Gravel and Snow: Shaved Ice Desserts

Rompope raspado at Natura
Rompope raspado at Natura
D. Gonzalez

In Japan it is known as kakigōri, in India, chuski, and New Orleans has laid their claim to sno-balls. Throughout the world shaved ice is one of the summer's most popular street desserts. By its nature, ice is easily adaptable -- to flavor, texture and even shape -- which makes it suitable for a variety of tastes. In L.A., shaved ice can also be found on the streets, and the soundtrack of a visit to the park is not complete without the tinkling bells of the raspado man. And we're always just a twitter check away from the latest roadside location of Get Shaved , the Hawaiian shaved ice truck. But it's in restaurants like Natura, Class 302, and Belacan Grill were we found the best global sampling of what can be done with bits of ice.

The Oaxacan fruit juice bar Natura is the latest addition to the Guelagetza family of restaurants. Located in a small storefront next door to the original Guelagetza, Natura's raspados are served in a cup with a wide straw so they can be enjoyed on the go. Co-owner and manager Fernando Lopez told us about the challenge of getting the shaved ice machine to produce just the right texture, "to get that complete straw experience." What he managed to coax out is a balanced mixture of gravel and flake. Flaky, so that the raspado travels quickly up the straw and melts just after hitting the tongue, but is still gravely enough so there is plenty of ice bits to keep it from slipping into smoothie territory.

Natura specializes in seasonal and tropical fruit flavors, so their decision to add rompope, Mexican eggnog, stands out. "It's a very Oaxacan thing," Lopez explained. "We use it in all kinds of desserts." Using an eggnog base, the viscous rompope becomes suspended throughout the ice in an act of shaved ice physics that insures a proper ratio of ice to syrup. The ice's chilling effect smooths out the flavors of cream, egg and vanilla so the taste is that of a fine custard.

There is ice, and then there is snow. Taiwanese café Class 302 specializes in this hybrid of ice cream and shaved ice. Shave snow is made by freezing blocks of a sweet mixture of water, dairy and flavor then shaving it by using a special machine. The water insures that the mixture is cold and solid enough for the machine to create snow's signature phyllo-like layers, and the dairy creates downy layers that fold into each other.

Strawberry and chocolate shave snow at Class 302
Strawberry and chocolate shave snow at Class 302
D. Gonzalez

Although most tables at Class 302 order their shave snow with a mixture of fresh fruits and mochi, we've been coming back for the strawberry and chocolate combination. The chocolate is a dark syrup that tempers the initial super cold hit from the flakes. As the dessert glides down, the layers finally give, dissolving into the syrup and turning it into a voluptuous chocolate milk.

If there was such a thing as a shaved ice sundae, it would be Belacan Grill's Malaysian ice kacang. On our most recent visit, in addition to the the kancang, red bean paste, we counted seven different toppings, including roasted peanuts, drippy evaporated milk and thick cubes of aloe. The ice Belacan Grill uses is extremely granular and clumps as it soaks up the flavors of toppings, like the floral rose water and the funky lychee. The entire dessert is studded with grass jellies, which in flavor and texture are the complete opposite of chocolate sprinkles.

Ice Kacang at Belacan Grill
Ice Kacang at Belacan Grill
D. Gonzalez

Natura: 3335 1/4 W. 8th Street, Los Angeles, (213) 427-0601, Class 302: 1015 Nogales Street, Rowland Heights, (626) 965-5809, Belacan Grill, 2701 190th Street, Redondo Beach, (310) 370-1831

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2701 190th St.
Redondo Beach, CA 90278


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