What Is Kakigori, Japan's Shaved Ice Treat?

When summertime comes around Japanese people crave Kakigori, a refreshing traditional desert. It's basically just a colored snowy mountain. A pile of thinly shaved ice on which you pour fruit or sesame green tea. Kakigori can also be accompanied by other toppings: condensed milk, red beans, whip cream, or with some mochis, the infamous little sticky rice cakes.

Norio NAKAYAMA/Flickr

(Photo: Norio Nakayama/Flickr)




The desert has been around for ages but used to be exclusive to Japanese aristocracy. The shaved iced treat was considered a sign of wealth. During the winter, the makers would form a block of ice in a hole dug in a mountain, and shave it and hose it with syrup in the summer. Nowadays, the light granita is served in every tea salon and street corner in Japan. With 30,590 results for #kakigori on Instagram, the shaved iced dessert seems very popular (and photogenic).

Shaved blocks of ice

To obtain this level of lightness, the ice isn't only crushed or mixed like for granitas. In order to recreate a snow-like texture, blocks of ice are shaved to make the thinnest possible shavings. For this, a special machine is used, a kind of manual or electric ice shaver. As you'd expect, they come various ways, from traditional ones to the more kawaii ones.

And in case you weren't already convinced, French star pastry chef Christophe Michalak fell in love with kakigori during a trip to Japan. In Galaxie Michalak he confirms it's the Japanese treat that surprised him the most.


"It's shaved ice with syrup, how can it be so simple yet so good?"


Kakigori exists in different versions throughout various South American countries as well as in Hawaii. While it isn't very popular in Europe yet, the dessert was recently honoured in Barcelona. That's a cheaper option than flying off to Tokyo.

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By Sirine Azouaoui, published on 27/07/2016