Header image courtesy to @flymeowtothemoon (via Instagram)
Summertime in Hong Kong is almost unbearable. With the heat, humidity, and hordes of people crowding the street, frustration boils up and your patience evaporates. But before all is lost, there is one saving grace: A delicious, iced treat—and boy, do we have a lot of them in Hong Kong—to soothe the heat in your heart.
From frozen fruits to confections comprising layers of flavours, it is impossible to survive a Hong Kong summer without iced treats, and plenty of them have made indelible marks on our childhoods. Before the summer melts away, let’s take a walk down memory lane and revisit 12 iconic iced treats that have (ironically) warmed the hearts of Hong Kong people.
A direct translation of its Chinese name “孖條” (maa1 tiu4), the double popsicle is the best treat to share with a friend at the beach at the height of summer. Separating the two fruit-flavoured lollies stuck together is a skilful operation—you have to let the lollies warm up a bit, but not too much that it has completely melted, in order to snap them into proper halves. However, the mildly onerous procedure guarantees a sweet, refreshing summertime with your friends. Although not out of production just yet, the double popsicle is hard to come by, so if you do get lucky and spot one in the store, dive right into this summery treat that has made the memory of many Hongkongers.
Funny name, right? “Gi” is a similar sound to the Cantonese verb “唧” (zik1, but colloquially pronounced as zit1)—referring to the motion of squeezing something out, which is exactly how you enjoy this summer treat. Frozen juice in a tube, Gi Gi bar comes in different packaging, but most commonly, it is a tube with a dent in the middle. You can twist the bar in the middle to snap it in half and share it with a friend. The bar also used to come in jelly form, but those are less likely to be found in Hong Kong nowadays.
Other than its own versions of double popsicle and Gi Gi bar, Appolo (阿波羅; aa3 bo1 lo4) has put forth dozens of recognised frozen confections, such as the cartoon-inspired pineapple & strawberry bar (藍鐵神; laam4 tit3 san4). The tangy taste remains on Hongkongers’ palate, so does the blue dye of the outer coat of the ice lolly. Super Star (巨星雪條; geoi6 sing1 syut3 tiu4) was another popular choice among children.
A colour palette like Neapolitan ice cream, but with sprinkles and crispy chocolate coating on the top and watermelon ice in the bottom section, the iced bar stands out from the rack of ice cream in the store. The revived rendition, however, has replaced the watermelon ice with strawberry ice cream. The brick-shaped Monaka ice cream sandwich and Magic Cone ice cream are also among some local favourites.
Nestlé Dairy Farm is another prolific local ice cream brand, and it is best known for its revived series of invigorating iced lollies. Apart from Dreyer’s ice cream and the retro-packaged ice cream cups, Dairy Farm has recently brought back four of the hottest items in its repertoire: Wonder Bar (旺寶; wong6 bou2), the famous orange creamsicle; Tropical Sundae (鳳仙; fung6 sin1), the flavourful stick of vanilla ice cream with mango jam filling and wrapped with a banana chocolate coating; Beano (豆豆樂; dau6 dau6 lok6), the traditional ice lolly flavoured and sprinkled with red beans; and Joystick (脆皮樂; ceoi3 pei4 lok6), the fragrant taro confection with a chocolate shell.
Dairy Farm’s Milki (古古叻牛奶樂; gu1 gu1 lek1 ngau4 naai5 lok6), the Chinese name of which is a play on the pronunciation of chocolate (朱古力; zyu1 gu1 lik1) in Cantonese, is one of the most affordable ice lollies in school tuck shops, but rarely found elsewhere in Hong Kong.
