Kakigouri, shave ice, snow cones, chuski, and piragua: shaved ice around the world
The world loves shaved ice
As proven by its wide variety of forms--kakigouri, shave ice, halo-halo, piragua, raspas, and more--shaved ice is a global favorite.
Shaved ice, a cool history
Flavored ice is a dessert that's been around since the dawn of civilization. In ancient Rome circa 27 B.C., then-emperor Nero had his slaves gather snow from local mountaintops. When drizzled with honey and fruits, the snow became a dessert that resembles today's shaved ice.
Japan had a similar idea circa the Heian period. Wealthy imperialists living near mountains would send their servants to collect snow to flavor with fruits and red beans. As Japanese people immigrated to Hawaii, the method of collecting and flavoring snow also entered Hawaiian culture, and today's Hawaiian shave ice resembles the shaved ice of modern Japan.
Shaved ice in the U.S. and Canada
Shaved ice is popular all over the world, but the form and flavor varies greatly by region. Some places prefer crunchy ice, while others prefer fluffier, snow-like ice. While most regions top their shaved ice with fruit or fruit syrups, others add such ingredients as cream, condensed milk, red beans, rice cake, and chili powder. The finer the ice is shaved, the more the flavors can soak into the ice rather than sink to the bottom of the container.
In the mainland U.S. and in Canada, shaved ice is known as snowballs and snow cones (also spelled “sno-cones”). Ice can be granular or smooth, with snow cones usually being crunchier than snowballs. Popular flavors in the U.S. include blue raspberry, lemon-lime, strawberry, watermelon, and orange. Some snow cone stands serve blended flavors such as wedding cake, which is creamy and luscious, and tiger's blood, which is flavored with berries and coconut.
Due to Japanese influences, Hawaiian shaved ice (known as “shave ice”) is similar to shaved ice in Japan. Shave ice is often topped with sweetened condensed milk and red beans. In Oahu, a dollop of cream is called a “snow cap.” Sometimes ice cream is scooped into the bottom of the bowl, with the creamy ice cream contrasting the granular ice. Many American vendors pay homage to Hawaiian shave ice in their business names and flavorings. Hawaiian flavorings are more tropical in nature, with pineapple, coconut, passion fruit, mango, and kiwi being popular flavors.
Piraguas, raspas, and other Central and South American shaved ices
Shaved ice in Central and South American is similar to that of North America and, by way of influence, Japan. An unusual shaved ice variant in Chile is known as mermelada con hielo, or ice jam. Instead of being flavored with syrup, the shaved ice is flavored with fruit jam.
In Cuba, shaved ice is known as granizados, a word deriving from the Spanish word for hailstones. Anise is a traditional Cuban flavoring. Star anise syrup is also popular in Puerto Rico, where shaved ice is known as piragua and is served from pushcarts during the summer. Mexican shaved ice, called raspa or raspado, is flavored with cinnamon-infused leche, chili powder-lemon, chamoy, guanabana, and pistachio.
Asian shaved ice, beans and all
Shaved ice is wildly popular in Asia. Unlike in the West, Eastern countries like to vary the textures of their shaved ice by adding red beans, canned fruit, jellies, jam, cakes, and condensed milk.
Malaysia offers a varietal shaved ice known as ice kacang. In China, shaved ice is known as bàobīng. Both China and Taiwan tend to serve finer shaved ice. Some vendors freeze milk and use the milky ice as a base to provide a finer texture. Brown sugar syrup is sometimes used a sweetener. Some vendors will even top shaved ice with seafood!
Both Japanese kakigouri and Korean patbingsu are ubiquitous in the summer months. They resemble Hawaiian shave ice, with flavored syrups and condensed milk and red beans being the usual toppings. In Korea, some vendors add tteok, chewy cakes made from glutinous rice flour, on top of their shaved ice. Popular Japanese flavors include sweet plum, berry, Blue Hawaii, and green tea. Before World War II, kakigouri was served in special glassware known as kourikoppu.
Cendol, popular in Southeast Asia, is made from shaved ice, rice flour “jelly noodles,” coconut milk, and palm sugar. Other ingredients such as red beans, creamed corn, and grass jelly may be added. In the Philippines, shaved ice is topped with all manner of ingredients: fruits such as jackfruit and plantains; kidney and garbanzo beans; nata de coco, a chewy, gelatinous foodstuff made from fermented coconut water, cheese, and sweet potato. This wild mix is known as halo-halo, Filipino for “mix-mix.” Thai shaved ice sometimes includes chestnuts.
In Pakistan, shaved ice is known as gola ganda. The ice is oftentimes shaped into a mold and eaten on a stick. Flavors include fruits such as berry and mango, rosewater, and mint. In India, chuski is the local favorite. Served on a stick, this frozen treat is made of shaved ice mixed with similar flavors to that of the gola ganda. Other spices such as cardamom may be used. One syrup that's popular in Mumbai, among other places, is kala khatta. Kala khatta is made with black salt--to replenish electrolytes lost by sweating in India's punishing heat--fruit, and a pinch of pepper.
A YouTuber documents the making of gola ganda
A brief look at European shaved ice
Although Western Europe is rife with ice cream and gelato shops, shaved ice is not as popular. Most shaved ice seems to be similar to that of Japan or Taiwan. Italy serves a dessert known as granita. It is made from flavored water that is scraped or prepared in a gelato machine. Italian ice, a similar dessert is made from frozen fruit juices. The flavor is infused into the ice rather than poured atop ice made from water.
How to find shaved ice, no matter where you are
For local vendors, Googling “shaved ice” and your city's name might be of help. Depending on your locality, you might need to the change the name of the dessert. As you might have realized, shaved ice is quite different depending on where you are! Food truck locator Roaming Hunger can help you find mobile shaved ice vendors if you live in one of the bigger U.S. cities.
When the weather gets hot, shaved ice stands and kiosks will often open for business. If you live in a tourist or beachside town, you're more likely to have vendors selling shaved ice. Beachfront areas often have vendors set up alongside public beaches or along the boardwalk.
If there is a Chinatown or similar nearby, you may be able to find Asian-inspired shaved ice. Likewise, areas with a local Central or South American population will have vendors selling shaved ice from their home countries. Piraguas carts, being mobile, often appear in Miami, Texas, and even in New York. Even Latin heritage or international festivals can see an appearance of Puerto Rican vendors.
Shaved ice can be difficult to find when the weather turns cold. If you're desperate for a shaved ice fix, it might be best to find a way to make some shaved ice at home.
The future of shaved ice
With advances in freezing techniques via molecular gastronomy--like the anti-griddle or flash freezing via liquid nitrogen--shaved ice will likely see advances over the years. In addition, increasing globalization will likely lead to fusion flavors that are unlike what exists today.
Anise-red bean? Tiger's blood topped with creamed corn? Savory shaved ice? Who knows what will happen. The only guarantee is that it will probably be delicious.