Japanese Shaved Ice Puts Slush Puppies to Shame

This coming from a guy who loves a good Slush Puppy — preferably Smurf-hued and from a gas station.

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But during my first summer in Japan, my palate for syrup-drenched ice dishes evolved to new levels of sophistication, thanks to kakigori, Japan’s luxe version of a snow cone.

You’ll find this stuff everywhere during Japan’s wicked hot, wicked humid months, particularly as street food or summer festival fare. In many cases, it’s the same as American shaved ice: Essentially a reconfigured popsicle, it’s finely crushed or shaved ice doused in synthesized, sugary juices, served in a paper cup.

But kakigori can also be very different. First, it often comes with just the right amount of syrup drizzled on top. (Not like Fla-Vor-Ice, whose empty sleeve often leaves behind a few shots’ worth of slurppable lemon-lime liquid.) Instead, Japanese people often pile on toppings, like fresh kiwi, melon, whipped cream, or macerated berries.

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Another common topping is azuki, which are red beans whose flavor is extremely common in Japanese desserts, particularly as a paste. A solid kakigori combo? Green tea-flavored ice topped with mountains of the semisweet, maroon legumes.

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If you’re a Westerner reading this, my guess is that you probably think this looks pretty gross. Well, if you live in a large, cosmopolitan city, you might soon be whistling a different tune, because kakigori is one of the latest dishes riding the washoku wave into the Anglosphere’s culinary circles.

Beard Papa, a Japanese cream puff chain that’s already up and running in places like New York and San Francisco, now has kakigori on its menu. Not the azuki variety (yet), but mango. They’re calling it “mango ice shower,” which sounds vaguely like a Chris Kattan SNL it. But hey, whatever reels ’em in!

Stay cool out there, beans or no beans.