Header image courtesy of @sharishari_hk (via Instagram)
While we’re all out enjoying sunny days and fine weather, there is no question that the summer heat can be unbearable at times. If you’re looking for the ultimate cooldown, a refreshing bowl of shaved ice dessert is your best bet. But did you know that there are actually various types of this sweet dessert to be found around Asia? We break them down below, including where you can get them in Hong Kong to quench your thirst this summer.
You might have come across this trendy shaved ice dessert making the rounds on social media, thanks to its Instagrammable appearance. Depending on the flavour, bingsu (빙수) includes a variety of sweet toppings, such as chopped fruit and condensed milk. This shaved ice dessert has a history that traces back to the Joseon dynasty (1392–1897) with government records indicating that officials shared shaved ice with fruit toppings!
Japan’s kakigori (かき氷) is similar to its Korean counterpart in that it is flavoured with syrup and a sweetener, but it has lesser toppings and, sometimes, even none at all. Kakigori is often sold during a matsuri (祭; festival) but can also be found in convenience stores and restaurants. The dessert’s origins date back to the Heian period when shaved ice with syrup was served to the Japanese aristocracy during the summertime.
For the best Japanese shaved ice, head over to Shari Shari Kakigori House.
When you think of desserts from the Philippines, halo-halo reigns supreme. Tagalog for “mixed,” halo-halo is perhaps the most colourful among the different shaved ice desserts. In addition to crushed ice and evaporated or condensed milk, the dessert is made up of ube (yam), coconut stripes, sago, slices of different fruits, agar, garbanzo beans, and more. Sometimes, it’s topped with a scoop of ice cream. Compared to other Asian equivalents, the ingredients are mostly under the ice, so it is best to mix to get the best of everything.
Baobing (刨冰), also known as tubing (礤冰) in Taiwanese Hokkien, is popular in Taiwan. It is similar to the Korean and Japanese versions where the toppings are piled high. Fruits such as mango, lychee, and coconut are used as garnishes. Over time, different flavours started popping up, and a new variation called xuehua bing (雪花冰) is gaining traction, in which the ice is made of milk instead of water!
Similar to its Southeast Asian counterpart, namkhaeng sai (น้ำแข็งไส) or wan yen (หวานเย็น) also has its ingredients placed at the bottom instead of the top. There are 20 to 30 different kinds of mixings that can be used for this dish, but the most common ones are coconut, sticky rice, sweetened taro, and red beans. This Thai dessert is often sold on the streets as it is the perfect cool-down treat during the summer.
To satisfy your sweet tooth, visit ChaTraMue’s flagship store in Causeway Bay for both its sweet Thai milk tea and namkhaeng sai.
This shaved ice dessert from Malaysia translates to “bean ice” and is also known as ABC (air batu campur; “mixed ice”). Originally made of only shaved ice and red beans, ais kacang has transformed over the years and now comes with a number of ingredients in bright colours. A classic presentation of the dessert contains palm seed, red beans, grass jelly, agar, and roasted peanuts. Sometimes, ice cream and aloe vera are added.
Hong Kong’s version of the shaved ice dessert—bing sha (冰沙)—isn’t any different from the others on this list. But what makes it unique is that you will often find it in the few remaining bing sutt (冰室) in the city. Translated as “ice room,” the bing sutt is considered the predecessor of the cha chaan teng (茶餐廳; Hong Kong-style cafés). In its heyday in the 1950s, the cold drinking house featured tiled floors, hanging fans, and folding chairs.
We recommend visiting Cheung Chau Bing Sutt for your bing sha experience for an added laidback, home-style feel away from the hustle and bustle of the city.