Monday, September 7, 2009

Kakigori

Most countries have shops that sell shaved or crushed ice desserts during the summer. In Texas, they're called snowballs. What's interesting is comparing the styles of snow cones in the U.S. and Japan.

The typical snow cone in the U.S. consists of a paper or plastic cup of crushed ice drenched in syrup to the point where the bottom third of the cup is a melted ice-syrup slurry. There may be 20 flavors of syrups, and the shop may combine them to make their own "recipes", as well as top the snow cone with condensed milk or cream. It's very high-calorie, very sweet, and the only purpose of the ice is to keep the syrup cold as you're drinking it through a straw.

Most Japanese university students visiting the U.S. dislike the amount of syrup used in snow cones, and they confuse the shop operators by asking for less syrup, generally called "painting the top", or as I put it "Japanese lite". The shop operators can't understand why someone would pay $1.50 for a syrup and ice drink and then not want the syrup. Another complaint that the Japanese have is that the ice is packed too hard and when the syrup makes it melt, the ice refreezes into a big chunk that is too difficult to eat.

In contrast, kakigori (kaki = shaved, kori = ice) takes two forms in Japan = flakes and powder. The common factor is that the shop operator places the bowl under the machine and just lets the ice fall into place. There's a lot of air in with the ice, making the dessert fluffier, and the ice crackles and pops on your tongue as you eat it with a spoon. One restaurant serves flake-style kakigori that's a good 10-12" tall in the bowl, with red azuki beans in the center and around the edge of the bowl, and a green tea syrup, for $8. There is a fair amount of syrup which makes a soup at the bottom, but you're still expected to eat it with a spoon rather than with a straw.

@Home Hana serves the powdered ice style, painted on top, for $4.50, during the summer. This is a moderately-sized bowl with very cold, very finely-shaved ice particles, and one of 4 syrups (there are daily special flavors, like grape or mango). About half of the ice is unflavored and as you eat it, it's just the flavor of water. But, the key here is the texture of the ice on your tongue. It's like eating falling snow during the summer. And, if you just came in off the streets, you're probably hot, sweating, and in need of cooling down. Powder snow feels pretty good then. There's just enough syrup flavoring to be interesting, but if you're budget-conscious, you're really going to feel like you're being ripped off.

Hana normally serves strawberry, melon, lemon, and green tea kakigori. I mention this because if you are only visiting @Home in order to level up your members card, then you want the cheapest things on the menu, and the kakigori, which is only available at Hana, is one of the cheapest desserts they have. My favorite so far is a toss-up between the strawberry and lemon. But, it's only available during the hot months, so hurry before the kakigori season ends.

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