Mochi ice cream (雪米糍; syut3 mai5 ci4) is another long-lived summer confection in Hong Kong. Wrapped in chewy mochi skin, the Kowloon Dairy sweet comes in a variety of flavours, like the classic vanilla, taro, and lychee. But there have also been many new flavours, such as sweet potato, yuzu, and tofu & sesame, on the shelves of convenience shops and supermarkets. You can usually find mochi ice cream in a pack of two, an ideal portion for one person, or for sharing with a loved one. The timing of biting into the mochi ice is crucial since it is usually too hard straight out of the freezer, but messy to eat when melted. Letting the frozen mochi defrost for two to three minutes should do the trick.
Walking in the stifling, sweltering heat in Hong Kong, even something as simple as a slice of frozen pineapple is enough to cool you down. It is usually packed in a modest plastic bag and found in tuck shops and the dissipating mobile carts on the street selling drinks and iced treats. This iced treat is nothing extravagant, in fact, you can make it yourself at home—just put a slice or two of canned pineapple, or fresh pineapples if you are feeling a bit fancy, into a Ziploc bag, then store the bag in the freezer. Now you have one of the best summer treats on hand—refreshing in both taste and temperature.
A soft bed of mashed red bean topped with rich evaporated milk, crushed ice, and sometimes even ice cream, red bean ice is a midsummer sweet dream and a suitable beverage to sip on in a cha chaan teng amidst a hot, busy day. But did you know that the most traditional red bean ice is made with shaved ice? Some bing sutts in Hong Kong still follow the traditional recipe. Guong Shing Bing Sutt, for instance, tops their red bean ice with a mountain of shaved ice, maximising the chill from this iconic treat. In case red bean is not your cup of tea, many bing sutts and cha chaan tengs also offer pineapple ice, which is a chilled pineapple drink topped with a shaved ice cone.
Eating a pound cake frozen might sound weird, but Hongkongers have found a unique way of consuming this decadent treat in the heatwave. Coming in chocolate and original butter flavours, the brand Sara Lee, in particular, is said to boast the creamy texture of ice cream when frozen, and has become a household all-time favourite in the summer. Even supermarkets have been selling this brand as a frozen item! It is recommended to let the frozen cake thaw a little so the outside returns to the soft, buttery cake while the inside is still rich and velvety.
One of the most nostalgic ice creams in Hong Kong history has to be mini melts. In the shape of tiny spherical droplets, the colourful cup of cold confections had once disappeared from Hong Kong completely, but it has recently returned as a Korean brand, with physical stores across the city. There are many different flavours of mini melts, such as candy floss, blue bubble, lemon & lime, and cookie & cream. Even though some criticise the raised price of the once-affordable treat, many still visit the shops in search of a taste from childhood.
A long-running British brand, the Viennetta ice cream cake has made a ripple in Hong Kong as well. Layers of ice cream ripples with chocolate crisps sandwiched in-between, and the chocolate and vanilla flavours are by far the most popular in Hong Kong. Despite being out of circulation for years, the beloved ice cream cake has made a return in numerous supermarkets and convenience stores in the city, bringing us waves of chill in the warmth of summer.
It goes without saying that Mister Softee is the most iconic summer symbol in Hong Kong. A distant ring of The Blue Danube alone is enough to bring a light breeze to hot days. Their fluffy soft-serve ice cream is a staple in Hong Kong summer, and other favourites include the “lotus cups” (蓮花杯)—ice cream cups with a lotus logo on top—nutty drumsticks, and jumbo orange. Though dwindling in number, Mister Softee can still be found parked at popular tourist spot—just follow the jingling trail of The Blue Danube!
The start of a new school year marks the end of summer, but our hearts often still linger on the sizzling sand of the beach. Then comes Mid-Autumn Festival, waking us up to the autumn season. What better way is there to celebrate this seasonal transition with one last iced treat—the snow skin mooncake?
Wrapped in a chewy, glutinous dough, the snow skin mooncake is a trendy take on the traditional mooncake, retaining the signature shape while encapsulating iced fillings of various flavours, from the original green bean paste to blueberry, matcha, and even cubilose. The snow skin mooncake is the perfect treat to share with your family and to send off the last bit of summer heat.