Summertime in Japan can be a little unbearable, the high humidity can feel like walking through walls of soup. There is a single saving grace that stops Japanese summertime from being akin to living on the surface of the sun – kakigori. Kakigori, or shaved ice, is a treat that appears in some form or another in most countries. Snow cones in the US or slushies in the UK, but there is something very Japanese about the presentation and flavors of the Japanese kakigori.

While this frozen treat can be picked up at summer festivals and beach towns the nation over, there are also various ways to make this treat from the comfort of your own home. Of course, the easiest is to acquire a kakigori maker, but for the adventurous few let us dive into a more interesting way of making kakigori with our wits, our brawn and a very sharp knife. 

Making Kakigori By Hand

Making kakigori by hand can be a little tricky but it by no means an impossible task. To start we’re going to need a lot of ice, but not just any ice cubes will do. We’re going to need a block of ice. Before you put on your snowshoes for the great icy unknown, an ice block can be easily made in your own home. All you need is a milk carton, juice container or any other rectangular shaped cardboard carton. Fill the carton to about 70-80% capacity and place it in the freezer overnight.

Once you have your rectangular block of ice we have to start shaving it down into deliciously fluffy ice shards. To start, peel the cardboard container away from the block like one would a banana peel. Yes, this sounds crazy but the best way to grip the ice block is while it’s still partly in the container and unless one has temperature control gloves which can easily grip onto ice – start peeling that ice banana. Once you have a good small chunk of the ice visible its ready to be carved.

Shaving ice isn’t as hard as one thinks it’ll be. With a relatively sharp knife begin to shave down the corners of your ice block. While shaving the smooth flat surface of said block seems to be the easiest approach this can lead to your knife being snagged. For those who want an easier time sticking to the corners was the fastest and easiest method in my opinion.

Shaving the block down to size isn’t as difficult as one would think but it might take a little trial and error. With a sharp knife start with the corners of the ice block using the part of the blade closest to the handle to shred the ice down to size. Rotate the ice block as you shave down a corner. More corners will reveal themselves so make sure your shaving all sides down equally.

Pro Tip: Before you even begin shaving your block of ice remember to have your syrups and sauces ready as the ice melts fast especially in this summer heat.

Pro Tip 2: For those having trouble shaving down that block I found this video to be really helpful. Check it out here.

Let’s Make Some Kakigori

Watermelon Sudachi

While matcha and mango are pretty popular kakigori flavors, when one thinks of Japanese summertime only one fruit should come to mind – watermelon. To give the watermelon mixture an extra kick we’ve decided to combine it with the refreshing taste of sudachi, a specialty citrus fruit of Tokushima. For this mixture you’ll need:

  • Two slices of watermelon
  • Sudachi (or another type of citrus fruit)

To start cut one watermelon slice into small chunks and place them in the fridge to cool. These will be used as our toppings later. The other slice of watermelon should then be sliced into manageable pieces and placed into a bowl to be crushed. Take care to remove any seeds while you’re crushing the watermelon but don’t run the mixture through a strainer. While we do want a more pourable watermelon mixture we do also want a few chunks of watermelon to remain – imagine a pulpy orange juice. Once complete place the mixture into the fridge to cool.

Take your ice block out of the freezer and shave yourself a nice mound of ice. Place said mound into a bowl and pour over your chilled watermelon mixture, then add the watermelon chunks and a slice of sudachi, and serve. The sliced sudachi is to be squeezed over the kakigori right before serving and gives the kakigori refreshing overall taste, this also works with lemon or yuzu and adds a whole new dimension to the kakigori experience. Experiment with the toppings and see what else combines with the king of summer fruits.

Pro tip: For those who don’t have the energy to fill an entire bowl with shaved ice you can cheat a little by first putting ice cubes in the bowl and then topping that with your shaved ice.

Chocolate Caramel

A simple chocolate caramel kakigori goes a long way. The bitter caramel with the sweet cocoa powder is a dangerously moreish combination. For this recipe you’ll need:

  • Chocolate powder (enough to cover the kakigori)
  • Caramel sauce (store-bought or homemade)

Once the kakigori is shaved and made into an ice tower use a sieve to evenly sprinkle chocolate powder along the surface of the ice. The caramel is best served a little warm in a separate container allowing for it to be poured over the chocolate moments before being eaten. The caramel topping, in my opinion, is the best part of this frozen treat and thus there is never enough. Making an extra batch or serving up the kakigori with a little more warm caramel than you’ll think you need is the best solution to this future problem.

For my own caramel sauce, I used a combination of 3 teaspoons of butter caramel from Caramel Life and around 10ml of warm milk. Mix until it creates a smooth mixture with no lumps and then serve alongside the chocolate kakigori.

Pro tip: Chunks of frozen chocolate, chocolate sauce and frozen strawberries are a great addition to this kakigori but perhaps not all in the same bowl. 

Blueberry Melon 

Melon and blueberry are a match made in heaven, the slightly sour taste of blueberries goes super well with sweet melons, and when placed ontop a tower of ice and you have a winning dish to combat any summer scorcher. For this recipe we’ll need to create our own blueberry sauce, for this you’ll need:

  • Blueberries – 45g
  • A squeeze of lemon
  • 1 tsp of sugar
  • 5-10g of melon
  • A slice of melon (for topping)
  • Blueberries (for topping)

In a hand blender place your blueberries, a squeeze of lemon and your melon. Blend until the mixture is combined into a thickish sauce and then taste for flavor. If your mixture is too sour add the teaspoon of sugar and mix again. If the mixture is too sweet add a little lemon juice. Rinse and repeat until the mixture if the perfect balance for your pallet. Once the mixture is perfect, place it in the freezer to rapidly cool while you shave and build your kakigori tower.

Once the tower of ice has been assembled slice your slice of melon in half and stylishly place it into the mound of ice. See picture for reference. Finally cover the kakigori with the chilled blueberry sauce and finish with a few whole blueberries for good measure. This sweet refreshing kakigori is the ultimate in summer heat destruction and with the ability to make a sauce as sour or sweet as you’d like its very customizable.

Bonus Round: Umeshu

For those who enjoy a more adult-themed shaved ice treat try a smash of umeshu, or plum wine. Plum wine over ice is the best way one can drink umeshu so it just makes sense that pouring umeshu over shaved ice would create the ultimate treat, with every bite akin to a small sip of frosty cold umeshu this is a very grown-up way to beat the summer heat.