On a blazing hot day, nothing hits the spot quite like a bowl of finely soft shaved ice generously covered in syrup with a hint of refreshing Sarsi flavor and garnished with an assortment of toppings in the hot afternoon.
Yes, the quintessential Malaysian dessert to cool parched throats and sweeten the day is ais kacang which literally means ice and beans. Ice Kacang is a colourful ice dessert that pleases both the old and young.
As its name suggests, the sweet, cold concoction must have these two main ingredients — ice and cooked, sweetened red beans. Otherwise, it is not ais kacang.
It is a common dessert found at roadside stalls, hawker centres and restaurants throughout the country but in Penang, it has its very own signature.
The traditional Penang ais kacang is made up of a snowy ball of finely shaved ice placed in a bowl over which is poured rose syrup (a sweet red syrup) and evaporated milk and comes with the toppings that are a must in any Penang ais kacang: cooked red beans, creamed corn and attap chee (nipah palm seeds or nypa fruticans).
These are usually spooned in dollops over the syrupy ice with the attap chee taking centre stage and the whole colourful concoction is then served.
To enjoy the cool icy sweetness of the dessert, it is important to dig right in and mix it all together so that the condiments and toppings are all evenly mixed into the ice to give it a unique mix of tastes.
The creamed corn gives the mostly sweet mixture a savoury flavour while the evaporated milk adds a tad of richness to it all.
This is why the ais kacang is also called the ABC — Ais Batu Campur (mixed shaved ice) denoting the mixture of ingredients and toppings.
As times goes, Penang ais kacang has evolved to follow the times as hawkers experiment with different ingredients and toppings.
Some stalls use condensed milk in place of the evaporated milk while some add other syrups such as Sarsi-flavoured and gula Melaka (palm sugar) syrups.
As for toppings, we can now find multi-coloured jelly cubes, grass jelly cubes, roasted peanuts and dried nutmeg slivers.
Some stalls offer the option for customers to add an assortment of sliced fruits from jackfruit to mangoes and naturally, a scoop or two of vanilla ice-cream or their homemade durian ice-cream.
The balmy weather in Malaysia makes it a perfect time to have an ais kacang any day of the year, so if you come across an ais kacang stall, try it out for a sweet cool treat. A meal is also always great complete with a bowl of local sweet treats.
Here are few places in George Town where you can find good ais kacang, either served the traditional way or with modern modifications:
Kek Seng Coffee Shop @ Penang Road (9am-5pm)
Astaka Selera Stadium @ Jalan Perak (6pm-11pm)
Penang Road Famous Ais Kacang stall @ Lebuh Keng Kwee (11am-7pm)
Swatow Lane ais kacang @ New World Park food, Burmah Road (11am-6pm)
Kedai Kopi dan Ice Kacang @ Lorong Selamat (11am-6pm)