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What's the history of Ais Kacang...


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While everyone is thinking Malaysian food, I can ask this. I'm curious not just about Ais Kacang, but the whole range of shaved ice desserts that seems to extend through SE Asia upto Japan. Has there been a thread on this on eGullet already? Does anyone have any idea where they originate and from when?

Because surely they can't be that old, since how old is ice production in these areas? OK, maybe ice is not a problem in Japan (though did Japan have a tradition of storing ice for use in summers?), but what about the more tropical parts of the Far East? Was there a tradition of making ice from that water and saltpetre mixture that I think is Arab in origin? (Irritatingly, the one Elizabeth David book I don't have is her last one on ice, so can't cross check the facts).

Or does the use of ice go back to the American lead ice business of the nineteenth century. I checked Gavin Weightman's The Frozen Water Trade which has a lot about the trade between the US and India, but nothing about Malaysia apart from mentioning that the ships would stop en route to Calcutta and sell ice in Singapore as well. So that's one possible source - could this be the origin of shaved ice desserts?

Leaving the ice part out, do these desserts link up to a taste for mixed textures that you see in desserts like the Indian falooda (though I think that's of Persian origin)? If falooda is the link, did that spread with Arab trade? I don't think there's anything quite like Ais Kacang in the Arab world though (to be honest I don't think there's anything quite like Ais Kacang anywhere else - its truly a weird dessert), so where does the inspiration behind it come from?

Vikram

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I am no culinary historian but can only tell you that Ais Kacang was available when my Mom was a little kid - that would be in the 40s. In homes, however, the refrigerator isn't a common appliance until much later. I still remember when my Grandma bought her first fridge, there was much excitement in the 'village' - that was in the late 60s. Even then, the fridge would be switched off if there was nothing to 'freeze' or 'cooled'. People were still going to the wet market every morning to get their daily supplies.

The Phillipines have a dessert called Halo-Halo that is similar to Ais Kacang.

Edited by kew (log)
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Kew, a refrigerator wasn't necessary for ais kacang. There were no refrigerators in Kg. Merchang when I lived there in the 70s, because electricity ran at night only. Every day, a truck (lorry) delivered big blocks of ice to the corner store in the then-center of town (across the street from the mosque) and I believe a couple of other places. The ice was kept in a big wooden bin. It was shaved for ais kacang and to go with cold drinks like Orange Squash. You can't imagine how refreshing Orange Squash with ice was on days in the hot season without air conditioning! (Or maybe you can!)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Kew, a refrigerator wasn't necessary for ais kacang.

Heh heh .... :biggrin: I should have put that refrigerator bit in a new paragraph.

Yes, the ice block that Ais Kacang sellers use are 'commercially' made.

I just wanted to share *when* the fridge became a common household appliance in Malaysia. :wink: And even then, very few make Ais Kacang at home. The Ais Kacang machine is bulky. The 'friendlier' versions for home use somehow do not produce a fine enough shaved ice for good Ais Kacang.

I also forgot to mention that my Mom says, in the 40s/early 50s a ball of Ais Kacang cost only 1/2sen. :biggrin: Also, rather than a bowl it was packed and formed into balls. It didn't have too many ingredients, just mainly the shaved ice packed into balls and loaded with syrup - maybe this was a predecessor to Ais Kacang?

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I also forgot to mention that my Mom says, in the 40s/early 50s a ball of Ais Kacang cost only 1/2sen.  :biggrin: Also, rather than a bowl it was packed and formed into balls. It  didn't have too many ingredients, just mainly the shaved ice packed into balls and loaded with syrup - maybe this was a predecessor to Ais Kacang?

Ice balls :raz:! There was a little stall that sold them at the back gate of my primary school. They didn't cost 1/2 sen though .... inflation had raised it to 10 sen by the time I went to school :biggrin:. It was a race against time to finish it in the hot afternoon sun ... it was all drippy with rose / sarsparilla syrup and evaporated milk and little bits would fall off if we didn't suck it fast enough and keep pressing it back into shape with our grubby hands.

It was the only stall that I've seen selling ice balls but it seems they used to be quite common when my mum was a child in the 30s and 40s. There were some that had a red bean or creamed corn filling. Think ice balls are may have been the cheaper version of ais kacang so that little kids could afford them.

