Close up, it looks like a colorful piece of art. Small crystals catching the light, shimmering in different shades. But what it actually is, won’t disappoint you either, because it is crazy delicious. Shaved ice topped with syrup, known in Japanese as Kakigōri, is a sweet specialty in the land of the rising sun. Once only available in summer, it is now served all year round in special stores that are popping up all over the place. Today, it is so popular across the country that there are even festivals, Kakigōri Matsuri, entirely dedicated to the icy deliciousness.
The shaved ice has a distinct consistency which makes Kakigōri so special. The small crystals are crunchy at first and quickly melt on your tongue. Common toppings for the little mountains of ice are different kinds of syrups like strawberry, green tea or curaçao, among others, to add some taste to the texture. People with an extra sweet tooth like adding a generous helping of sugary condensed milk. If you prefer a fresh touch, fruits can be added as well. Or how about some Anko, the typical red bean paste!? The topping combinations are pretty much endless.
Kakigōri is a great dessert or sweet snack at any time, whether in summer or winter. With the right toppings, it can even be a light and healthy treat that is very low in calories since the shaved ice itself only consists of plain water.
How to make Kakigōri
The ice itself is made using a special shaving machine with the name Kakigōriki (かき氷機). Traditional machines that many people still have at home are operated manually by turning a crank. These come in many different shapes and colors, often in typical Japanese designs with playful motives. Restaurants usually use industrial versions that work with electricity. The more sophisticated machines even offer different options regarding the size and texture of the ice flakes.
For either machine, water is frozen in a specific container to create a big block of ice. The frozen chunk is then placed in the machine where a sharp blade scrapes off thin flakes. The shaved ice falls right into a cup underneath the machine, ready to be covered with the desired toppings.
It is important to produce flakes of the right size so that the syrup can properly stick to it. Also the amount of fruit sauce or puree needs careful dosing without drowning or melting the ice. At the same time, it should be enough to give the otherwise plain, tasteless ice a proper flavor.
Bingsu from South Korea
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