How Kakigori, The Sweet Japanese Shaved Ice, quietly took over LA

KAkigori has two major enemies – time and temperature. “It’s such a time and temperature sensitive dessert that if you’re far away and just got away, it’s not going to be the same dessert it was 10 minutes ago,” says the pastry chef. Laura Hoang, who makes kakigori at Pearl River Deli in Chinatown.

The Japanese dessert made from light, airy shaved ice cream sweetened with syrups and topped with delicious cream is especially popular in the warmer months. The court was originally enjoyed by elites and has a history stretching back more than a thousand years. It was mentioned in That Pillow book, written in the 9th century by Said Shonagon, a court lady during the Heian period. Early versions used crushed plums and honey. In the late 1800s, ice cream became available in Japan, and in 1872, the first kakigori store opened in Yokohama.

sliced ​​peaches on a pile of white cream and shaved ice cream

Mango and peach kakigori from PRD.

(Cesar Hernandez for LAist)

In Los Angeles, dessert is still something of a rarity. In June, the whisper of local kakigori pop-ups started popping up on Instagram, tempting us with icy visions of the fleeting treat. What was behind this sudden rise? In this case, you can trace most of it back to one man – Naoto Yonezawa.

A creative marketer whose true passion is to share Japanese culture with the rest of the world, Yonezawa, 35, spent 13 years working for a Japanese food and beverage distributor before joining a world of high-end ice. In 2018, he took on a new role and established the American arm of Kuramoto is, a Japanese company that has been around since 1923. Based in Kanazawa, it is known for ultra-clear, slow-melting ice obtained by constant stirring and slow-freezing of water over a long period of time. According to Kuramoto, the process prevents impurities.

Yonezawa, a cocktail aficionado, was disappointed with the ice cream he had tried in the United States. “The drinking culture is different here,” Yonezawa says. Initially, he focused on trying to sell ice cream to bars, but when the COVID-19 pandemic closed most water holes, he had to reconsider his plans.

sliced ​​bananas on a pile of bruleed cream and shaved ice cream

Banana cream pie kakigori from Katsu Sando.

(Cesar Hernandez for LAist)

Yonezawa decided that the best way to show off Kuramoto’s ice cream was kakigori. But not just any khakigori. He wanted kakigori that reflected the transformation of the court over the previous decade.

In Japan, kakigori has evolved from a simple shaved ice cream treat that relies on artificially flavored and colored syrups to a craftsman treat made with ingredients such as Oishii strawberries, top shelf chocolate and yuzu cheesecake. Sometimes it is modeled after popular desserts like Mont Blanc, a confection of sugar and pureed chestnuts.

“I’m not really trying to sell to [just] Japanese restaurants because if I try to promote kakigori to Japanese restaurants, they think of 20-year-old kakigori using commercially produced syrups. Instead, I try to start from scratch in the United States, “says Yonezawa.

When Yonezawa pitched the concept to Japanese restaurants in LA, they were resilient. They would keep the cost down by using cheap ice cream and syrups. Yonezawa’s kakigori project is both an exercise in justifying the price of ice cream flown from Japan and a way to give curious diners a modern kakigori experience. Putting bottled syrups on Kuramoto’s ice cream would be like pouring a wagyu steak with ketchup. So Yonezawa sought out chefs and figured they would be creative with the ingredients and come up with wild flavor combinations.

a blob of white cream drizzled with brown syrup on a pile of shaved cookie pieces topped with two rolled cookies

Hong Kong milky kakigori from PRD.

(Cesar Hernandez for LAist)

He held his first pop-up in April 2021 at Suzuya Patisserie Las Vegas. People were captivated by the soft shaved ice cream with matcha with red beans.

Kakigori is not impossible to find in Southern California. Advanced restaurants Majordomo and Nobu have been offering it for a few years. But Yonezawa’s pop-ups demonstrated a broader hunger for the court and an untapped curiosity about its origins. They were also an effort in food diplomacy. Yonezawa compares kakigori to another Japanese dish that has been booming in the United States for the past decade.

“Japanese kakigori is very unique in texture. I think the current rave mainly comes from [its appearance] and Instagram posts [but there’s] there is still a long way to go to make people aware of a true kakigori experience. Like the ramen 10 years ago, people knew what it looked like, but most of them did not know how really good the ramen tasted, “says Yonezawa.

Since May, Yonezawa has set up at least half a dozen kakigori pop-ups in and around LA – at. Anajak Thai, Wanderlust Creamery, Yojimbo and Master. At Anajak in Sherman Oaks, Yonezawa worked with chef Justin Pichetrungsi to develop a mango sticky rice kakigori with salty coconut cream and sweet mango puree. People stood in line for up to two hours to get their fingers in one.

“I want people to have a legitimate kakigori experience. I’ve tried so many bad versions that disappoint people, so I want restaurant and business owners to start serving real modern kakigori,” says Yonezawa.

You can also find kakigori all year round at Chinatown’s Katsu Sando, known for its phenomenal katsu sandwiches, onigiri and curry plates. Chef and owner Daniel Son lived and worked in Japan, where he fell in love with yoshoku (western food) and conbinis, Japanese grocery stores known for selling excellent food and snacks.

