Luring tourists with ramen soft serve ice cream

KITAKATA, Fukushima - Soft-serve ice cream that looks like ramen noodles went on sale earlier in May at a tourist facility run by a group of young entrepreneurs in Kitakata, Fukushima Prefecture.

The ice cream, called "Kitakata ramen soft cream," has been drawing attention due to its unique noodle-like appearance.

The shape of the flat, curly noodles used for the city's specialty Kitakata ramen are re-created as soft-serve ice cream, which itself is characterized by the salty-sweet taste of soy sauce combined with the rich sweetness of vanilla.

Topping the ice cream is something that looks like a slice of narutomaki - a type of kamaboko steamed fish paste - but is actually made of chewy mochi rice cake.

People eat the ice cream with chives or black pepper sprinkled on it.

Kitakata Ramen Jinja and Ramen Museum, where visitors can learn more about Kitakata ramen. PHOTO: Tatsuya Hoshi

About 1.85 million tourists visit Kitakata each year, but day trippers only stay in the city for about four hours on average, according to the Kitakata city government.

Given this, five young entrepreneurs operating companies including a noodle production company and sake brewery began to develop the ice cream in December last year, hoping that tourists would get more enjoyment out of strolling in the city if they could enjoy something sweet after eating ramen.

In order to make the ice cream thin enough to look like noodles, they changed the shape of the nozzle on an ice cream dispenser.

They also brought in soy sauce and mochi from their companies.

Kitakata ramen soft cream has been sold since early May at a tourist facility - the Kitakata Ramen Jinja and Ramen Museum - run by the five members.

"I could get addicted to the salty-sweet taste," Kaisei Kamata, 22, who is a company employee in Koriyama in the same prefecture, said with satisfaction after eating the ice cream.

"We'd like to make it a new Kitakata specialty product," said Tatsuya Hoshi, 39, who is one of the five founders and the head of a soy sauce and miso factory.

The ice cream is priced at ¥350 (S$4.40), or ¥300 for people aged 18 or younger (tax included).

Kitakata Ramen Jinja and Ramen Museum

Open: 10 a.m.-4 p.m (through the end of November); 11 a.m.-3 p.m. (December-March)

Closed: Thursday

Address: 4662, 2-chome, Kitakata, Fukushima Prefecture

Access: About 10 minutes walk from JR Kitakata Station