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.