The Audacity of Sneak

Jun 8, 2009 at 4:31 pm
The Audacity of Sneak
Fernando de Sousa, Wikimedia Commons
Show: Up, Pixar's latest gorgeous, visually engaging attempt to make me laugh while feeling a little guilty. Total success on both counts.

Food: Mochi ice cream, mango flavored.

Difficulty: Moderate. This is the easiest form of ice cream to bring into the movies, but it still requires extensive planning for temperature maintenance and consumption mechanics.

Every time I tell someone about my ridiculous hobby, chronicled here for your enjoyment and edification, the conversation follows this script:
Them: Oh, that's interesting! What kinds of food do you sneak in?

Sneak: All kinds. Everything.

Them: Really? What's the most difficult thing you've snuck in somewhere?

Sneak: A bottle of champagne/a four-course meal/sushi for four. (This changes, depending on my mood.)

Them (stunned by lack of Swedish Fish, Diet Coke): Oh! That''re really serious about that.

Sneak: Deadly serious.

Them: Well, what about ice cream? Can you sneak in ice cream?
Can sneak, have snuck, will sneak again.

The problem with describing how to sneak ice cream into a movie theater to a non-Sneak is that they don't think about food in a sneaky way. To them, ice cream is a single thing, where to someone used to thinking about how long something can go in a purse or pocket before warming to a less than ideal consistency, it's a continuum of foods with vastly different properties. While I appreciate the ecumenical openness of non-Sneaks, it's not helpful. It's a bit like walking into Middle East peace talks, looking around at all sides and saying, "Hey, did you guys ever notice you're all monotheists? This is great! You have so much in common!"

To get things done, you have to understand the inherent differences. While the summer heat will call out many more tales of sweet frozen treats furtively licked in theater seats, I'm going to start with the ice cream subset that, in my vast experience, is most easily snuck: mochi ice cream.

click to enlarge Daifukumochi - Alice Wiegand, Wikimedia Commons
Alice Wiegand, Wikimedia Commons
Mochi covers a wide variety of foods made from glutinous rice pounded into a smooth, chewy, slightly gelatinous solid. In Japan, where it's commonly used to celebrate the New Year, mochi can be formed into small cakes or rolled thin and wrapped around fillings; it can be used in sweet or savory dishes. If you're cramming for the Food SATs, the best analogy is probably the following:
mochi : Japan :: phyllo : Greece
The most common form it takes in the U.S. is daifukumochi, literally "great belly mochi" or "great luck mochi" -- the characters for the two words are pronounced the same way, which leads one of the better and more often-used food puns in world culture. Daifukumochi definitely fill up your belly since the thin, chewy mochi shell is wrapped around a rich, sweet center.

A recent trip to Jay's International yielded a box with red bean-, peanut-, and sesame-flavored mochi, each about the size of a large chocolate truffle. Daifukumochi's popularity in Hawaii, California and other Pacific states means that it's finding its way to an increasing number of grocery stores. (Though you're most likely to find it in the freezer section because it contains a ball of ice cream instead of adzuki paste.) Commonly available flavors are those faithful flavor companions chocolate, vanilla and strawberry as well as more exotic flavors like green tea, mango and melon.

I got my mother hooked on the stuff when she was visiting me a few months ago. Rifling through my kitchen for a light dessert I could dress to impress, I remembered how much she loves mango. I had some mango mochi ice cream in the freezer and, because I'm an awful person who probably doesn't deserve a long-suffering mother, I wanted to see if she'd eat it. That's right, the game you played with your baby brother, or possibly your dog? I still do it to my own mother. And father. Although I'm a little more reserved with mom; I've never goaded her into an impromptu chicken foot eating contest (Dad won) and try to pick things she'll like if I can just get her to try them.

click to enlarge More daifukumochi - User "katorisi," Wikimedia Commons
User "katorisi," Wikimedia Commons
More daifukumochi
It's hard to know how to eat mochi ice cream, even though it's completely self-contained, about the size of a small plum, and smooth as a stone. Though some of the chill is held in by the mochi wrapper, sinking the entirety of your teeth into solid-frozen ice cream is as pleasant as gnawing on a crowbar. To get the full reward of the different textures blending together with the not-too-sweet mango ice cream, you have to nibble at exactly the right moment.

Also of note is that I eat my mochi like a forkless heathen. Order it in a restaurant and it comes to you with a nice little pick for cutting into delicate bites. Who needs it when I can just eat my ice cream like an apple? If I brought the little pick into the theater, something would probably blow up on screen just as I was dissecting out my discrete mouthful and I'd probably sink the pick into the top of my thigh from surprise. No thank you. I'd rather not have manners than have a good reason for a tetanus booster.

My mother was visiting me again this week, this time with her best friend, the Resplendent Magistra Jane. I wanted them to have a relaxing time where they could recharge. My mother is a fifth-grade teacher and managed not to murder anyone this year again, somehow, despite having the kind of deep personal understanding of forensic science and investigative techniques that would make her impossible to convict. I wanted to reward her for her strength and fortitude through the school year.

So of course I took her to a movie that made her cry.

Up has a simple plot that goes in a few unexpected directions. A lonely widower who once dreamed of a life of adventure with his energetic wife refuses to give in to either the developers who want his house or society's expectations of what he's capable of doing because of his age by turning his gingerbread Victorian into an airship with thousands of helium balloons. Up is sweet without being cloying, funny to the point of being surreal in some places and features something it's just not quite kosher to show in live-action movies: a knock-down, drag-out geezer fight. There are talking dogs. There are broken families. There is a Sisyphean task.

I have a hard time figuring out exactly how much value seeing the film in 3-D added, but the colors and textures were rich and compelling without distracting from the story they were conveying, and the well-designed characters sailed above the uncanny valley in a zeppelin.

My mother, who taught me to sneak instinctively, the way a cat teaches her kittens to wash their ears, suggested the mochi ice cream. We were beached on the couch a few hours after finishing a formidable lunch and no food of substance would do. I took them from the freezer and created an ad hoc system of mochi links, half a dozen pearls of mango ice cream and glutinous rice twisted about with aluminum foil to keep them cold. If I'd had more time, I would have constructed the Ultimate Mochi Holder I devised with an egg carton and an endothermic chemical pack, but the show was starting in half an hour and it was only the three of us. I will save that dread device's construction for another day.

About halfway into the film, it was time for mochi. This is why I think of it as the gateway ice cream for sneaks: The mochi covering allows greater freedom in consumption logistics. Unless it starts out permafrosted or in an elaborate cooling rig, most ice cream needs to be consumed before the opening credits finish or risk becoming soup. Mochi ice cream gets a longer life, though you must be careful when biting into the rice flour shell if it's been sitting more than an hour: there will be drip. Just like the makers of Up, you have to tread a fine and careful measure between gloopy sweetness and something worth tearing into with your front teeth.

Contemptible Pixar, your film has filled me with hope for the whimsical, the impossible! In Japanese food culture, there's special mochi for watching the snow, the cherry blossoms, the moon; for eating in the spring and for eating in the fall. Is it too much to hope that one day a very special daifukumochi will be developed just for sneaking into a theater?

Dara Strickland is a leading expert on sneaking food and drink into the movies. She reports on her exploits for Gut Check (from an undisclosed location) every Monday.