In the middle of summer, when the sun is scorching and the humidity is high, the Japanese turn to the most effective ways to make the heat more bearable. Some wear light summer clothing called yukata, some escape to air-conditioned department stores, and some throw on their swimwear and head to the beach. But how about cooling down your body from the inside out?
One of the most popular summer treats in Japan is kakigori, the Japanese version of a snow cone. During the hottest months of the year, you can find this frozen dessert being sold everywhere from city streets to mountain tops. You will always see it in amongst all the street food stalls at Japanese festivals, though the quality there is of course different to what is made at specialist shops.
Genuine, traditional-style kakigori is made with ice collected from the mountain regions of Japan where it is formed naturally in winter and kept in cold rooms until needed. It is then shaved with a special machine, or sometimes even by hand. This process results in the softest, fluffiest shaved ice. It’s like being served a cloud in a bowl. Because of its delicate nature, rather than bite into it like you would a snow cone, you need to use a spoon to gently eat the dessert from the top down. Starting from the side will inevitably end in it toppling over and spilling all over the table – it’s happened before!
Another feature of kakigori are the toppings. Syrup is always added to give the ice flavour. Cheaper shops will give you the choice of standard syrups such as red strawberry, green melon, yellow lemon, purple grape and blue Hawaii. At the more expensive places, you’ll find many unique items on the menu. How about flavours such as tiramisu, sweet bean paste, matcha, mocha pudding and champagne? Or, toppings like fresh fruit, ice cream, nuts and chocolate?
At Ballon D’essai, yet another innovative variation is offered. Known for its quality coffee and latte art, Ballon D’essai is a small, unassuming café tucked away in the backstreets of hip neighbourhood Shimokitazawa. Just 6 stops, or 10 minutes, away from Shinjuku Station on the Odakyu Line, Shimokita, as it’s affectionately known, is a labyrinth of second-hand and vintage clothing stores, one-off boutiques, bars, cafés and live houses. It’s the type of place you could visit a dozen times and discover something new every time.
Alongside lattes, flat whites and long blacks, Ballon D’essai serves up shaved ice all year round. There are currently 6 items on the kakigori menu, the most popular being the Original Blend Espresso. Ice and milk are combined to create a soft, smooth body. At the bottom of the bowl, adding more texture, is softened ice cream and homemade coffee jelly. The final touch is done right in front of you at your table. The barista himself pours an espresso shot over the top, creating a hollow in the centre. The blend of all of these ingredients and textures is surprising and leaves you wanting more. From the first bitter taste of the espresso-doused ice, down to the sweet finish of the ice cream, it is one delicious concoction.
Whether in a cup from a local festival, or served in a beautiful bowl at a restaurant, kakigori is a must-try for any traveller in Tokyo.
Shop: Ballon D’essai
Address: 2-30-11 Kitazawa, Setagaya ward, Tokyo
Open: Tuesday-Friday 11:30-21:00, Weekends and holidays 10:30-21:00
Website (Japanese): http://www.ballondessai.com
For more information → http://www.odakyu.jp/english/