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Japanese Summer Foods Field Guide

To get you all in the mood for our hot and sunny summer festival, we present for your reading pleasure a short introduction to some lovely warm weather treats that can only be found in the land of the rising sun.

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Kakigoori (Shaved Ice)

A popular snack at Japanese summer matsuri or for lazy days on the beach, kakigoori is a delicious shaved ice dessert flavoured with syrup and condensed milk. Common flavours include strawberry, lemon, green tea and Blue Hawaiian, but look around Japan’s cafés and coffee shops in the summer season and you’ll find plenty of distinctive kakigoori whose toppings and syrups lie right off the beaten track. In order to overcome that “I’m far too hot to function” feeling that is all too familiar for British people who migrate to warmer pastures around August, there’s nothing better than a big bowlful of (surprisingly satisfying) ice and syrup.

Jumbo Parfaits

For those who haven’t yet had the fortune to behold one of Japan’s decadently delicious jumbo parfaits, imagine a small mountain of variously flavoured ice cream scoops, layers of fresh fruit, cakes, waffles, whipped cream and Pocky all served up in a stylish tall glass, and you’ll start to understand why Time Out Tokyo has crowned these chilly behemoths the ‘king of Japanese desserts’. Ranging in size from a German beer stein to a bucket of gargantuan proportions, and with prices from around the £10 mark to well over £100, these sweet treats are yet another delectable quirk of Japanese gastronomy that we have come to know and love. They are well and truly established as a part of Japanese popular culture, appearing in various anime and social media including YouTube and Twitter. Predictably they reach peak popularity during the hot and sticky summer months, among large groups of people either celebrating a special occasion, or else just eager to take on the challenge of eating more ice cream and cake than is probably advisable.

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Other Ice Creams

In Japan, regular-sized parfaits can be found in cafes and restaurants pretty much everywhere, with some specialist establishments such as Karafuneya in Kyoto offering hundreds of varieties (including ‘tempura shrimp’ and ‘hot dog’ among more conventional flavours). Venture into any maid café in Akihabara, and it is likely that your parfait will be shaped like a cute animal such as a bear, panda or cat. Take a peek into the ice cream freezers in convenience stores and befuddling flavours such as sweet corn, green pea and sesame will stare back at you. Clearly, Japan is no stranger to innovation when it comes to frozen desserts! As strangers to this experimental culinary culture, it’s normally jolly good fun trying out what we might want to label unusual flavour combinations, but we’d advise extra caution when sampling infamous varieties such as octopus, ramen, shrimp and beer ice creams!