Kakigori is one of those Japanese foods that just never appealed to me. I've been visiting Japan for a decade and have successfully managed to avoid going in the summer time, so kakigori was never a must try on my trips and, anyway, I never liked Slush Puppies and I'd assumed that kakigori would be similar to these. Wrong! It's more like eating a fruit sorbet.
Last year our Spring trip to Tokyo and Sendai was abruptly cancelled and our 'stopover' destination became the place we stayed for a vacation. We spent a lot of time at the Bangkok Isetan, it was the closest we could feel to being in Japan and we felt comforted there. Anyway, up on the top floor was a Japanese style cafe which had a lovely selection of desserts. My husband chose the strawberry kakigori and shared it with our very young daughter. It looked amazing and tasted wonderful. Nothing like I'd imagined.
This year our Spring trip did go ahead and just before we left to return to the UK we stopped at the BIC Camera outlet store and picked up a kakigori manual ice shaver for about 500yen.
And this is how I got started on making kakigori at home.
Ice shavers can be bought quite inexpensively (under $10 in the USA), the ice does need to be shaved - it's not the same as making crushed ice. You can approximate shaved ice to try kakigori without specialised equipment by freezing a block of water and then scraping the ice with a metal knife or spatula (easiest way is probably to freeze water in a stiff sturdy container and scrape away at the top of the ice, removing the 'snow' periodically). It is a hassle, but at least this would give you the opportunity to work out if you like kakigori before buying an ice shaver.
When looking for a kakigori syrup recipe I found this page:
http://allabout.co.jp/gm/gc/188150/  and ran it through a translation engine.
The underlying method is to make a sugar syrup (1.5 measures of sugar to 2 measures of water - you just heat up the sugar and water until the sugar dissolves and leave the syrup to cool) and combine this with fresh fruit ( the recipe is for one kiwi fruit, a teaspoon of lemon juice and 40-50cc of the sugar syrup). Use a liquidiser or stick blender to turn the fruit and syrup into your kakigori sauce.
You can use the same method to make a sweet sauce from a wide variety of fruit - I've used it on plums and the one I will be recommending here: strawberries.
I'd suggest blending together the fruit first, taste it for sweetness and then add as much or as little syrup and/or lemon juice as you wish. Lemon juice is definitely optional with most fruit.
If you can, try and chill your sauce and put in something that will pour easily.
If sugar doesn't appeal and the fruit isn't sweet enough try honey or any other sweetener or natural syrup (I suspect fresh pineapple, maple syrup and a little fresh mint would make a fine kakigori sauce).
If you're a family with different tastes you could always make a sugarless fruit sauce and keep a little jar of sweet syrup at the table to be added individually.
This is all you actually need to make a delicious shaved ice dessert. Shave your ice in a bowl until you have a very generously sized mound (it will shrink a little when the sauce is added). Take your sauce and pour it all over the ice. Eat with a spoon. You might like to have a straw handy as you can drink the dregs.
I wanted to go another step as a classic kakigori topping is strawberry and milk. For this I needed condensed milk. Unfortunately, commercial condensed milk is usually made with powdered milk and I'm not that fond of it. I found this recipe and got wonderful results.
(I actually used a little less sugar - may even use less next time around and freeze it in small batches as less sugar may make the condensed milk more likely to spoil if kept for a long period)
I cooled the condensed milk and used a funnel to pour it into a cleaned and sterilised old condiment 'squeezy' bottle with a silicone diaphragm in the dispenser (a honey or maple syrup jar might be appropriate). This lets me pour out the condensed milk in a stickiless even stream.
So this is what we had yesterday. Shaved ice. Fresh strawberry syrup. A scribble of home made condensed milk over the top.
You can go further if you wish. Kakigori can go the parfait route. If I really wanted to beef up the strawberry milk kakigori I could have added anko and little bits of mochi. More appealing to me would be to make cubes of fruit jelly/jello/kanten) and periodically scatter them onto the shaved ice as the shaved ice mound was being formed so that you have little squidgy surprises as you eat the kakigori.
Another variation for a deluxe kakigori is to make the ice blocks out of fruit juice or even tea instead of water.
There's a nice article which describes the different types of shaved ice desserts available in New York and has a few recipes for anyone needing more inspiration
But for those of us in the North, summer is nearly here. It's a perfect time to try this wonderful seasonal speciality.
And, as I'm new to making kakigori, if anyone has more suggestions or recipes to try I'd love to learn more (particular those that are toddler friendly).