In Singapore, it isn’t ice cream that helps locals get through the sweltering heat, it’s refreshing Ice Kachang—A mountain of shaved ice in myriad of red-green-yellow hues and unlike anything you’ve eaten before. Trying it for the time is a bit of a leap of faith, mostly because Ice Kachang is nothing like your typical dessert. First there’s the toppings—soft-cooked red beans, creamed corn, attap chee (palm seeds), cendol (green rice-flour ‘worms’), and grass jelly—a list so unexpected in a dessert that suspicion is the most natural reaction. Then there’s the textures — the sting of shaved ice, the chewiness of palm seeds, the powdery-creaminess of beans and the springy-bite of cendol. It isn’t until you taste Ice Kachang’s mosaic of flavors, that you begin to understand why this dessert captures the imagination of anyone who tastes it.
Widely accepted to be of Malaysian origin, Ice Kachang, isn’t particularly unique in its construct. Hawaiian Shave-Ice, Korea’s Patbingsoo or Philippine’s Halo-Halo also layer shaved ice with all manners of toppings and syrups. But that’s because they’re all descended from Kakigori—the Japanese term for sweetened shaved ice—which, the “Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets” suggests, spread along Japanese emigration patterns to much of Southeast Asia. Regardless, Singapore’s rendition of shaved ice is very much its own.
The old school traditional version is simply topped with soft-cooked red adzuki beans with lashings of dark brown, syrupy gula melaka (palm sugar)—more smokey than saccharine sweet—and several swirls of sugary evaporated milk. Sometimes, there’s red rose syrup to take the sweetness up a notch or green syrup, made from Asian-Vanilla Pandan, to add an herby brightness. But Singapore’s street hawkers are an imaginative lot, and over the years, Ice Kachang toppings have only grown more varied and wondrous, from fresh fruits like Durian and mango, to unlikely additions like peanuts and sago pearls. All the more better to choose your own adventure.
Check out our intrepid guide to all things Ice Kachang with Marissa, our resident foodie, as she takes you to her favorite hawker stall for the best version of this cooling blast of sugar!
MAKAN MAKAN FACE OFF is a new video series in which we celebrate & feature local hawker food! (or other cool food places, really)