimaya, Daimaru and Kintetsu Mall.
So, if you have the chance to drop by Yodoyabashi, Kansou’s kelp ice cream should be on your list. And if you're thinking what to bring home to families as souvenirs, Kansou’s premium kombu products would make the perfect gifts!