So what’s the difference between all these shaved ice desserts that seem so popular across Asia? It seems many countries have their own version of it, but in principle they all look the same as the rest of them.
Baobing (剉冰) is a popular shaved ice dessert in mainland China, especially during the scorching summer months. It is available with a variety of toppings, but most common seem to be fresh mango (when in season). What sets Baobing apart from many others I’ve tried in different countries is the fine quality of the ice – it resembles fluffy snow that just beckons you to make a decoration out of it! Atop the shaved ice, choose from toppings like strawberries, mung beans, grass jelly, or even a scoop of ice cream!
Opinion: I’m not sure if too many people eat baobing in China, as they seem to prefer the likes of Tangyuan or Dou Hua. Yet Chinese people are missing out, as baobing can look as good as it tastes, with the texture of shaved ice being a work of art in itself! 8/10
Xue Hua Bing (雪花冰) is a variation from Taiwan and is commonly referred to as “Taiwanese Snow Ice”. Although visually quite similar, rather than flaky bits of ice like the Baobing, the base of Xue Hua Bing is typically layered-sheets of frozen condensed milk. Consistency is achieved through the milky base and a special machine that shaves the ice. Some might say the result is among the best-looking of all shaved ice desserts! Xue Hua Bing is a major treat in Taiwan’s night markets, and as well as fresh cream and chocolate sprinkles, I’ve even seen a few places offering corn topping – you can practically find corn on anything in Taiwan!
Opinion: It’s a matter of taste, but I actually prefer the flakier stuff of baobing rather than the more defined “ice sheets” of xue hua bing. However, unlike in China, the Taiwanese shaved ice dessert is eaten voraciously, and this makes it not only easier to pick up on the streets, but also more of an experience to eat it, as you feel as though you are fitting in with the locals. 7.5/10
Kakigōri (かき氷) is a shaved ice dessert from Japan that is usually flavoured with syrup and condensed milk. To sweeten kakigōri, condensed or evaporated milk is often poured on top of it. It is similar to a snow cone, but with some notable differences: it has a much smoother fluffier ice consistency, much like fresh fallen snow, and a spoon is almost always used to eat it. The traditional way of making kakigōri uses a hand cranked machine to spin a block of ice over an ice shaving blade. Popular flavours include strawberry cheesecake, lemon, matcha green tea, and “Blue Hawaii”!
Opinion: For me, Kakigori can be somewhat hit and miss. I once had an amazing strawberry cheesecake Kakigori in Thailand, but other ones I have tried were a little soggy and collapsed as soon as my spoon went in. Still, I would always want a Kakigori if I go back to Japan! 8.5/10
Patbingsu (팥빙수) is the Korean version of the shaved ice dessert. The earliest forms of patbingsu consisted of shaved ice and two or three ingredients, including red bean paste, tteok, and ground nut powder. In fact, the combination of red bean paste and shaved ice is known to be a Korean invention, and nowadays Koreans are very proud of their national dessert – it is eaten everywhere! Popular ingredients of patbingsu include fruit cocktail, whipped cream, ice cream, green tea powder, and maraschino cherries, although many patbingsu nowadays do not include the famous red bean paste, which must be due to the changing taste of the consumer.
Opinion: I have always been impressed with the history and tradition that surrounds patbingsu. While I am not too keen on the red bean taste, I still love everything else about it and for me, a Korean meal wouldn’t be a Korean meal unless I had a patbingsu for afters! 9/10
Ais Kacang, meaning “ice beans”, is a Malaysian dessert (also common in Singapore). Traditionally, an ice shaving machine is used to churn out the shaved ice used in the dessert. Many coffee shops, hawker centres, and food courts offer this dessert, and it generally comes in bright colours, and almost always contain a large serving of attap chee (palm seed), red beans, grass jelly, and cubes of agar agar, while other less-common ingredients include durian, cendol, or nata de coco. A final topping of coconut milk is drizzled over the mountain of ice along with red rose syrup (mainly for taste purposes, rather than for visual style).
Opinion: It seems Malaysians don’t care much about what their shaved ice looks like, they just focus on the ingredients – and who can blame them! It also seems that in Malaysia, ais kacang is considered a simple dessert and not something to be celebrated like patbingsu. 6/10
Halo-Halo is the Filipino shaved ice variant which contains nearly as much evaporated milk as shaved ice, to which various boiled sweet beans, jelly, jackfruit, crushed rice, and even cheese are added. In the Philippines, Halo-Halo (which means “mixed together” in Tagalog) is typically served in a tall glass or bowl. Most of these ingredients are first placed inside the tall glass, followed by the shaved ice. This is then sprinkled with sugar, and topped with leche flan, purple yam, and/or ice cream – at which point you can say “hello” to your Halo-Halo!
Opinion: I think Halo-Halo is the craziest inclusion on this list. In true Filipino style, they just chuck the kitchen sink at this dessert and see what it ends up looking like at the end! The inclusion of jelly is a nice touch, but I am not sure about the cheese… 7.5/10