Popular Taiwanese kakigori (shaved ice) chain Ice Monster opened on Omotesando, the main boulevard of Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku neighborhood, at the end of April to five-hour waits. Even now, waits regularly extend over an hour, but the scuttlebutt was that it was worth it for the mountains of delicious, delicious shaved ice.
We braved the lines and the brain freeze to find out the truth for you, dear readers.
Considering Ice Monster’s popularity, I decided to head over on a cool, rainy midweek afternoon, thinking the weather and the time of day would keep a lot of sweets hunters away.
▼ Oh look, it’s not that crowded!
▼Haha! Psyche! The line is just down the opposite side of the sidewalk.
According to the helpful staff, the wait at that point was going to be about 30-45 minutes. I’d timed my arrival well though, because the nearby schools finished classes shortly after and the line immediately snaked down the street with kids in uniform. I recommend trying for about 2 p.m., the after-lunch-before-school-finishes sweet spot.
While waiting, I perused the menu.
▼ Yes. Yes, you are, menu.
▼ The massive shaved ices are the main attraction.
▼ But they have soft serve ice cream and drinks as well.
The shaved ices range from 1,000 to 1,500 yen (US$8-12), depending on the flavor. They also have two soft serve options and a drink menu. It is clearly stated on the menu that each customer has to order something, so even if you are planning on sharing a shaved ice, which you’ll see is a good idea, plan on ordering some drinks too.
After about 30 minutes, I reached the front of the line, still outside the shop. The staff there took my order, gave me a number, and sent me in to the cashier, who greeted me with a hearty Chinese nihao instead of Japanese irasshaimase. After paying, another staff member showed me to a seat, a smooth baton-pass operation that kept things moving right along.
▼ At the counter
▼ 1st floor seating. There are seats on the upper two floors as well.
For a typical kakigori shaved ice, unflavored ice is topped with a flavored syrup, although you do find milk ice as well. The selling point for Ice Monster’s kakigori is that they use flavored ice. There’s still syrup and toppings as well, but you won’t end up with a watery center where the syrup hasn’t reached because the flavor goes all the way through.
▼ A member of staff loads a block of bubble milk tea ice into the shaver.
▼ Away it twirls…
▼ And you’ve got a mountain of snowy goodness.
As an absolute mango fiend, I didn’t have eyes for anything other than the Mango Sensation shaved ice, a pile of mango ice shavings topped with mango syrup, mango pieces, mango gelato and a blob of almond tofu. Sweet baby Jesus, look at this monster!
▼ Chunks o’ mango
▼ Mild, creamy almond tofu
▼ Look at the size! And my hands are HUGE!
▼ The shaved ice is so delicate, it’s almost fluffy. Don’t worry, this is not the yellow snow you’ve been warned about.
After the long wait, I dug right in. And… bliss! The different mango ingredients each had a different mango flavor, with the ice leaning towards sweet and the syrup and gelato towards tart. Together with the creamy almond tofu, you get a wonderful mélange of tropical flavor. It’s what I imagine snow in heaven tastes like.
After 10 minutes of steady eating, I’ve hardly made a dent in the mountain of mango, but the chilled glass bowl is doing an impressive job of keeping the kakigori from melting. I’m also shivering uncontrollably. I now appreciate why the staff gave me a glass of hot, not cold, water. It’s still so delicious, but I’m now eyeballing the remainder with some trepidation instead of pure greed.
▼ So cold. My relationship with the Mango Sensation is no longer unadulterated adoration.
At about 20 minutes in, a dull headache has joined my trembling body, but I won’t be defeated by freaking dessert. I will finish you, Mango Sensation!
▼ So close…
At about 25 minutes, I power through the last few bites, immediately regretting the burst of speed when a spike of brain freeze hits right behind the eyes. But I’ve finished! I feel both victorious and sick to my stomach.
▼ Take that, inanimate food!
Every bite of the Mango Sensation was delicious, but the only sensation I’m feeling now is hypothermia and near vomitous levels of fullness. Still shivering uncontrollably, I totter out of the restaurant to the staffs’ cries of “Xie xie! Bye Bye!,” regretting my bad life choices. The ball of ice that is my stomach prompts me to declare never again, but before I’ve made it halfway down the street I’m sufficiently recovered to wonder who I might bring along next time to help me tackle the Pineapple Sensation.
Some things are just worth the discomfort.
Content and photos © RocketNews24