Imagine hot sweltering heat seeping through your body as sweat slowly flows down your neck. There is no sign of rain or wind and water does not even quench your thirst. You finally sigh in relief as your eyes fall on the shaved ice stall in front of you.
Icy desserts are commonly found all over the world. Everyone has their favourite flavour ice-cream topped with nuts or chocolate syrup but nothing can compare to desserts with shaved ice. Shaved ice traces its history to Japan during the Heian Period where it is widely known as kakigori. This shaved ice dessert is topped with condensed milk and generally flavoured with strawberry, cherry, lemon, green tea, grape, melon, “Blue Hawaii,” sweet plum and colourless syrup.
After the Japanese plantation workers immigrated to the Hawaiian islands, they took their traditional dessert with them creating shave ice from large blocks of ice. In Hawaii, these shave ice desserts are often flavoured with guava, pineapple, coconut cream, passion fruit, li hing, lychee, kiwi fruit and mango. It is traditionally served in a conical paper or plastic cup with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or azuki bean paste at the bottom.
In 1934, New Orleans inventor, Erneset Hansen designed a motor driven ice block shaver. Currently, this city is known for its finely shaved ice flavoured with cane sugar syrup called sno-ball. Not to be confused with the snow cone, the ice of a sno-ball is fine and fluffy while a snow cone’s ice is coarse and crunchy. Also, in a snow cone the flavoured syrup sinks to the bottom of the cup, whereas in a sno-ball the ice absorbs the syrup.
Granita or granite siciliana is semi-frozen Italian dessert made from sugar, water and a variety of flavourings. Originated from Sicily, it is available all over Italy although its texture varies from city to city on the island. Different from sorbet and Italian ice, granite has larger and crunchier ice crystals. The common flavouring ingredients include lemon juice, mandarin oranges, jasmine, coffee, almonds, mint, wild strawberries and black mulberries. In Catania, it is traditionally well known for its chocolate granitas.
Countries in East Asia sell shaved ice desserts in a variety of flavours top with local ingredients. In Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, the perfect thirst quencher would be Ice Kacang or also known as Air Batu Campur (ABC). Popularly sold by street vendors, it is a combination of shaved iced with sweet toppings of red beans, creamy sweet corn, grass jelly, attap chee (palm nuts), coloured with sweet syrup and topped with a squirt of evaporated milk. The shaved ice is usually hand cranked with a traditional ice machine. Ice Kacang is usually accompanied by Cendol which is the same but steeped with extra coconut milk.
Popular in China and Taiwan, Bao Bing or Tsua Bing is also similar to Ice Kacang. According to Reay Tanahil, the author of ”Food in History” (Stein & Day, 1973), Bao Bing, which means ”shaved ice,” was eaten in China as early as the seventh century A.D. This popular dessert can be found in night markets. The shaved ice is piled high like an ice cream cone topped with sugar caned juice or syrup or even condensed milk. What makes it tastier are the toppings which include fresh fruits, taro, green tea mocha, azuki beans, mung beans, sweet potato chunks, peanuts, almond junket and grass jelly. Most people prefer fresh mango but a few stalls also serve Bao Bing with litchis and rambutans. To add an extra kick, sometimes a scoop of ice cream is added on top of the shaved ice.
Shaved ice on stick or commonly known as Chuski in India and Gola Ganda (Snow Cone) in Pakistan is the perfect solution to beat the heat during the summer. Often found by push cats around the city, this snow cone dripped in coloured sugary syrup and sweetened milk is a favourite. Usually served in popsicle sticks, stall vendors in India offer different flavours of lemon, rose, saffron and cardamom.
Many varieties of toppings are introduced to cater to the younger generation. Some do not follow the traditionally way of ice shavings mixed with sweetened milk but prefer to top it with decadent array of toppings such us scoops of ice cream, cereals, coffee and yogurt. Nevertheless, icy desserts are definitely the perfect summer treat to ease the hot and humid weather.