This shaved ice was different from what he was used to, but it was delicious nonetheless!

When the crushing summer heat comes around in Japan, it’s time to come up with ways to keep cool. That’s why our Japanese-language reporter Mr. Sato found himself craving some shaved ice.

But this time, Mr. Sato wanted to try something new. He’d heard of a cafe that sells Korean-style shaved ice in the Shin-Okubo neighborhood of Tokyo, which is known for its plethora of Korean restaurants and shops, so he decided to stop by and see what they had to offer. It’s called Sul Bing Cafe and it’s a popular chain cafe that has over 500 branches in Korea.

Though there are also branches all throughout Japan’s largest cities, the shop Mr. Sato visited is just a three-minute walk from JR Shin-Okubo Station. It’s a relatively new shop that just opened in February this year, although the previous occupant of the commercial space was also a Korean-style shaved ice cafe.

Mr. Sato stopped by around lunchtime on a weekday, and surprisingly, there was a line out the door. While waiting in line, he browsed the menu, which had all kinds of different “sul bing”, shaved iced dishes which the menu translated as “snowflakes”. Since the menu provided pictures of each one, Mr. Sato couldn’t help how his mouth watered as he tried to decide which one to order. They were all so bright and colorful and looked delicious. No wonder there was such a line!

Mr. Sato waited about 30 minutes for a table, but even once he was seated, he waited another 20 minutes for his shaved ice. Apparently, they make each and every order by hand, so it takes time for them to add all of the toppings and whatnot. Mr. Sato had no choice but to wait patiently for his order buzzer to pulse.

But the wait was worth it because the resulting shaved ice was impressive! Behold, the “Strawberry Melon Sul Bing” (2,090 yen [US$15.40])!

The dish came in the hollowed-out bottom half of a melon, and the flesh of the melon was placed on top like a dome. Inside was the shaved ice and the strawberries. It came with a free topping of condensed milk, which was awesome, because to Mr. Sato, shaved ice isn’t shaved ice without condensed milk.

Mr. Sato’s first order of business was to eat the melon, and this he did. But when he cut open the melon dome, he was impressed to see the inside of it was tightly packed with shaved ice.

As expected, the melon itself was delicious. Once he’d eaten it all, he turned to the shaved ice, but here he paused. Ordinarily, Mr. Sato would pour the condensed milk into the ice, but the ice here was already pure white. That made Mr. Sato wonder if he knew what, exactly, he was eating, so he decided to do a little research.

Apparently, Sul Bing is not the Korean name for “shaved ice”, just the name of the Korean dessert cafe, which, after opening its first shop in Busan in 2013, claims to be responsible for the Korean shaved ice boom. Their specialty is “milk ice” that’s soft like powder snow and made from a frozen mixture of milk and condensed milk.

In other words, it already had condensed milk in it. In that case, why offer condensed milk as a free topping? Maybe he was meant to drizzle it all over the fruit, but Mr. Sato had already eaten his melon by the time he considered how to use the condensed milk.

Sadly, he ended up leaving his condensed milk by the wayside, digging into his shaved ice like he was shoveling a sidewalk after a blizzard. Despite the residual heat from the summer weather outside, one bite was enough to cool him down. And, the more he dug down, the more treasures he found; underneath the ice was frozen strawberries and strawberry jam. The contrast between the red of the berries and the white of the shaved ice was beautiful, and the mixture of sweet and sour burst in his mouth.

As Mr. Sato, his stomach bursting, finally reached the bottom of his bowl, he noticed that he was the only male customer in the whole cafe, and the only person there alone. All around him were women sharing their shaved ice with friends or family. Belatedly, Mr. Sato realized he was eating by himself what was meant for two or three people. Well, that explained why it was such a huge portion size. Mr. Sato, used to big portions as he is, hadn’t even noticed.

Nevertheless, he really enjoyed his giant-sized sweet and highly recommends a visit to Sul Bing Cafe if you love shaved ice and want to stay cool this summer. However, he does think that the hotter it gets, the more popular this shop will be, and the longer the lines will become. If you want to give it a try, now might be the best time to go, before the temperatures truly climb!

But there are other ways to stay cool in the summer–like eating somen in an outdoor shower or even making your own shaved ice at home on the cheap–so don’t fret if you’re not willing to wait in line!

Cafe Information
Sul Bing Cafe Shin-Okubo Branch / ソルビンカフェ新大久保
Tokyo-to Shinjuku-ku Hyakunin-cho 2-30-20 Vision Shin-Okubo Ekimae
Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Open every day

Images © SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]