You know summer has come when you see these flags outside the stores in Japan. The iconic image is beloved by the locals and it often pulls us in for a sweet and heavenly cooling treat. The flag advertises the selling of Kakigori (かき氷).

Image by @juanbiteatatime

The popular treat in Japan reminds us of festivals and refreshing bites to beat the heat! This ancient snack is mentioned in Japanese literature as far back as the Heian period (794 – 1185). Don’t be fooled if you think this treat is like another snow cone! As it has been taken to another level.

How is it made?

Kakigori is made by shaving a block of ice with a piece of special machinery. The end result is fluffy ice mountains. These are then topped with different fruit flavored syrups. For the extra sweet-toothed, it is sometimes also topped with condensed milk ice cream or other fun additions.

You will find quintessential and inexpensive Kakigori at summer festival stalls or Umi no ie (beach houses). These snacks were not always cheap and cheerful. Historically shaved ice was a luxury in the Heian period. In order to enjoy this cool and refreshing dessert at that time, they had to collect ice during the winter and store the blocks in special houses for later use. With time and refrigeration, Kakigori has become affordable, inspiring new ways of preparing and eating. There are specific Kakigori famous across the regions of Japan. As well as more modern instagrammable versions on trend today! Such as the adorable “Kawaii Panda Kakigori.”

The  Washoku or Japanese style Kakigori

A more Wafu (和風) or Japanese style Kakigori is Ujikintoki from Kyoto. The shaved ice is made with matcha green tea and often topped with red bean and Shira tama (small mochi balls). This bite of bitter ice is offset by the elegant sweetness of the red bean. Shira tama also adds a fun chewy texture, like boba or mochi. The combination is a delight for lovers of bitter and sweet.

Kakigori at zenkashoin shop
Images by @zenkashoin

The name Ujikinto comes from a town in Kyoto prefecture, Uji. This area is famous for making premium-grade Japanese green tea. And ‘Kinto’ comes from the folk story of Kintaro; a young red-faced, ax-wielding hero.

Yoshitoshi The Giant Carp
Image from Wikipedia

But more recently there have been funky unique versions. Such as the Kakigori from Sakanoue cafe. Foodies and social media mavens are lining up to dig into and photograph this adorable version!

Unique Kakigori of the modern times

Panda Kakigori Tokyo

This dessert will surely warm your heart and cool your head! Made of Camembert cheese with sweet berry sauce, the shaved ice panda has an interesting flavor as well as a cute appearance. The cafe offers take out services as well as sauces that you can buy. So you can try and make one while socially distancing at home this summer too!

Creativity with Kakigori knows no bounds, as proven at Cafe Lumiere near Kichijōji Station!

Kakigori Cafe Lumiere
Images by @cafe_lumiere_kichijyoji

Shaved ice on fire? This spectacle is made by covering the ice mountain in meringue, which is then coated with rum and set ablaze! The kakigori tastes like a creamy shortcake with cookies, caramel and berry syrups hidden inside. This exciting rendition will entice both your eyes & your appetite. We can’t wait to give it a try.

The simplicity of Kakigori inspires many creative versions. Finding the best spots and spending the hot Japan summer in various Kakigori shops is a great way to keep cool. ( Not too heavy on the calories too!) And if you’re staying indoors to avoid the humid weather, buy yourself a Kakigori machine to make your own style at home. You can come up with your own unique rendition! Send us your Kakigori photos or tag @arigatojapan on instagram.

Himitsudo in Yanaka
Photo by Nathan Hosken

Meanwhile, I will be lining up at Himitsudo for some famous legendary Kakigori. (Waiting in line might last an hour so don’t forget your sunscreen!)

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