The Refreshing Ice Kacang

The Refreshing Ice Kacang

In Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, the combination of these two words is music to the ears of those who know the refreshing cooler sold in every little roadside stall, and in grand hotels as well. Sweetened dried beans, small dried fruits, strips of jelly and little droplets of starch in bright colors, preserved sugar palm fruit and seeds, chunks or long slivers of grass jelly are mixed with shaved ice, sugar syrup and sometimes evaporated milk. Nothing is quite as refreshing when the temperature and humidity are high.

In Philippines, there is a variation on the theme, known as halo-halo. This is served in tall glasses, layers of many colored beans and white macapuno coconut, pineapple jelly and coconut jelly (all these items may be purchased in jars) making a rich mixture with the shaved ice. On top is sprinkled pinipig (crisply popped rice grains) and one is give a long spoon to mix it all together, halo-halo literally means 'mix-mix'.

In the Pacific, roadside stalls sell what is simply a huge cone of crushed ice, drizzled with colored and fruit flavored syrups. No bits and pieces in this, just ice and syrup.

'Three bean drink', served in some Vietnamese restaurants, features a sweetened, yellow paste of cooked  mung beans, whole azuki beans, and fine shreds of clear agar-agar jelly covered with shaved ice, with a generous splash of coconut milk poured over. In Thailand, this refresher is called ruam mit, which translates as 'friendship' or 'get together' because of the many items to be found in it, including lotus seeds, sweetened tapioca root, sugar palm fruit and sweet potato. In addition, there are soaked basil seeds (affectionately called 'frog's eggs'), the tiny black seed in the center of a weird translucent coat that materializes out of nowhere on contact with water, and tasting of nothing at all; but they contribute a different texture plus the health benefits of their soft and slippery coats. Also offered is a translucent golden brown mass which turns out to be soaked fruit called poontalai, with no flavor but a spongy, jelly-like texture. The whole lot is surmounted with shaved or crushed ice, over which is poured coconut milk sweetened with palm sugar and with a pinch of salt added to heighten the flavor. Sago or tapioca pearls, vividly colored bits of jelly, and somber black shreds of grass jelly are also options.

Almost everything you need to create your own mix is sold in cans or jars at Asian stores. In addition, cooked mung beans, red beans, diced sweet potato or yam, and bananas cooked in syrup would not be out of place.

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