かき氷 kakigouri: shave ice. Or snow cone, for those of you from other places.
Anyway, rainy season has ended and summer time is upon us in Okinawa. Today was pretty darn hot, so I decided to make a short trip to the central portion of the island north of where I live. My main goal was to try a different shave ice shop: Mother Leaf.
Mother Leaf is pretty popular, so this is not necessarily a “hidden gem” (it even has English on the menu). But it is tasty and so refreshing on days like today. Apparently several other people had the same idea as me. Even though I say it was busy, there was a decent amount of parking and the line goes pretty quick; also the inside had plenty of seating. I had no issues on a hot Sunday afternoon, so I can recommend stopping by even at the busiest of time since this shop can clearly handle it.
I ordered the shirokuma-mango 白くまマンゴー at a whopping 650 yen; everything else was actually much cheaper and reasonably priced, but I really wanted the mango. It is a mango and condensed milk kakigouri. Anyway, it was really huge and quite good, but next time I would stick with a cheaper item.
So typically in Japan, there is kaki-gouri かき氷, “shave ice.” And there is tons of that here in Okinawa, especially Okinawa “zenzai”.
But today I went to a new place that opened up, a Korean dessert cafe called Yuki-no-Sonata 雪のソナタ in Naha. And also the only Korean dessert cafe I have ever found in Okinawa… so I was anxious to try it. They serve bingsu (in Japanese katakana it is written as ビンス), which is a fluffy elaborate snow ice that only Koreans could have come up with~~ now maybe you can see why I am excited to try this place.
The cafe itself was clean and nice, with K-pop tunes playing. The menu is sparse, only 4 choices. Since I dragged my husband here, we ended up ordering the Oreo flavor bingsu (instead of mango) as a compromise; it came stacked with Oreo cookie, brownie bites, and chocolate sauce overtop the fluffy snow ice. It was a hefty price, 900yen– though students (under 20 years of age) get a 30% discount! Jealous. This place is definitely trying to reel in the younger crowd. Despite the high cost, we enjoyed it immensely as it was totally delicious. It also made me realize how much I miss this style of shave ice! I can honestly say I have never seen this type of bingsu or snow ice here in Okinawa until today.
So while we will not be coming here often since my wallet cannot afford it, it was so ono and refreshing on a hot day like today. My hope is that it will catch on here in Okinawa, and the costs can come down…
Typically Japanese zenzai is a dish served warm… sweetened red beans (azuki beans 小豆) made slightly soupy with piece of mochi 餅 (sticky rice cake). This makes for a delicious cold weather treat. But here in Okinawa… zenzai is usually served chilled! Okinawa zenzai is served cold topped with shave ice~~ this reminds me of Hawai’i! Who doesn’t order azuki beans in the shave ice?! I know I always do, much to my husband’s amusement. As a side note, shave ice is called kakigouri かき氷 in Japanese (I unfortunately on many occasions refer to it as “kaki-ice,” mixing my languages and often getting weird looks from everyone).
Not only this, but Okinawa zenzai is simmered with brown sugar cane (黒糖) to sweeten it instead of regular sugar; this gives a lot of depth to the taste! Another difference in Okinawa is that often red kidney beans are used instead of azuki beans. The reason for this is actually due to post-war, red kidney beans became common (and easier to get) because of the influence of the US military, rather than the smaller Japanese red azuki beans. Sometimes condensed milk is added as an extra topping, or various shave ice flavors might be used (matcha, strawberry… etc.).
There is a chain called 富士家 Fujiya that sets up stands in the shopping malls during the hot summer season. It is pretty famous in Okinawa, and the main shop is located in Tomari, Naha. I usually prefer the smaller places, but no matter what, this sweet frozen treat is a staple of Okinawan summers.
Here are pictures are of Okinawa zenzai from Fujiya and mainland Japan zenzai (these are taken during New Years for 鏡開き kagami-biraki, which is when the New Years mochi is opened).