SHIROKUMA – しろくま
A MUST TRY speciality from Kagoshima
With the hot weather hitting Japan these weeks, i thought it would be the perfect timing to talk to you about one of my favourite summer dessert: The Shirokuma, a speciality from Kagoshima.
Japan is a country well known for its hot temperature during the summer season. With up to 40 degrees Celsius, the weather can get quite unbearable and it is especially true if you are visiting the southern island of Kyushu. Thankfully, Japanese people know how to deal with heat and humidity. With air conditioning available everywhere from public transportation, offices and department stores to super refreshing food and drinks, you shouldn’t be suffering for too long.
When it comes to refreshing food and especially desserts, Japan is famous for some creative cold desserts. Nowadays, the Kakigori, also known as frozen shaved ice cream is probably the most popular one in Japan and overseas.
The dessert I am talking about in this article, Shirokuma 白くま（しろくま, literally Polar Bear), is a local variation of the Kakigori made with three main ingredients: shaved ice, condensed milk and delicious fresh fruits.
SHIROKUMA, THE STORY
If we go back to the origin of this dessert, we know without a doubt that it was created in the city of Kagoshima. Then, as with every great recipe, you can find several stories behind this creation. I will share the two most common ones:
The first one goes back to the 1930s in Kagoshima. At that time a cotton shop located in Nishida main street used to sell Kakigori to stay cool during the heatwave of summer. To attract more customers the owner decided to elaborate a new flavour by including condensed milk and slices of fruits to the original Kakigori recipe. It is said that the name Shirokuma is derivated from the packaging of the condensed milk can where a polar bear was displayed. From that, this flavour became a hit and many shops started selling it over the years to become the success it is today.
The second story is less folkloric, there is no inspiration taken from a can of condensed milk here. Just the trial and error of a man Takeshi Kubo, owner at the time of Tenmonkan Mujaki a restaurant located near Tenmonkan park in Kagoshima city. It is believed that in 1947, Takeshi Kubo invented the recipe of Shirokuma by adding condensed milk, canned fruits, dried grapes and other delicacies to the original Kakigori. The dessert, thanks to its refreshing taste and the rainbow of colourful fruits on top, gained a lot of attraction. The name Shirokuma is assumed to be inspired by the look of the dessert resembling a Polar Bear. The grapes were representing the eyes and the white glowing mountain of ice the head. Following its success, many places started using the same recipe and so the story goes…
THE RECIPE: A REFRESHING FLAVOR BOMB
Whether it remains unclear if the dessert was created by this cotton shop owner or Takeshi Kubo at Tenmonkan Mujaki; One thing is certain, the Shirokuma is one of the most delicious and refreshing desserts you could get during Summer in Kagoshima. It is also extremely easy to make.
ShiroKuma is made from 3 main ingredients:
- Water in the form of shaved ice
- Condensed milk
These 3 elements are the basis for every Shirokuma you will find in Kagoshima. The recipe also often includes Anko (sweet Azuki bean paste) and sometimes small mochi (rice cakes). The first step to realise this delightful dessert is a Kakigori base. Basically, a manual or electric Kakigori ice shaver is used to form a large pile of snowy shaved ice. The next step is to add condensed milk on top to bring this milky glow and sugary taste. Then the slices of fruit are carefully placed as a topping all around the pile of ice (most of the shops will try to replicate the face of a Polar Bear when doing so). Some shops also add at the beginning of the preparation a layer of vanilla ice cream under the mountain of shaved ice for extra sweetness.
If the original recipe was essentially prepared using canned fruits due to their convenience. Nowadays, almost every shops sell Shirokuma with generous slices of fresh fruits. If you have already visited Japan before you know how expensive (and delicious) fresh fruits can be. Japanese producers take extra care to grow perfectly good looking and super tasty fruits.
If you haven’t been confronted with the shocking price tag of Japanese fruits yet, you need to know that they are on average five to ten times more expensive compared to fruits sold in Europe or America.
The fruits served with a Shirokuma can vary from grapes, cherry, pineapples, peaches, orange, mandarin, kiwi, melon, watermelon or banana.
Taste wise it is a blast, succulent, juicy, refreshing and surprising filling. It is my go-to dessert while visiting Kagoshima.
One thing i like with the Shirokuma (in addition to the amazing taste) is the fact that it is a good healthy alternative to the usual ice cream you would normally eat during summer. Despite the condensed milk, it is basically fresh fruits and water. A perfect combination to hydrate and recharge your stamina during those long touristic sightseeings and walks in Kagoshima.
WHERE TO EAT?
Fresh Shirokuma is available almost exclusively in the Kagoshima prefecture and more especially in Kagoshima city. You will find shops and cafe selling Shirokuma in every corner of the city. One of my recommendations in Kagoshima city would be Hananoki Gelataria in port dolphin. You can indulge in a delicious Shirokuma (cf.picture above) with an amazing view of the Sakurajima volcano right in front of you.
If you are a purist, you can also visit Tenmonkan Mujaki, the supposed birthplace of the Shirokuma where they are still serving the original recipe (and many variations) every Summer.
You can also buy already prepared ready-to-eat Shirokuma in the frozen section of many grocery stores. However be warned, i wouldn’t recommend it as it is simply not the same as the original homemade fresh one.