One of Japan’s favorite summertime treats is a bowl of shaved ice, or kakigori, as it’s called over here. While the most popular and common flavors are things like strawberry, melon and lemon, every now and again someplace will get really creative, like the restaurant in Kyoto that’s offering shaved ice covered with whiskey.
So now that we have nightcap-style kakigori covered, how about the opposite: a bowl of shaved ice covered with the Japanese breakfast staple natto, also known as fermented soybeans?
We came across this unique take on the dish at Sekka, a shaved ice emporium in Tokyo’s Sugamo neighborhood. While Sekka offers all the pedestrian flavors of kakigori, they’ve also got a few outlandish creations like blueberry cheese or sweet potato shaved ice.
Another thing setting Sekka apart is the ice the restaurant uses. The natural spring water used for its kakigori is slowly accumulated and frozen over a period of two weeks, and this premium ingredient is probably part of the reason our natto shaved ice was priced at 800 yen (US$7.90), a couple of hundred yen more than ordinary kakigori tends to run. Had we been students, we could have taken advantage of the weekday summer vacation 100-yen discount Sekka is offering until August 29, but since just being kids at heart doesn’t make us eligible for the deal, we were stuck paying full price.
As the waiter set our natto shaved ice down on the table, we noticed the pungent, sticky soybeans weren’t the only unusual ingredient. The whole mound of ice was dusted with a generous amount of kinako, a sweet soybean flour that tastes a little like cinnamon.
Kinako isn’t usually eaten with natto or shaved ice, so we were pretty surprised to see it here. The powder is often mixed with the brown sugar syrup called kuromitsu, and our natto kakigori also came with a small dish of the sauce to pour over the whole thing.
As we picked up our spoon and dug into the mound, the ice somehow felt a little more flexible and pliable than with ordinary kakigori. It might have just been our imagination, but we think it might have been a result of the spring water Sekka uses.
There was no mistaking what was going on as we pulled our spoon up take a bite, though, as the fibrous strands clinging to our spoon were immediately recognizable as natto.
Thankfully, the overall effect isn’t quite as clingy and gooey natto normally is. There’s a faint stickiness as you chew, but it doesn’t overpower the pleasant crunch of the shaved ice.
There’s no disappointment on the flavor front, either. The kinako and kuromitsu take the lead on the palate, and while the taste isn’t anything like what we’re used to coming from shaved ice, it’s definitely tasty, in a traditional Japanese way.
Honestly, the whole thing was so good we wanted seconds! So whether you’re burned out on the same old shaved ice syrups, or looking for a way to ease into Japan’s smelliest staple food, a visit to Sekka might be in order.
Sekka / 雪菓
Address: Tokyo-to, Toshima-ku, Sugamo 3-37-6
Open 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Photos © RocketNews24
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