Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Iced Coffee: Cafe Den Granita
This weekend, we were out and about it Tokyo, and Peter was craving pizza. There are all sorts of Italian chains all over the city, so we stopped into one of them in Ebisu - Pizza Mare Napoli, which specializes in Napoli style pizza. One of the great things about lunch in Japan is that restaurants often structure their menus so there are "lunch sets" available for reasonable prices. A starter, drink, main dish, and a bit of something sweet at the end (dessert being far too ambitious a word to use to describe the tiny dish of what you actually get) for a price somewhere around 1,000 yen. It's good value. We ordered pizza sets each, and the pizzas were up to the tasks of satisfying Peter's pizza craving - although not to his "pizza slice" standard, which is of course, set by the Costco food court. *sigh*
Anyway, at the end of the meal, for our sweet, we got a small glass of refreshing grapefruit granita. I hadn't thought of granita since university, when the coffee shop I used to work for sold "granita" as their iced coffee offering. The machine that made it was everyone's nightmare, with gaskets and seals that were a pain to clean, and always ended up rolling behind something really inconvenient.
Real granita is actually quite simple to make, and doesn't require a special machine - just some free time and a willingness to walk back and forth between the sofa and the refrigerator for a few hours - a skill at which I've devoted a significant portion of my life to honing. I read my first recipe for granita in "The Man who Ate Everything", a collection of food writing by Jeffery Steingarten. He wrote that in Sicily, people often have a bit of espresso granita for breakfast, into which they dip little bits of brioche as they go. I remember thinking, "What a civilized way to live."
While I was having my dessert in Ebisu, I remembered this, and thought regretfully that I had no espresso to make my own. But - in a brainwave, I remembered that I had a rather large bag of Vietnamese coffee, sweet and chocolatey tasting, sitting on my counter at home. The next day, I brewed some Vietnamese coffee, black and without sugar, and slipped it into a plastic container in the freezer. Over the next few hours, I poked at it and turned it around with a fork. It developed the perfect icy flavour shards that you would expect from a granita sometime around midnight - the absolute last time of day I want to be ingesting coffee. (Although I remember when I was working in that coffee house in university, I could drink free black coffee all night, and did. No wonder I always got my reading done!) I left it regretfully in the freezer. This morning, when I took it out, it was, of course, a giant coffee ice cube. I don't who these Sicilians are, and how early they're getting up to make granita, but after 20 minutes of hacking at the giant cube, (and spraying coffee shards all over the kitchen) I had enough granita to call it breakfast.
I was right in thinking the Vietnamese coffee would be nice - it gave a lovely caramelized flavour to the ice, and was sweet enough on its own, without added sugar. I thought, however, that a swirl of some condensed milk on top would have made it perfect.