What in the world is kakigōri?

Gaston Becherano quit his nine-to-five job at a successful technology company to open a shaved-ice dessert shop—in the middle of winter.

The story starts a few months prior. After graduating college, Becherano traveled through Asia for several months before settling down at a full-time job. He explored Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Japan. Eight days into his two month trip through Japan, he discovered his new favorite dessert: kakigōri (pronounced khaki-gory). Kakigōri is made by carving a block of ice using a special machine and adding flavored syrups and toppings like mango or melon.

Strawberries and Cream Kakigōri. Photo courtesy of Bonsai Kakigōri.

The idea dates back to the 11th century when Japan’s elite class would use frozen blocks from lakes to make the finely shaved ice with sweet syrups.

Don’t you dare call it snow cone. The two may be conceptually similar, but kakigōri’s texture is less granular, and more like fresh snow that instantly melts in your mouth. Try as you might to describe its unique texture, it’s next to impossible. Pillowy, cloudy, fluffy and dreamy get close but don’t quite do it justice. You’ll have to taste it for yourself.

But this isn’t just about sweet, refreshing treats. It’s Japan’s food culture that inspired Becherano enough to leave his gig at a Fortune 500 company to open a kakigōri café.

“When you visit Japan and you eat there, there are two things that become very apparent. The first is it’s a big tennant in Japanese cuisine to cook very, very simply. You want to let the ingredients come across.” says Becherano. “The second is cooking extremely seasonally. You’re picking up the best product that is in season. That’s what we’ve tried to recreate here.”

Gaston Becherano and Theo Friedman, founders of Bonsai Kakigōri. Photo courtesy of Bonsai Kakigōri.

After returning to New York, Becherano tried to find kakigōri but couldn’t find anyone making the dessert. So, he partnered with his friend Theo Friedman to open a shop of their own. They scoured the internet until they managed to find a traditional, hand-cranked kakigōri machine. Most shops, even those in Japan, use electric machines to shave their ice. Becherano and Friedman, on the other hand, swear by hand cranked machines because they let you finely tune the thickness of the shaved ice to get the ideal texture. Becherano nicknamed their first machine ”humi” after his favorite kakigōri shop in Tokyo and began testing flavors.

Becherano and Friedman take careful care to honor the Japanese tradition. All of their topping are made from scratch and they never use artificial ingredients.

Their first big break was at Canal Street market. Despite setting up shop in the middle of winter, Bonsai Kakigōri was a success. Just a few months later, they have three locations, Smorgasburg Williamsburg, Smorgasburg Prospect Park and the original stall at Canal Street Market.

Next time you’re in New York, be sure to swing by one of the Bonsai Kakigōri locations. We have homes that are a short, 10-minute walk away from and Bonsai Kakigōri other NYC shops.

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