What’s soft, fluffy and looks like snow? Well, it’s shaved ice! This simple and classic dessert is refreshing as it is made out of ice and can be served with various toppings such as jellies, fruits and syrup. With the main component being ice, it is no wonder that many countries have laid claim to it and have created their very own versions of shaved ice.
Evolution of Shaved Ice
The shaved ice was said to originate from Japan or Taiwan, with both having their own unique technique and appearance. The former is evidenced by the mention of shaved ice in Japan’s history, with the oldest mention dating back to the Heian period (794 – 1185).
In the 10th century, cut or shaved ice was even mentioned in author, Sei Shōnagon’s accessible essay collection Makura no sōshi (translated as The Pillow Book). Initially, the dessert was made with blocks of ice which were then shaved thinly and covered with syrups. In fact, ice-making technology was only introduced to Japan in the 20th century, and that is why shaved ice has been considered a luxury in the majority of its long years of history.
The modern icy dessert that we know of today, which was named Kakigori, is thought to have been invented in Yokohoma, Japan. In recent years, there have been many variations of the dessert in Japan. For instance, the concept of “fuwa-fuwa” (meaning, light and fluffy) where the tall dessert looks similar to cotton candy.
The Taiwanese-style shaved ice is made with a unique method as instead of putting syrups onto shaved ice, they freeze milk of various flavours into cylinders. Once frozen, they then put the cylinders into a particular machine which cut the bottom layer of the ice block into paper-thin ribbon shreds which melts as soon as it touches your tongue. Various toppings are added to it such as fresh fruits, red beans, taro balls and even whipped cream. This dessert is commonly referred to by the locals as xue hua bing (meaning, snowflake).
1. Shaved Ice All Over the World
In Malaysia, we have our local delight, Ais Kacang. With some referring to it as ABC, this classic dessert is usually served at hawker stalls and stands across Malaysia and Singapore. It is traditionally made with a special ice machine which holds the block of ice in place and rotates it while it is drilled or shaved.
Now, franchise and chains have also opened up across the country and use modern ice-making and shaving machines. The Ais Kacang appears as a tall mound of ice topped with flavoured syrups such as rose and gula melaka (palm sugar); garnished with red beans, corn, peanuts, jelly and, condensed or evaporated milk.
Made from pure ice, this dessert is fluffy and light just like freshly fallen snow. This classic dish stands out with its various colours and flavours. Popular flavours include matcha, strawberry with condensed/evaporated milk, melon and peach. The dessert can be eaten plain with syrup only or topped with red bean, mochi and whipped cream.
3. Patbingsu or bingsu
Hailing from Korea, this dessert is so omnipresent in their culture that it is even served at their KFC. Speciality cafes also serve this luscious dessert, and it can be loaded with every treat imaginable such as a slice of cake, ice cream, biscuits, nuts, candies, whipped cream and even tteokbokki. The high mound of ice is usually packed with toppings and a surprise in the middle. The fun part of eating the bingsu is the myriad of textures and flavours as you search for the hidden ingredients in the shaved ice.
4. Shave Ice
This Hawaiian dessert is based on the Japanese kakigori and was initially brought over from Japanese plantation labourers. Similar to kakigori, the fluffy snow is topped with flavoured syrups which melt into the ice. It can be served in a cone or a cup with a scoop of ice cream at its core. Modern variations of this dessert also include the local fruits such as soursop and papaya.
5. Bao Bing
It is thought to be one of the oldest forms of shaved ice and can be found in Taiwan and Malaysia too. This dessert can be served both hot and cold and is frequented by locals all year round. Though it is available with a multitude of toppings, its bestseller is mango when it is in season. This snowy dessert is heaped onto a bowl and topped with fruits, jelly and pudding.
6. Xue Hua Bing (Snowflake)
This Taiwan-based dessert is different as instead of flaky bits of ice, it is usually served as layers of frozen condensed milk. The creamy taste gives diners a surprise as it is paired with layers of fluffy ice that is piled high and with toppings too. It’s milk-based provides the dessert with a totally different texture than other shaved ice desserts.
This Filipino dessert is also spelt “haluhalo”, and the name is derived from the Tagalog word which means “mixed”. Commonly found served in a tall glass, it has many intricate and colourful layers which is due to its rainbow of ingredients. The variety of toppings and flavours in reflective of Philippine’s diverse culture and heritage. You can find this dessert all over the Philippines and globally, at any Jollibee outlet.
In whatever iteration of shaved ice, you don’t want to miss out on this treat that is the favourite of people across the globe. It’s definitely my goal to travel the world and try out as many shaved ice desserts as possible!