The first ice-cold dessert introduced (way back long ago) in Singapore was ice balls, finely grated ice packed into a ball and topped with a type of coloured sugar coated syrup, typically eaten by using just the fingers or hands. The ice ball was a common sight in the 1950s and 1960s and was sold by the roadside and street corners, usually by pushcart drink vendors wanting to supplement their (meagre) income.
The ice kachang is a thus modern, more elaborate update of the ice ball--comprising jelly, red beans (hence the name; kachang means beans in Malay), sweet corn and attap chee (palm seeds) as its base, and topped off with a mound of shaved ice, psychedelically coloured syrups and condensed milk; and it’s served in either a bowl or a tall glass. Today, ice kachang even comes with fruit cocktail, aloe vera jelly and novelty toppings such as chocolate and durian to satisfy the selective palate of the savvy Singaporean crowd. This fun (if served in a bowl, it usually comes mound-shaped, and all these lovely ingredients are tucked under the ice shavings; so there’s quite a bit of fun to be had by digging your way to the “goodies”) and colourful dessert can be had at food centres all across the city such as the popular Maxwell Road Hawker Centre in Chinatown.
Remember to savour this lovely dessert dish slowly, or else: Brain Freeze! It’s sometimes hard for the new visitor to Singapore to suss out the good from the bad ice kachangs out there. But bear this in mind: A good ice kachang is one where the ice is cleanly shaven to very small bits; so much so that when you put a spoonful in your mouth, the ice should just melt in your mouth together with the sweet tasting syrup. As for ingredients, the more varied the better; nothing like biting in multiple textures every time you take a mouthful.