Kakigori: Traditional Shaved Ice かき氷
While it is possible to find the most eccentric of ice creams in Japan, some stand out because of their simplicity. Kakigori consists of only crushed ice and syrup, a simple but effective combination.
Long before the development of the recipe for ice cream, the Japanese had already grasped the importance of having icy treats to counter the heat of the Japanese summer. The appearance of kakigori dates back to the Heian period (794-1185).
This refreshment was prepared from ice blocks stored outside Kyoto in winter, in a place called Himuro ("icebox"). In summer, they were transported to the Imperial Palace in order to allow the court to enjoy the ice - a true luxury at the time.
Ice For Everyone
During the Meiji era, the dessert became more available thanks to the clever merchant Kahei Nakagawa, who had the idea of marketing it to Tokyoites using fresh ice coming straight from Hokkaido, making kakigori available to a greater number of people.
In terms of techniques, it was Hanzaburo Murakami that invented a machine to crush ice without having to touch it, and thus without melting it. Most traditional vendors still use it today. Suddenly cheaper and easier to manufacture, the treat became a summer staple.
Sugar and sweet red beans (azuki), are the two basic ingredients of traditional kakigori, but today it can be found in more unusual flavours like bubblegum, chips or pumpkin!
Many Japanese make their own kakigori, but as it is usually a dessert that's eaten when out and about, many specialized shops have survived the arrival of the freezer.
During summer festivals, it's easy to spot the yatai (food stalls) selling kakigori by the character for ice "氷" (kori) displayed on their fronts.
Lighter than it looks
The quality of this dessert depends on the technique used to prepare it, hence the need to sample the kakigori of the most renowned makers: Gion Koishi in Kyoto, or Yelo in Tokyo are among the most famous. The portions served can seem gargantuan but don't worry, light crushed ice does not make for a heavy dessert!
Like any popular dessert in Japan, kakigori has many regional variations: the shirokuma in Kagoshima includes fruit, while the Kyoto kintori uji is prepared with matcha tea and decorated with red beans and mochi. The latter is also one of the most popular in Japan.