[Full disclosure: I have been acquainted with the owner’s family for something approaching a decade, so make of that what you will. As a for-example, I adore my mom, but she made some of the Worst. Tacos. Ever. Taste and truth trump ties. And if I’m willing to dis my own mother (who also, incidentally, was capable of crafting a world-class roast of beef), you can bet I’m not going to be shy about pulling punches here. Apart from mentioning that the CEO is a 17 year old entrepreneur named Jack Kaplan, I’m going to leave the history of the enterprise for him to tell as it unfolds.]
Kakigori, for those of you who might be unfamiliar with it, is the Japanese version of shave ice (in the “shaved” vs. “shave” ice argument, I come down on the latter for no particular reason except that’s how I learned it). But before you turn your thoughts to sno-cones filled with something that looks like anti-freeze and tastes vaguely of an alleged “blueberry” lollipop, please jettison every childhood image of sno-cones, Icees, Slurpees, or other frozen concoctions. Kakigori is to sno-cones as an éclair is to a Twinkie. Conceptually similar, but light years apart in terms of taste.
Its origins date back to Japan’s Heian period (AD 794 to 1185), where it is mentioned in The Pillow Book (枕草子 Makura no Sōshi), a collection of observations and musings written by Sei Shōnagon, a lady in the court of Empress Consort Teishi. [The book was completed in 1002.] At the time, the delicacy was confined strictly to the upper classes, due in part to the scarcity of ice, especially in the summertime. During the Meiji period, in the late 1800s, so-called “Boston ice” arrived by ship from America, and kakigori was made available to the masses. Yay.
Generally speaking, kakigori is not merely a flavouring poured over ice, though it can be. Often times, the ice itself is infused with some sort of flavouring agent (as you will see below). In addition, many recipes may include elements such as sweetened condensed milk, ice cream, fresh fruit, syrups featuring caramel or chocolate, and other sundry goodies, such as sweetened mochi, a confection made from rice paste that takes on a chewy/sticky texture not altogether unlike a soft gummi bear.
It’s not available widely in America at present, but that may be about to change with the debut of Kakigori Kreamery’s mobile unit (seen pictured at top) in Venice, CA, on 25 July 2015. That’s an auspicious launch day, as the Japan Kakigori Association designates that date as the “day of kakigori” because its pronunciation sounds like “summer ice” in Japanese.
At press time, there are nine flavours:
Okay, the names are a little goofy, though not to the level of IHOP’s popular “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘N Fruity®” pancake entrées, which I would absolutely refuse to order by name just because. But underlying the frivolous nomenclature lies some serious taste delight. If I might direct your attention to the photo above, do note that the ice is shaved, rather than cracked or crushed, which gives it a texture far more delicate than the traditional sno-cone (and even much of the “Hawaiian-style” shave ice, which frequently is no more shaved than Duck Dynasty‘s cast members). This is the Green Kara-Tea kakigori, which is made from green tea ice, rainbow mochi, and matcha-infused condensed milk. [Matcha, of course, is green tea powder, with its stems and veins removed before processing.] It’s sweet enough for kids to enjoy (and they’ll adore the rainbow mochi), but not an adult-repelling sugar bomb.
I should have taken a shot of the Ginja Ninja, because it was may fave of the bunch (I tried five of the nine flavours, and I’m going back next weekend to complete the date card). With its ginger ice, snappy gingersnap crumble, Maldon salt, and caramel sauce, it’s a bracing and energizing blast of spray from a rousing sail on the Ginger Sea.
Tastewise, the WATA-WATAmelon totally nails it; mint, lime, and basil meld with watermelon the way Kardashians meld with camera lenses. They were made for one another. Its one slight drawback is that the delicate watermelon ice shavings, like Blanche DuBois, tend to wilt in the heat. You have to plow through your portion at speed, or risk the possibility of having a cup of refreshing watermelon drink, rather than an icy delight. That said, it’s something of a small quibble, because it’s pretty great in either state (mine wound up half and half).
But Kakigori Kreamery’s secret weapon in its quest for world domination may well be their Kookie Kabuki: cookies ‘n’ cream ice, crushed Oreos, and condensed milk. This. Is. Irresistible. While the Ginja Ninja is still my favourite, it (much like me) is a little idiosyncratic. The Kookie Kabuki, on the other hand, has its sights locked on a multi-generational, multi-ethnic, multi-you-name-it target that wants a summertime comfort sweet that hits every familiar note. With a little luck, this might just supplant Häagen-Dazs’ Vanilla Swiss Almond ice cream as the heavyweight champ in the chocolate-meets-vanilla arena. But this is the case only if, of course, you happen to be in southern California. Otherwise… well, Japan is nice this time of year, but a SoCal sojourn might well be both less expensive and less complicated.
You can follow the exploits of Kakigori Kreamery here and here.
If you want to be around for their official debut, come check them out at the grand opening:
7/25 from 8:30am – 2:05pm
Venice Arts & Collectibles Market
13000 Venice Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90066
And should you care to try a home version of kakigori, you can pick up a Japanese-style ice shaver here, and a recipe for Peach Yogurt Kakigori with Mint Syrup here.