The heat and humidity of summer in Japan can have you sweating buckets, constantly on the lookout for the next vending machine with its ice-cold relief from the rising temperatures. But rather than go vending-machine hopping, why not sit down and treat yourself to something cool that will last a little longer?
Here are five of Japan’s best dishes to look out for on a hot day.
Although commonly translated as “shaved ice,” that doesn’t give Japan’s kakigori enough credit. It’s (usually) a bit more complicated than ice with a bit of syrup on top. While you can certainly find “basic” flavors, kakigori is an often luxurious treat, with all sorts of sweet toppings, syrups and sauces like condensed milk.
Traditionally this dish is made by spinning a large block of ice over a blade, operated by a hand crank. By shaving the ice rather than crushing it, the result is a soft and feather-light dessert. Electric kakigori machines are much more common these days, but the result is no less tasty!
Kakigori can often be found in smaller hand-held portions at festivals but usually comes in huge scoops when ordered at a restaurant. The massive dessert might seem overwhelming, but you’ll find no trouble finishing it because it is so light.
2. Hokkaido ice cream
Hokkaido is Japan’s northern region, well-known for its great dairy products, one of which is its soft and delicious ice cream.
Hokkaido produces more than half of Japan’s milk, partly due to the cooler climate that makes it great for dairy farming. So when you taste Hokkaido ice cream, you can practically feel the cool Hokkaido air against your skin.
There is no shortage of brands making ice cream with Hokkaido dairy, but one of the most famous and easy to come by in Japan is Cremia, a soft-serve ice cream made with 25% Hokkaido fresh cream.
3. Japanese melon
Japanese melons have gained a bit of a reputation for themselves, given the extraordinarily high prices they can sell for and their juicy sweetness many crave in the summer months.
The three main regions that produce melons in Japan are Hokkaido, Shizuoka and Ibaraki. So it’s no surprise that these three prefectures are home to the most famous (and expensive) melons: the Yubari King from Hokkaido, the Crown Melon from Shizuoka and the Ibara King from Ibaraki.
You don’t have to break the bank to cool off with some delicious melon flavors. During summer, restaurants and convenience stores offer melon-flavored snacks and drinks. You can even find halved melons with generous portions of Hokkaido ice cream in Hokkaido. Of course, the easiest way to try it out is to simply buy a whole melon and stick it in the fridge. They’ll be cool, sweet and refreshing. What more could you want on a hot day?
4. Hiyashi chuka
If you’re after something cooling but savory, set your sights on some slurpable hiyashi chuka, which literally means “chilled Chinese cuisine.” It is a chilled noodle dish that comes in a variety of forms. However, one of the most common ways it is served is with a vinegar-based soupy sauce and fresh toppings like cucumber and egg.
The dish is said to have originated in the 1930s and has become a staple in Japan’s summer months. There are plenty of other ways to get your chilly noodle fix if you don’t end up liking how hiyashi chuka tastes, though, like with ice-cube ramen or chilled tantan men (spicy Chinese noodles).
5. Choco banana
A crowd favorite at summer matsuri (festivals) in Japan, the choco banana or chocolate banana is another great sweet snack to beat the heat. Choco bananas are frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and served on a stick. The entire banana is frozen, so quickly dipping it in and out of melted chocolate makes the chocolate harden almost instantly.
You can find elaborate choco bananas at festivals, in all colors, with all kinds of toppings. But whether you get your favorite character on a banana or a pink banana with strawberry chocolate and sprinkles, one thing’s for sure; you’ll be beating the summer heat in true festival style.
Did we miss anything? Share your favorite ways to cool off in Japan’s humid summers below.