“Donburi” usually refers to dishes eaten over a bowl of rice, so how could this concept possibly work?

When our Japanese language reporter Yuichiro Wasai first spotted the business sign that read “We’re serving takeout kakigori-don,” he understandably did a double take. It wasn’t the takeout part, but rather the “-don” suffix that had caught his eye. Short for “donburi,” or a dish involving simmered meat or fish served over a bowl of rice, it was the kind of thing that you’d usually associate with Japanese-style “fast foods” such as gyudon (beef bowls) or katsudon (pork cutlet bowls)–and certainly not with the summertime treat of a heaping mound of shaved ice drizzled with flavored syrup.

After this moment of intrigue, Yuichiro was too curious to simply continue on his way. Would the shaved ice really be served over a bed of rice? That certainly didn’t sound too appetizing! Maybe the “-don” was simply a tongue-in-cheek way of describing a creative parfait. There was only one way to find out.

The name of the shop was Saka no Ue Cafe, which, in addition to some fun rhyming, means “Cafe on the Hill.” It was located right in Yuichiro’s Yushima district of Tokyo, but up until COVID-19 hit he had only been inside two or three times because there was always a long line outside of it. He figured that it must be a popular spot.

▼ Saka no Ue Cafe

Before entering, Yuichiro couldn’t help Googling “kakigori-don” on his phone. When he did, an article about a restaurant called “Koge” in Fukuoka Prefecture popped up, bordered in red below:

According to this piece, Koge’s version of kakigori-don really did consist of shaved ice with perilla leaves, dried plum, shredded cucumbers, and lightly fried eggs over a bowl of rice to look like a traditional Japanese rice dish when viewed from above. What the heck?! Yuichiro couldn’t comment on how that would actually taste without trying it for himself, but he found it interesting how such a stylish-looking restaurant was serving such a peculiar dish. What was even more intriguing was the idea that this menu item might have somehow secretly made its way to Tokyo.

He finally entered the cafe and ordered. At the same time he casually asked the worker to explain what a kakigori-don was, confident that he already knew the answer from his little internet digging.

Yuichiro: “So what else is in the kakigori-don besides shaved ice? Since it’s ‘-don’ there must be rice, right?”

Worker: “[Laughing] No, no…it’s just regular kakigori.”

Yuichiro: “…Huh? So then why is there the ‘-don’ at the end?”

Worker: “We call it kakigori-don because the large bowl we serve it in is like what you’d use for donburi.”

Yuichiro: “Ah, that makes sense. Sure…”

Somewhat crushed and peeved for his complete misunderstanding of the name, Yuichiro’s feelings changed when he caught sight of the completed kakigori-don.

▼ From the side it looked like a giant cupcake!

▼ That’s a healthy dollop of condensed milk there.

The kakigori itself was truly delicious. It made him regret that the few times he had been to Saka no Ue Cafe previously he had only ordered coffee. The taste was refined and a solid sweets offering.

▼ There were even hidden slices of strawberry inside of the shaved ice.

▼ Wasai chose the strawberry shortcake flavor for 926 yen (US$8.60). Other flavors include honey nut and yogurt cream, sake lees cherry blossom, pistachio & strawberry, matcha shortcake, and sake lees mugwort.

Furthermore, he was excited to learn that Japanese TV personality Matsuko Deluxe had even visited the cafe and praised the kakigori-don!

As he exited, Yuichirocould only think of two things: 1) that you should never blindly trust the number one item that pops up when you Google something, and 2) that names can be misleading, but still deliciously satisfying.

Cafe information
Saka no Ue Cafe / サカノウエカフェ
Address: Tokyo-to, Bunyko-ku, Yushima 2-22-14
Open: 12 p.m.-6 p.m. (new hours will be announced on June 16)
Closed: Mondays

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[ Read in Japanese ]