Fried noodles and shaved ice to start the day? Don’t knock till you’ve tried it - this combination at Naniwaya in Asakusa makes one hell of a power breakfast.
Coffee-milk kakigōri with “lots of stuff” - almonds, cashew nuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and white bean paste. - image © Florentyna Leow
I love noodles for breakfast. Years of eating at hawker stalls have bred in me a conviction that power breakfasts are not made of bacon and eggs or rice balls, but noodle bowls - whether it’s laksa, wantan mee, or curry noodles. Sadly, these are in short supply in Japan, but yakisoba is not a bad substitute. Think of yakisoba as Japanese meehoon - stir-fried noodles with vegetables and meat, seasoned with powdered green seaweed and pickled red ginger on the side.
Yakisoba at Naniwaya. - image © Florentyna Leow
Japanese breakfasts, in general, pale in comparison to other parts of the world. But for 10am breakfasts, yakisoba at Naniwaya will do in a pinch. Their yakisoba is a perfectly acceptable way to start the morning, with lightly-sauced noodles that pull cleanly rather than in ungainly clumps. For a mere JPY50 you can and should add a fried egg. It’s the right kind of sunny side up, crisp-bottomed with a tender and gooey yolk. I would have liked a little more wok hei - breath of the wok - in these noodles. Alas, you can’t have everything. But all this is so much preamble to the real star at Naniwaya - the kakigōri.
At Naniwaya, the kakigōri isn’t your average festival stall shaved ice with a simple squirt of syrup. (I wouldn’t be here otherwise.) These confections are constructed. Think tall mounds of ice shards layered with fillings like fruit jams and purees, condensed milk, flavored syrups, yoghurt espumas, chopped nuts, bean pastes.
I grew up with shaved ice desserts - namely Malaysian ais kacang and cendol - but kakigōri is on a different level altogether. Choice of fillings aside, the texture of ice is the defining factor here. Kakigōri today is a product of the famously obsessive attention to detail in Japan directed at ice and its endless possibilities.
This might be better than a morning latte. - image © Florentyna Leow
As with many foods, the minutiae of the genre starts to emerge the more versions you try. Not all kakigōri are created equal. So much depends on the skill of the kakigōri master, and there are many variables in shaved ice. There’s the ice itself: is it clean and pure-tasting, free of impurities? How was the ice shaved, and what is the texture like - is it in long, soft flakes, or more like a pile of powdery, slightly crunchy snow? What fillings is it layered with - is there flavour in each layer, or have they skimped on the condensed milk and syrup? This is the genius of ice as a medium - it’s infinitely adaptable.
Naniwaya is famous for their Asayake, a strawberry, condensed milk, and red bean paste kakigōri constructed to resemble a sunrise over Mount Fuji. (You’ll just have to order it and see for yourself.) Regulars come for their kuri kakigōri, a seasonal special with a glorious chestnut paste rippling through the tall dome of ice. There’s all kinds of fillings, from classic matcha-milk or kinako (roasted soy nut) to fruit fillings like kiwi and berry-yoghurt. But if you’re here for breakfast at 10am - and you should be, because they start seeing queues out of the door from around half past eleven in the morning on weekdays - you may want to have the coffee-milk kakigōri.
Flavour at every layer, ice saturated with sweetness. - image © Florentyna Leow
A thick dusting of cocoa powder on top gives way to layers of ice - fine, fluffy, feathery shards of it saturated with coffee syrup and condensed milk. The ice has been gently shaped into its dome, but not packed so tightly that the fluffiness is lost. Chopped nuts, seeds, and a core of smooth white bean paste inside make this a far more substantial and complex confection than your average shave ice. 'Not too sweet’ is, in many parts of East Asia, high praise for a dessert. It certainly is, in my book, and Naniwaya’s coffee-milk kakigōri earns full marks on that front.
It's surprisingly solid for something that’s mostly water, but not so much that it’ll leave you bloated and exhausted. But it also demands your full attention. There’s little to gain in talking over dessert here. Eat fast, before the ice melts and clumps together in crunchy shards at the bottom of the bowl, the snowy flakes of a few minutes prior now a distant memory.
Fried noodles are all very well and good, but you could certainly skip them and have a shaved ice or three for breakfast here. If you already love kakigōri, Naniwaya is a fine place to have your fix. If you’ve never had much kakigōri before, this will be a revelation.
The outside of the shop. - image © Florentyna Leow
Directions: Take Exit 3 of Tawaramachi Station. Once you’re above ground, make a U-turn from the staircase. You’ll be facing an intersection. Cross the road heading along Asakusa-dori Road (the roads are signposted) - you’ll see a sushi shop on the corner. Turn left. Walk straight for about 8-9 minutes. You’ll see Naniwaya on your right, eventually.
Name in Japanese:
2-12-4 Asakusa, Taito-ku, Tokyo
10:00am - 7:00pm
Subway: 9-minute walk from Exit 3 of Tawaramachi Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, 1-minute walk from Asakusa Station on the Tsukuba Express
:: Read customer reviews of Naniwaya on TripAdvisor
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