First bite: Japanese dessert shop Shari Shari to open in BGC

Joko Magalong-De Veyra

Posted at May 28 2019 07:20 AM | Updated as of May 28 2019 09:25 AM

MANILA -- Japan in a bite. Many spoonfuls can define that in our country, as authentic Japanese cuisine has found its footing in the Philippines. There’s a list full of good eats from sushi and sashimi, tendon, okonomiyaki, and of course, ramen. Something is missing though in this long list of Japanese treats, and that’s dessert!

There’s a dearth of Japanese sweets from mochi to crepes to honey Toast, but perhaps nothing suits our country more than the humble kakigori.

This shaved ice topped with syrup and sweets has many similarities to the Korean bingsu (which also gained popularity here), and our very own halo-halo. There are notable differences though. While halo-halo has crushed ice, bingsu has packed shaved ice, and Taiwanese baobing has shaved flavored ice, kakigori has snow.

Last week, Shari Shari Kakigori House gave a preview to select media before its first store officially opens in June at Serendra in Taguig.

First bite: Japanese dessert shop Shari Shari to open in BGC 1
Shari shari Kakigori House founder Shingo Take and Philippine partner Darlene Chua Lim pose with the Matcha Cream Special Kakigori. Jeeves de Veyra

Founded by an affable Shingo Take, Shari shari Kakigori House has roots in Hong Kong, with the Philippines getting the first franchise outside of their home country. The partnership of Darlene Chua Lim and Arthur Dichaves, who also brought the Made in Candy to the Philippines, is thei local partner.

“We constantly look for new things that we are passionate about. We do not bring in things that we don’t believe in," said Lim. "We want to bring in something that’s new, something that is authentic--- new and innovative.”

Unlike in Japan, where shops specialize in one thing, in the Philippines, much like in Hong Kong, it’s usually a varied selection of items on offer even for specialty dessert shops. Shari Shari (the name is a onomatopoeia of eating ice) intends to follow the winning concept in Hong Kong of serving only bowls of shaved ice as the main item.

Initially the prices may seem daunting with the cheapest kakigori at P270 and the premium items at P350++, but the bowl that was placed in front of me also seemed daunting to eat on my own as well.

“The value of sharing. What I saw in Hong Kong when we went there, people are very happy when they’re eating it (kakigori). The vibe is very energetic, the vibe is chill, but very happy. People just gather in a small table, sharing stories,” remarked Lim on the for sharing-sized portions of the kakigori.

First bite: Japanese dessert shop Shari Shari to open in BGC 2
Strawberry Special. Jeeves de Veyra

With a large mound on a bowl with some white peeking out of pink-tinged snow and topped with a marshmallow-like whipped cream and a strawberry, it reminded me of bingsu. A bite of the bestselling Strawberry Special though wiped everything out of my mind except for one word — oishi! Delicious! The ice melted effortlessly on the tongue, akin to the feel of cotton candy, with a sweetness that was wonderfully in the middle of sweet and not sweet. The ice was a foil for me to enjoy the sweet-tangy flavor of strawberries made creamier with whipped cream.

Next came a bowl of brown ice. The Earl Grey Milk Tea Kakigori is a premium flavor and a bestseller in Hong Kong. During the tasting, many remarked that Filipinos may not care for the flavor as Earl Grey has a unique taste. What’s not to love about it though? It tastes of a nutty caramel milk tea with a hint of citrus — again, not too sweet, and bites were made more interesting thanks to some hidden surprises inside – texture from crushed cookies.

First bite: Japanese dessert shop Shari Shari to open in BGC 3
Earl Grey Milk Tea Kakigori. Jeeves de Veyra

When asked about a specialty Philippines-only variant, I half-expected “ube” to come out of Take’s mouth, but was nicely surprised with the answer of cantaloupe, or melon.

Melon isn’t the most glamorous of fruits, but it shone brightly in the kakigori. This is what you eat when Manila reaches 45 degrees --refreshing, juicy, and as cliché as it sounds, bursting with melon flavor!

First bite: Japanese dessert shop Shari Shari to open in BGC 4
Melon Kakigori. Jeeves de Veyra

Last but not the least was the Matcha Cream Special Kakigori — the other bestseller. After tasting three kakigoris (and almost finishing the Earl Grey bowl on my own), I expected to take a bite, take down notes, and call it a day. What happened was like one of those funny commercials -- I took one bite, then another, and before I knew it, my companion and I finished the whole bowl.
If you’re familiar with the Netflix show, it was a "Kantaro" moment.

It’s hard to pinpoint what makes the Matcha Cream Special sing—was it the matcha flown in from Hokkaido? The whipped cream drizzled with the dark caramel flavor of kuromitsu that coated the tongue and balanced the earthiness of the matcha? Or was it the crispy bits of cookies that made each bite different?

It could be the ice.

“The ice that we use is different. The ice has a certain standard, so we had to make the ice ourselves -- we cannot order it from anyone else. It’s a mixture of different waters, and there’s a certain size,” said Lim.

Custom ice, shaved with a machine from Japan, and with syrups made fresh every day, it’s this level of preciseness that Shari Shari Kakigori House brings to the dessert table of the Philippines.

“This is a very big adventure for me. It’s quite hard to maintain a business in Hong Kong — rent is high, and it’s very hard to survive there — there are many competitors. But we’ve been open since 2015, already four years, and I have the confidence to be success[ful] here,” said Take on opening in the Philippines.

Come June, Shari shari Kakigori House promises to offer a taste of Japan in a refreshing bite.