Trendy shaved ice is becoming as popular as Thai-style ice cream rolls. But did you know that many countries have their own unique versions of the frozen dessert? From Japan and Taiwan to Mexico and Italy, here are 10 must-try international shaved ices to beat the heat.
Nam khaeng sai
Thailand’s version of shaved ice, nam khaeng sai, is bold, flavorful and it skews very sweet. Traditional street stands and shaved ice restaurants offer dozens of glass bowls filled with colorful toppings like black sticky rice, chestnuts, red beans, candied taro, jackfruit, lychee and young coconut soaked in coconut milk. Ingredients are placed at the bottom of the bowl, then the ice mixture is piled atop, doused with a choice of artificial syrup (like white jasmine or red syrup) and covered with additional accouterment. Sweetened condensed milk is a common addition as well.
Probably the fastest growing variation of shaved ice in the US, Taiwanese shaved snow is having a moment all across the country. Unlike other variations, this fluffy delicacy is made with ice that has cream and different flavors (such as matcha, strawberry and Thai tea) frozen into blocks that are shaved into ribbons with a special machine, then topped off with condiments ranging from mochi and Pocky cookie sticks to fresh fruit and boba.
Es campur/ais kacang
Shaved ice is a staple throughout much of Southeast Asia. The variations found throughout neighboring Indonesia (es campur), Malaysia and Singapore (ais kacang or just ABC) are very similar. Roughly translating to “ice beans,” blocks of ice are shaved by a special machine into heaping piles that are covered in colorful, flavorful syrups (rose, coconut-pandan, palm sugar, etc.), sweetened condensed milk, sometimes ice cream and sweet odds and ends like mango, durian, basil seeds and jackfruit. Additional ingredients, like grass jelly, sweetened red beans and canned fruit, are often hidden on the bottom of the bowl.
Where to try: Malaysian ABC at Nyonya in NYC; es campur at Bali Cafe in Miami; or Philly’s V Street features a riff on Singaporean ABC with blackberry granita, corn custard vegan ice cream, pineapple, basil and adzuki beans.
Meaning “mix mix” in Tagalog, halo-halo is a Filipino dish that mixes a hodgepodge of ingredients with shaved ice. It’s one of the more popular versions of the dish in the states right now, corresponding to the rise of trendy Filipino restaurants opening across the country. On the bottom of the cup or bowl, you’ll find sweet condiments like red beans, coconut gel, macapuno (coconut strings), caramelized plantains, fresh fruit and sweetened chickpeas or kidney beans. A healthy portion of shaved ice is layered on top, followed by things like evaporated milk, flan, ube (purple yam), rice crisps and ice cream. As it’s become more widespread, many chefs have been switching it up with new toppings and cross-cultural twists, including Top Chef Dale Talde: “It was my favorite Filipino dessert growing up, but I didn’t like the beans that it was traditionally served with, as well as a few other things, including rice crisps. I’ve replaced those items in my version, which includes the best cereal ever made, Captain Crunch.”
This Japanese dessert features a pillowy texture comparable to shaved snow with delicate, syrupy notes. It’s far more straightforward than most variations, just a mound of ice, scented with fruit flavors, topped with condensed milk. Common flavors are green tea, cherry, strawberry and sweet plum. Some places add ice cream, sweetened red beans or tapioca pearls.
In its most basic form, Korean patbingsu combines soft shaved ice with red bean paste; however, it’s often kicked up a notch with condensed milk and different layers of chopped fruit, syrups, fruit cocktail, ice creams, green tea powder and nuts.
Hawaiian shave ice
The flakes of Hawaiian shave ice is thinner and lighter than other renditions, allowing the syrup to sink into individual snowlike slivers, not the bottom of the cup. Flavors can range from blue raspberry, strawberry and cotton candy to tropical notes, like guava, passion fruit, pineapple and coconut cream. Sweetened condensed milk, ice cream, azuki beans and fruit may add extra sweetness and texture.
This semi-frozen treat regularly appears in fancy composed desserts, but it's also just fine all by itself. Originally from Sicily, it’s somewhat related to sorbet and Italian ice, but it generally has a coarser, crystallized texture, depending on where on the island it is produced. It’s made from a combination of sugar, water and some kind of flavoring (like citrus, fruit, nuts or coffee), which is agitated while it freezes.
Where to try: Lemon ice granita topped with vanilla gelato and candied lemon at Lilia in Brooklyn; granita di limone at Caffe Paradiso in Boston; or peach granita with white chocolate-cinnamon mousse, peaches and smoky tea gelee at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco
Probably derived from Sicilian granita, Italian ice is an East Coast specialty. Like granita, water, fruit and sugar are mixed together and frozen; however, the texture differs completely. Italian ice is smoother and airier with tiny grains of ice, more like sorbet or sherbet. Popular flavors include blue raspberry, cherry, lemon, watermelon and orange.
In Mexico, frozen desserts are offered in numerous forms: on a stick, in a drink, by the cup. The latter is known as raspado, finely shaved ice, flavored with fruit- and spice-scented syrups such as cucumber, guava, lime, grape, leche (sweetened milk with cinnamon) and chamoy (fruit and chile sauce).