Singapore Stories: Ice Kachang, Malaysian Shaved Ice with Beans, Jelly, and More

A sno-cone gone beserk Yvonne Ruperti
Maxwell Food Center satisfies yet again.

Every year I begged and pleaded to get a Snoopy Sno-Cone machine, the totally awesome toy from the 1980s that churned out shaved ice into a cup that you'd then saturate with neon colored syrups. It never arrived.

But after years of pining, I'm finally able to indulge in my childhood fantasy here in Singapore with a much more wickedly refreshing and out of control dessert known as Ice Kachang.

Spooning in gula melaka syrup and grass jelly into the bottom of the empty bowl.
The mound of shaved ice is now ready for a good soak.

Ais kacang, or "iced beans," is a thirst-quenching concoction from Malaysia made of shaved ice, red beans, jelly (usually grass jelly or agar agar), and sweet syrup. Popular toppings include sweet corn, peanuts (known as peanut kachang), evaporated or condensed milk, mango, durian, ice cream, gula melaka syrup, basil seeds, and cendol. This wacky dessert is served up in malls, food centers, and hawker stands. The locals often refer to it simply as ABC, the acronym for ais batu campur, which means "mixed shaved ice." Originally blocks of ice were shaved with hand cranked machines (not too fun in this heat), but nowadays it's all done by machine.

An ice kachang vendor in Melaka, Malaysia.
The platter of ice kachang toppings at a cooking class on Pulau Ubin.
Putting some elbow grease into shaving our own ice during a cooking class on Pulau Ubin.

The basic ice kachang that I ordered at Maxwell Food Center came with three neon colored syrups: a bright pink rose water, green pandan, and an electric yellow syrup that I'm pretty sure was sweet corn (or banana?). And no, full grown men have no problem at all being seen with a giant mound of technicolor ice in front of them. Grass jelly and gula melaka syrup were a hidden prize at the bottom of my dessert, and the bits of red beans and corn added texture to the frozen fluffy dessert, which was feathery light and not as sugary sweet as I expected. And did I mention that it was only about $1.40 USD? Next time I'll try the peanut ice kachang or keep it simple with just gula melaka syrup and sweetened milk.

Eat it quickly before the Singapore heat does.

In the hot and sticky Singapore heat, a bowl of ice kachang will hydrate and cool you down fast. Just don't take too long to eat it or you'll end up with a muddled puddle in the bowl.