Japanese shaved ice

Best Traditional Dessert – Japanese Shaved Ice

In the United States, pastry chefs are examining the unlimited opportunities of kakigori, which is a traditional dessert, which is demanding and manageable to interpret.

For a whole year, Norie Uematsu was waiting for the shave-ice season back at home in Japan, prior to becoming a pastry chef. Presently, she determines the starting and ending of the season.

Whenever the subway stations are hot and sticky, MS. Uematsu serves energizing bowls of kakigori (Japanese Shave Ice) at Cha-an Teahouse, which is located at the East Village of New York. Throughout September, the handle of her vintage shave-ice machine is running, until ripe white peaches are out of stock.

A block of plain ice is the starting of the entire kakigori.  The ice gets locked in place using a machine, then rotates it against a blade which cuts off the soft and sheer flakes. Once the ice start piling up, the makers of kakigori adds purees, syrups, and other toppings. Among the reasons why most pastry chefs in the United States list kakigori in their menus and prolong its season is because the dessert is totally adjustable.

Courtesy: An Rong Xu for The New York Times


When professionalism is applied in preparing kakigori, the texture gets achieved. That results in a tall structure, which is airy and light, as well as creamy crystals which are soft. However, the crystals dissolve on the tongue providing flavor.

While turning on an iron knob on her machine, Ms. Uematsu said, “To make it extremely hairy, just fine-tune the blade’s angle.” “However, the finer it becomes, the harder it becomes to operate.” You need to adjust the machine when the ice starts melting, to maintain the shavings hairily.

In August, I placed an order of kakigori bowl that had been prepared using a block of natural ice at a café situated in Yamanashi, Japan. An individual delivered the block of ice from a volcanic range on the north, known as Yatsugatake Mountains.  The ice appeared on the top. You might wonder, just a piece of ice for after the laborious climbing? However, the ice was a proof of the kakigori history.

Prior to the innovation of freezers, shave ice was regarded as a luxurious desert, which could only be afforded by people who were ready to pay for the chipping of ice from lakes and mountains that were frozen, and later is transported at a higher cost.

According to Ms. Uematsu, the present kakigori has had a long journey, right from its best origins during the Heian duration (the end of the eighth century up to the twelve century).  Ms. Uematsu was born in 1980, in Numazu, Shizuoka District. She said, “Each houseold in Japan owned a cheap kakigori machine, that normally had an attractive character attached to it, such as Hi Kitty, during my childhood.” “People used to buy commercial syrups to flavor kakigori.”

However, stiff competition exists between kakigori professionals at cafes in Japan. Most shops feature lines outside their doors, which are managed by attentive hosts. Mount Fuji sells huge blocks of ice to Atelier Sekka, a petite but calm dessert shop at the Sugamo neighborhood of Tokyo, which uses the ice as the foundation of its pure stacks of kakigori. Recently, on a weekday morning, people waited for an hour to get a seat.

According to Ms. Uematsu, the feeling of a flawless kakigori should resemble that of flower petals. The texture is neither powder nor grain, which makes it unique from other types of shave ice.

Higashiya Ginza, a modern tearoom in Tokyo features a vintage shave-ice machine at its center. Here, servers use toppings moist-heated in honey to decorate the shavings.  You can order as you stand in line on the streets at Himitsudo, where cooks prepare bowls that are fully packed with pureed mango among other fruits.

At the University of Tokyo, grounds are a café known as Kuriya Kashi Kurogi, where I came across my best kakigori of the summer. An electric machine had been used to shave the ice, which had been saturated using fresh soy milk, and sweet but condensed milk. Whipped cheese had used to layer the ice, while fresh edamame had been used to make a thick, salty and sweet crown. Whenever I was round, I ate a heap of red bean paste.

Approximately a month after the opening of the Stonemill Matcha café, in San Francisco, kakigori got listed on the menu by the general manager, Yoojin Chung. Normally, kakigori are made in design. But, Ms. Chung remembers when she tasted a specific simple type at a café in Kyoto. Apart from matcha syrup, the kakigori had no creams or coverings.

Ms. Chung remembers,” A big green display on the tray is what I saw, more than 12 inches in height yet very strong.” “Despite all the syrup, I was surprised by how its shape was retained.”

Her comparison of an ideal kakigori texture was similar to flower petals. The texture makes it different from other types of shave ice, in that its neither powder nor grain. “The texture is an easier thing, but it is extremely difficult to implement,” said Ms. Chung.

Stonemill prepares traditional kakigori known as ujikintoki, which is soaked with matcha syrup, and crowned with sweet red bean paste. Each day, Mikiko Yui who is the pastry chef of the restaurant prepares coffee jelly and soft mochi to decorate the kakigori. However, the café retains the dessert on the menu at the start of October.

For over a decade now, ujikintoki and other types of kakigori are served at Cha-an Teahouse in New York. Ms. Uematsu used her experience and training as a chef to make a white peached kakigori, which is prepared using poached fruits and crowned with chewy peach gummies that are homemade and cut into hearts and stars designs.

Marc Johnson, chef of cuisine learned about the shave-ice culture via local shops in Taiwan and Korea, alongside a famous Instagram account, managed by Margaret Lam. During then, he was preparing to establish the David Chang restaurant known as Majordomo in Los Angeles, back in January. “She should visit kakigori competitions and jams because people come together to showcase their craft,” said Mr. Johnson, who was eager to develop the skill, although he does not hire a pastry chef.

He realized that the rate of shavings melting was determined by how delicate they are. In most cases, builders of kakigori press the ice gently using their hands, to give a unique round design, although soft and hairy crystals can freeze together like hard and wet clumps when packed firmly. 

Johnson sought consultation from Gordon Bellaver of Penny Pound Ice, a supplier of Majordomo ice to bars in South California.

Within several days, Mr. Bellaver freezes 300-pound blocks of ice in a machine which stirs the water slowly, pushing impurities to its edge, hence enabling the ice to freeze crystal clear. He then cuts the pieces to suit the electric Taiwanese shave-ice machine of Majordomo, which is built for ribbon-design ice. 

The ice cracking on coming into contact with the machine, as well as the pieces becoming too little to trim is a common problem when building kakigori. Earlier on, Mr. Johnson experienced the problem.

“They were wasting a lot of blocks,” said Mr. Bellaver. “Meaning they would insert a block in and it breaks into pieces.” Similar to the peer group of kakigori builders before him, Mr. Johnson learned how to mold the ice by leaving it to warm up in a freezer, to ensure it does not warp due to the pressure of the machine.

It was the citrus season in California when Majordomo got opened. Thus, Mr. Johnson decorated the ice using pieces of grapefruit and blood orange. As the year progressed, the nearby Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles inspired him to build a horchata kakigori. At the bottom of every bowl, he spooned rice pudding and squirted the trimmed ice using coffee syrup and an intense cold brew prepared with horchata.  In its layers, he added whipped cream and caramelized sweet but condensed milk.

Only one trim ice can be built by the kitchen at a time. But, the popularity of the dessert has grown, to an extent Mr. Johnson recently wrote a warning message on the menu, stating that it takes approximately 15 minutes to prepare kakigori. Nevertheless, orders are still moving fast.

At the ending of summer, strawberry kakigori was served at Majordomo but later replaced with avocado, because there were no strawberries in the market. Kakigori season does not come to an end as long the dessert is being updated by Mr. Johnson, hence staying on the menu throughout the year.

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Source: NYT





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