Snapshots from Asia: Ice Kacang

20070719icekacang02.jpgWhen the weather’s sweltering and you’ve got beads—no, rivulets—of perspiration trickling down your limbs and the sun dazzles so you could almost swear the air is shimmering, most people lose their appetite for "real food." They slurp ice pops, dive into bowls of ice cream, down milk shakes, attend fro-yo socials, stick their heads in refrigerators when the environmental police are not looking, and plot escapes to air-conditioned havens.

Here in Southeast Asia, where the weather’s like that, oh, pretty much all the time, and where women are commonly seen drawing lines through their food before digging in (dieters generally eat half a portion of what’s already half to a third of an average American serving), such calorie bombs are a no-no, but dessert still comes first ;)

Enter the ice kacang and its family of shaved ice-based desserts. Literally translated to "ice bean," you get a good serving of vegetables via the boiled, sweet, red adzuki beans; creamed corn; and cloudy, deliciously chewy attap chee, or palm seeds, that adorn this little mountain of ice. Green cubes of agar-agar (a firm, vegan jelly made from seaweed) and sometimes even jiggly black cubes of grass-jelly (made from an infusion of the Mesona chinensis, an herb in the mint family) provide a pleasing textural contrast to the crunch of the ice. This humble bowl of “horse food” is then drizzled with rainbow-hued sugar syrups, and a smidgin of evaporated milk, elevating it to something even avowed carnivores would hunker down contentedly over.

Photograph by Shimin Wong