It’s true that ikura (salmon roe) resembles tapioca balls, but how about the taste?

Bubble tea is at the peak of popularity in Japan right now. Tokyo Tapioca Land, a pop-up in the Harajuku district that’s open until September 16, is one such embodiment of the trend. When our resident foodie reporter Mr. Sato went to visit, he discovered some interesting uses of tapioca that he had never considered before–in inari (fried tofu packet) sushi, for example!

▼ This experimental sushi featured tapioca balls filling in for the usual ikura (salmon roe).

In fact, Mr. Sato was pleasantly surprised by how well the tapioca paired with the rice and tofu both in terms of taste and texture. It actually got him thinking about the reverse situation: what if he substituted ikura for something that’s normally made with tapioca balls? There was only one way to find out!

The first step was to obtain some ikura, so he headed to the basement supermarket level of the Shinjuku location of Isetan, a major Japanese department store. Even if a smaller local market didn’t have any on hand, an upscale place like this would definitely have it.

Sure enough, there it was–ikura pickled in soy sauce all the way from Hokkaido.

▼ Mr. Sato held back an inexplicable urge to squeeze the roe in his fingers.

The second and last step was to buy a standard cup of bubble tea, but minus the tapioca balls. He easily purchased one on his way out and thus his gastronomic experiment was ready to begin.

▼ Since it was lacking the name-bearing tapioca bubbles, it was really just a cup of milk tea.

When he picked up a clump of tapioca balls with chopsticks, they shone beautifully in the light–just like gems of the sea.

His mouth started to water at the thought of depositing some on the top of a bowl of piping-hot rice…but today wasn’t the day for that. Today he was going to introduce the ikura to milk tea and either start a whole new drink fad or create a milk tea monster.

He brought the clump of roe closer to the drink…

…and plunked them in!!

▼ (Note: epicness of the moment may be slightly exaggerated.)

After another two or three dollops of roe, the ikura milk tea was perfected. He swirled them around to make sure they weren’t all clumped together.

So how was it? The ikura had settled on the bottom of the cup and were peeking through the milk tea just like tapioca balls. If he were to walk around town with this drink in hand not a single person would give him a second glance. No one would ever know that he was actually sipping ikura, and not tapioca.

While the appearance seemed normal, the taste was the real question on Mr. Sato’s mind. The ikura had been pickled in soy sauce so they were bound to be a little bit salty, and when placed inside sweetened milk tea who knows what it would taste like. There was only one way to find out, so Mr. Sato took his first sip.

▼ Mr. Sato is never one to back down from an extreme food challenge. In fact, this one is fairly tame by his standards.

First of all, the texture was surprisingly on point! The ikura were small, easy to drink, and had a pleasant popping feel when bitten. Mr. Sato usually feels ambivalent when it comes to tapioca balls, but these little guys passed the test.

Now for the taste:

▼ Hmmm…

As expected, the problem was the ikura’s saltiness–their flavor overpowered the milk tea. Even though the taste wasn’t unbearable, it was definitely a collision of uncomplimentary flavors.

Perhaps un-pickled ikura would make the drink tastier, but was it worth the effort of tracking down more ikura in the first place? Probably not. It looked like Mr. Sato would have to deal with the texture of tapioca balls for the time being…at least it was still better than Lemongina.

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