“It’s the kind of blue collar food and soul food that your mom and dad would make at home,” Son says.

Katsu Sando’s menu already pays homage to comfort, so kakigori was the perfect addition. Son was impressed with Yonezawa’s ice demo and decided to press the trigger. He bought the Swan electric ice shaver from Kuramoto, and every week he orders 60 pounds of ice cream from the company. He jokingly calls their ice cream “The Tesseract”.

white cream dripped on a pile of shaved ice cream with red syrup sitting inside half of a hollowed out small watermelon

Watermelon lime kakigori from Katsu Sando.

(Cesar Hernandez for LAist)

Katsu Sando’s first kakigori, served in July 2021, was a pile of soft ice cream covered in watermelon syrup and lime-infused cream, sitting on a bed of watermelon balls and served in a small, hollowed out watermelon. It was subtle, sweet and creamy, making it an ideal way to cool off in the oppressive summer heat.

For his next iteration, Son was inspired by his Korean heritage and a childhood spent eating Binggrae banana milk and donuts. He used fresh banana milk syrup and banana pudding laid through ice ribbons and topped with toasted meringue, roasted bananas and pieces of pie crust in a thorny crown to create a banana milk creme pie kakigori.

“I think what excites us is trying to recreate or re-imagine things that we grew up with, like that Ratatouille moment. [where] nostalgia and the senses of smell strike and they bring you to a memory, “says Son.

sliced ​​strawberries dripped with cream on a white and yellow pile of shaved ice cream

Lilikoi strawberry kakigori from PRD.

(Cesar Hernandez for LAist)

It’s a kakigori full of intentions. The banana pudding is as good as anything else you would find on a top soul food joint, and the bruleed bananas have a glassy layer of sugar. But the really fun thing is to feel the crunch of sugar crystals while biting into the roasted meringue.

Katsu Sando’s latest version, a fig and ricotta kakigori, has airy ice cream coated with a dark brown fig and port wine syrup, topped with a generous portion of whipped homemade ricotta, topped with a aged balsamic glaze and finished with roasted figs. The word unconventional does not begin to describe it.

At the PRD nearby, a modern Cantonese and pan-Asian restaurant, chef Johnny Lee had been playing for years adding kakigori to the menu. In 2021, he took the plunge and bought an ice shaver.


Kakigori topped with fig jam and whipped ricotta from Katsu Sando in LA’s Chinatown.

He enlisted the help of pastry chef Hoang to collaborate on kakigori recipes. She worked for almost a decade in professional kitchens, and by 2020, she started his own home bakery. After George Floyd’s death, Hoang began baking to raise money for Black Lives Matter. In addition to PRD, you can find her cakes on Thanks coffee and the pop-up Quarantine Pizza Co.

Lee and Hoang developed eight kakigori flavors for PRD, from mango peach to Hong Kong milky. Getting it right is not an easy right.

One of the tricks of kakigori is to learn to temper the ice cream. Yonezawa stresses the importance of letting the ice block sit at room temperature Before you shave it. During the R&D phase, Hoang also learned that she should take into account the temperature outside and in the kitchen, as well as how long it takes people to eat.

“Finding out the process has been its own journey. The ice is really valuable. I would respect and honor it. What is the ideal temperature for this ice block to be at for optimal shaving? [This] is something I just did not know. I really had to consider the first few weeks before we went live with it, “Hoang says.

Hoang and Lee’s first kakigori collaboration featured mango, peach and cool coconut cream. It was a blizzard of sour and sweet fruit with smooth cream that laid a mountain of soft ice. Their follow-up used pluots, whipped cream and brown bread ice cream from Scoops. For Hong Kong Milk Tea kakigori, Hoang and Lee wanted to pay tribute to the shaved ice cream at the okonomiyaki specialist Chinchikurin. They added sneis with cream cheese foam, sweetened it with Hong Kong Milk Tea syrup, topped it with more foam and dripped on a brown sugar syrup.

“There are many small nuances in it, but at the same time it’s shaved ice cream with syrup. We work with real fruit purees, but still try to maintain the level of flavor that is truly associative,” says Hoang.

a pile of white shaved ice cream and cream topped with toast brown flakes

Yuzu cheesecake kakigori from a pop-up on Yojimbo.

(Cesar Hernandez for LAist)

In mid-September, the PRD offered a two-week round of Hawaiian food and a limited edition lilikoi strawberry kakigori with light yellow passion fruit syrup, sliced ​​strawberries and condensed milk. It was a hit. Despite the success, Lee has decided to take a break from making kakigori. The current location of the PRD, in Far East Plaza, closes in late October as it prepares to open a new, larger location in Chinatown. When it opens, hopefully in early 2022, Lee and Hoang plan to serve kakigori again.

Like so many dishes, kakigori is a glossy blackboard where chefs can run amok. Here in Los Angeles, we have only begun to try its options. As for Kuramoto Ice’s agenda to get kakigori on the map (and sell more luxury ice cream)? “I’m here for it,” Hoang says.

Son adds, “It’s great that the word kakigori is becoming much more familiar, and I think that’s the goal for all of us.”

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