If you’ve ever been to Japan in the summer, you can probably feel the heat just from reading this sentence. Combine that with the humidity and it’ll make you feel like you’re in a hot yoga class.
Sure, air conditioning helps, but what’s better than some cold desserts to help take away the heat? Let’s explore some of Japan’s favorite summer sweets!
Melon Cream Soda: You may think this is a soda float, but in Japan, cream soda is soda with ice cream. And a representative of that is the melon cream soda. A staple at a kissa-ten, melon cream soda often comes in a goblet style glass, the bright green melon soda poured in first, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (bonus points if there’s a maraschino cherry on top). If you can get your hands on a melon-flavored soda at a Japanese market, this is an easy treat to recreate at home.
Matcha Parfait: My kryptonite is anything tea flavored, and combining it with a dessert item is a holy grail of desserts in my book. Different stores carry different variations; some have corn flakes, some have jelly, some have chocolate or bananas in it. Most commonly, it comes with matcha ice cream, anko, shiratama, and whipped cream. It’s easy to recreate at home, and the great thing about making a parfait is that you can customize it to your own liking! Try making one at home! Here’s a simple one to start off with.
Tip: If you ever find yourself in Tokyo or Kyoto, go to Saryo Tsujiri. A long-time tea shop from Kyoto, they serve the best matcha (and other tea!) parfait I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a lot). I would go broke if I lived near one, so good thing I live in the states! That’s how good it is.
Anmitsu: Anmitsu is probably one of the oldest Japanese desserts still enjoyed today. Dating back to the Meiji era, this simple but delicious dessert is almost like a Japanese parfait. There's a base and you can add in whatever you like. The base is made out of kanten (agar-agar) cubes, but the toppings are your oyster (you can definitely put oysters on, but I don't suggest it). Anko and shiratama are good starters, but you can do canned tangerines, kiwis, peaches, whipped cream, sweetened peas, and even ice cream are amazing toppings. Usually, anmitsu is sweetened with brown sugar syrup, but even a drizzle of chocolate instead would work if your heart desires. You do you. Try it out yourself!
Kakigori: How can I write this article without including kakigori? Whether you call it shave ice or shaved ice in English, kakigori is similar to what folks in Hawaii call shave ice. A fine dusting of ice is piled high and served with syrups and/or condensed milk, and again can be topped with different toppings. When you're in the heat in Japan, there's nothing like ice to cool you down. Nowadays, you can find cafes that serve the fanciest kakigori using ice cut out from lakes and syrups using the best fruits.
Tip: If you ever find yourself in Ise in the Mie prefecture and visiting the Ise-Jingu, head over to the famous Akafuku shop where they’re famous for their basically an inside out manju, an anko covered soft mochi. But during the summer months, they serve a matcha kakigori with these Akafuku mochis inside of it.
Mizuyokan: Mizuyokan is another classic Japanese dessert. You may have heard or have tasted regular yokan before, but mizuyokan is summer version of that. Mizu, meaning water, is the key point. It has more water than regular yokan does, and is served chilled to be eaten in the hot summer months. Making it is actually fairly easy too!
Tokoroten: This treat isn’t as well known, and it may be because it’s not a dessert in some regions! Tokoroten is made out of a type of seaweed and is formed into a noodle shape. It’s clear and tasteless and it’s the sauce or garnishes that you put on that changes the taste. In the Kanto region, it’s eaten as a savory dish. Often it’s eaten with sanbaizu, a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, and mirin, along with some Japanese mustard. In the Kansai region, it’s eaten with black sugar syrup, kinako, and some fruits.
Making your own may be a challenge, but you can find tokoroten at many Japanese supermarkets!
Konbini Ice: If you know Japan, you know that Japanese konbinis, or convenience stores, are on a whole other level than here in the U.S. Each konbini chain carries different brands of ice cream, whether it be a third party or their own, and everyone usually has their favorite konbini to go to get their ice creams. Sure, Slurpees are good, but America, can we get a Japanese konbini?!