From Malaysian Ais Kacang to Louisiana Sno-Balls, a Global Primer on Locally Shaved Ice
New Orleans Sno-ball
In NOLA, recipes for sno-ball syrups are closely guarded. That’s because the housemade concoctions are what differentiate one sno-ball maker from the next. Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls owner Neesa Peterson, a New Orleans native, toys with tribute flavors, including king cake and chicory coffee cream, but also delivers the classics (wild strawberry, cherry). Her ice (pictured), shaved from a SnoWizard machine, is almost as light as the Chinese-food takeout box she serves it in. From $5; follow @imperialsno for locations.
The name means “mix-mix” in Tagalog; accordingly, the hodgepodge of toppings include jackfruit, sweet potato, and jellylike bricks of nata de coco. At Pig and Khao, the halo-halo’s heap of crumbly ice is showered with pinipig (crisped rice) and cubes of leche flan and plantain; drizzled with condensed milk; and, in one glorious last touch, crowned with a petite scoop of smoky-sweet ube ice cream, held in place by macapuno (slivers of sweetened coconut meat). $8; 68 Clinton St., nr. Rivington St.; 212-920-4485.
Malaysian Ais Kacang
This snowy snack, similar to Taiwan’s baobing, is frequently found on the streets of Malaysia and Singapore. At Nyonya in Chinatown, the mixed ice is authentically stirred with red-rose syrup; added are slippery grass jelly, palm seeds, sweet corn, red beans, and jelly candies. Should you take one to go, it will come in a cup—turn it upside down in a bowl and let the floral syrup seep into the ice and blend with the toppings. $3.75; 199 Grand St., nr. Mott St.; 212-334-3669.
The heaviest of all the ices, this Colombian street snack eats like a meal. At El Palacio de los Cholados in Jackson Heights, the dessert is layered in a tall cup, with crunchy, juice-infused ice on the bottom (typically passion fruit or mora, a Colombian blackberry) and hunks of banana, pineapple, and strawberry on top. Shredded coconut, a dousing of sweetened condensed milk, and a single Maraschino cherry tie it all together. $6; 83-18 Northern Blvd., Jackson Heights; 917-436-5649.
The best iterations use powdery ice, though it’s not uncommon to find rockier blends. It’s the multitude of toppings, however, that really sets this ice apart. At Excellent Pork Chop House in Chinatown, a Styrofoam bowl of crunchy shavings are flavored by a syrup redolent of brown sugar and decked with your choice of sweet beans, grass jelly, cut fruit, taro, tapioca, and corn. $3.50 for three toppings; 3 Doyers St., nr. Bowery; 212-791-7007.
The most minimalist of the lot, this fluffy ice is usually squirted with flavored syrup and then topped with adzuki beans. At ChikaLicious Dessert Club, co-owners Chika and Don Tillman offer multiple flavors, but homemade green-tea syrup with adzukis is the most popular. One deviation from authenticity: Within the mound of feathery shaved ice lurks rich, creamy vanilla-bean soft serve. Eat it quickly, or wait for it to puddle to the consistency of wet frosting. $7.95; 204 E. 10th St., nr. Second Ave.; 212-475-0929.
Hawaiian Shave Ice
New York may have its pizza debates, but in Hawaii, locals stump for the best syrup-drenched “shave ice”—note the dropped d, or you’ll sound like a tourist. Step up to the window at Brooklyn’s Eton for an eight-inch-tall heap of shavings—not quite fleecy yet still incredibly soft. They’ll splash it with syrup (litchi, guava, and, soon, salted dried plum), then dish out toppings. Skip the mochi in favor of condensed milk, which lends a creamy-sweet finish. From $3.50; 359 Sackett St., nr. Smith St., Cobble Hill; 718-222-2999.
New York Shave Ice
While street carts have been shilling Mexican raspados and Italian ices (not actually shaved ice) for decades, the most progressive local ices come from People’s Pops. The company hand-scrapes its ice with a Microplane, squeezes seasonal syrups like rhubarb-lemongrass and red plum-tarragon over the fresh-cut floe, and then serves it with a wooden ballpark spoon. Savor the first few bites, and down the melty rest like a palate-cleansing shot. $2.50; see peoplespops.com for locations.
*This article originally appeared in the June 3, 2013 issue of New York Magazine.