Snow Cones can be refreshing on a hot day, but I’m usually disappointed by hard, course ice that lets all the syrup slide straight to the bottom of the paper cone. In Japan, I found Kakigōri (かき氷), or shave ice – a fabulous dessert which made me reconsider the potential of the snow cone.
Served not only at carnivals and roadside stands but also in nice restaurants alongside ice cream and cakes, most of the shaved ice in Japan is similar in texture to American snow cones, if a bit softer and more like, well, fresh snow. But at least once, in Nikko, I found shave ice that seemed to literally have been shaved from a block – it was as smooth as ice cream, and had a delightful crispness.
The syrup that tops Kakigōri is not unlike that used on American snow cones, with familiar flavours like strawberry, lemon, and grape alongside melon, sweet plum and green tea. It is also common to pour condensed milk onto the ice, adding additional sweetness and richness. Many Japanese also like to add mild sweet bean paste, mochi rice cakes, or even ice cream to their shave ice.
Laura and I found some incredible Kakigōri in Nikko. The texture was totally different than that of an American snowcone, or even the other Kakigōri we had tasted – something like a cross between Italian shaved ice and cotton candy, very smooth and delicate. Served with strawberries in thick syrup and condensed milk, this was the most delicious dessert of our trip!