While summer is usually the time for ice cream, Asian shaved ice desserts can not only beat the heat, but also do so with ingredients you may not necessarily think of when it comes to ice cream. Forget about chocolate sprinkles and gummy bears. Think sweetened red beans and grass jelly instead. So let’s find out more about these Asian icy treats.
Filipino Halo-Halo: Halo-Halo, from the Tagalog word halo which means “mix”, is a popular Filipino dessert. There is no specific recipe for Halo-Halo since it’s all about whatever one’s preference is for ingredients or simply, what’s available, but the commonality is that it’s a layered dessert. The types of ingredients that can be used is quite varied. They could include fresh fruit like papayas, avocados or cherries. Beans like red mung beans, kidney beans and garbanzo beans are also an option. Other ingredients could include sugar palm fruit, tapioca, gelatins and corn kernels. These ingredients would be placed at the bottom of the bowl or tall glass followed by the shaved ice. Then either condensed milk or evaporated milk is poured over the mixture just before it’s served and then could be topped with anything from leche flan (flan), ube halaya (purple yam) or ice cream.
Japanese Kakig?ri: The kakig?ri is shaved ice flavored with different syrups. While some flavors may be familiar like strawberry and lemon, other options also include green tea or sweet plum. Some shops will even add more than one syrup for a rainbow of color. Unlike a snow cone, the ice for the kakig?ri has a slightly rougher texture. Traditionally, this shaved ice dessert is made using a hand cranked machine to spin a block of ice over an ice shaving blade. Currently, electric ice shavers are replacing the the more traditional tools of the trade. For an additional sweetness, condensed milk is often poured over the ice and sometimes, it’s even served with ice cream and/or sweet bean paste.
Korean Bingsu or Bingsoo: The bingsu has quite a pretty presentation. Usually the shaved ice is placed in a bowl and sweetened condensed milk is poured over it. Than it is topped with a variety of fresh fruit like strawberries, kiwi, bananas as well as rice cake and cereal similar to Fruity Pebbles or other kinds of kid’s cereals. Than it’s topped with ice cream or frozen yogurt. A version of the Bingsu is the Patbingsu. The only difference between the two is the addition of sweet azuki beans to the Patbingsu, which are usually placed at the bottom of the bowl before being topped with the ice.
Malaysian/Singaporean Ais Kacang: Formerly, ais kacang was made of only shaved ice and red beans. That’s not the case now since ice kacang now comes in bright colours, made up of a variety of ingredients like palm seed, red beans, grass jelly and cubes of agar agar, many of which will top a mound of ice. An interesting ingredient that sometimes comes in to play is aloe vera in jelly form. Evaporated milk is drizzled over both ice and ingredients.
Taiwanese Tsua Bing: Originally, the ice shavings for this dessert were done old school. Either a large mallet was used to crush the ice into fine pieces and than a large blade was used freehand to shave the ice or a hand-cranked machine was use for the same task. Currently, a special machine is used which makes the ice really fine. This Taiwanese shaved ice is prepared a few different ways. Sometimes, only a flavored syrup is used. Other times, the syrup is not used at all and instead, the ice is simply topped with a variety of fruits like mangoes and strawberries or other items like taro, red mung beans, sweetened peanuts and grass jelly. The more common way now is to pour condensed milk over ice and milk.
Although there are similarities between the 5 shaved ice desserts above, there are also some subtle differences like the aloe vera in the Ais Kacang, the cereal in the Bingsu or the kitchen sink in the Halo Halo to make it interesting. Regardless of which you prefer or which you can find locally to you, these shaved ice desserts are definitely a fun and unique culinary alternative to ice cream, so why not try something new? You just might find your new favorite summer treat.