There's also a Vietnamese che (dessert) that's very similar to ais kacang ... but with coconut milk instead of syrup and evaporated milk. They also serve them in tall glasses instead.

I'll try and ask mum and my aunts and see whether they remember where ice blocks came from when they were kids - but they'd know only as far back as the 20s and 30s.

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It was the only stall that I've seen selling ice balls but it seems they used to be quite common when my mum was a child in the 30s and 40s. There were some that had a red bean or creamed corn filling. Think ice balls are may have been the cheaper version of ais kacang so that little kids could afford them.

Shiewie! I've never had Ais Kacang balls. :sad: Never seen them even once.

So ... now we've pushed the Ais Kacang a further 10 years back to the 30s. We've got to get Maukitten to ask her older relatives to see what they remember.

Not too far from my Grandma's house was an 'ice factory' ... and since I was the only grandchild living with them, it was always my duty to go buy the ice blocks. Can't exactly remember how much they cost .... I think it was 20sen per block ... each block was about 24" X12"X6" and covered with sawdust. Of course, I'd buy only a quarter block as that was the biggest I could carry. :smile:

And this place also sells yummy 'ais krim batang' - red bean and sweet corn.

Edited by kew (log)
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I just saw a pic of ais kacang and it looks a lot like patbingsu (Korean shaved ice) which in turn is related to the Chinese bing. But what does it mean?

Edited by jschyun (log)

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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'Ais Kacang' literally translates to Nut Ice. It's also known as 'Air Batu Campur' (known as ABC for short) or "Chap Shuet" (Cantonese) which translates to Mixed Ice.

Ais Kacang is basically some boiled sweetened red / kidney beans, creamed corn, cendol (short green noodles made from green bean flour), palm fruit, grass jelly, cubes of agar-agar (and sometimes peanuts) covered with shaved iced and doused with a sugar syrup that's been coloured pink, palm sugar syrup and evaporated mlik.

Edited by Shiewie (log)
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The Phillipines have a dessert called Halo-Halo that is similar to Ais Kacang.

Absolutely. All this talk about Ais Kacang makes me wish I had a tall parfait glass of Halo-Halo sitting in front of me right now. In Tagalog, the name literally means "mix-mix" for obvious reasons. Filipinos love it so much that there are vendors in mall food courts featuring various Halo-Halo flavour/ingredient combinations as the only menu items.

In search for a definitive Philippine recipe, I surfed the net a bit and came up with the following link for anyone who's interested: Everything You've Ever Wanted To Know About Halo Halo And Then Some. To summarize, a typical fruit mixture can consist of jackfruit, young coconut meat, sweet kidney beans, sweet chick peas, sweet plantain, ube/purple yam, creme caramel/leche flan and sweet corn kernels. This is topped by shaved ice, evaporated milk or coconut milk, a scoop of ice cream and a sprinkling of pinipig (pounded roasted rice, almost like Rice Krispies).

Wish I could comment on the history of Halo-Halo, but the foregoing article does make some links between the dessert and Philippine culture. Try and overlook the 'cheese' factor when you read it. :rolleyes:

Joie Alvaro Kent

"I like rice. Rice is great if you're hungry and want 2,000 of something." ~ Mitch Hedberg

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The hawker must have a hell of a time handling the change :laugh:

Note: Did we care that in those days the hawkers handled the change and food with the same hands? :blink::shock::unsure:

TPcal!

Food Pix (plus others)

Please take pictures of all the food you get to try (and if you can, the food at the next tables)............................Dejah

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'Ais Kacang' literally translates to Nut Ice. It's also known as 'Air Batu Campur' (known as ABC for short) or "Chap Shuet" (Cantonese) which translates to Mixed Ice.

it doesn't translate to bean ice? where are the nuts?

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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'Ais Kacang' literally translates to Nut Ice. It's also known as 'Air Batu Campur' (known as ABC for short) or "Chap Shuet" (Cantonese) which translates to Mixed Ice.

it doesn't translate to bean ice? where are the nuts?

Kacang is used to mean both bean and nut in the Malay language, with the appropriately paired descriptor/qualifier. For example, red bean="kacang merah", peanut="kacang tanah".

Curiously enough, in Chinese, generally speaking, the same word, "dou", is also used, with the approrpiate qualifier, to mean a variety of nuts and beans.

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But wongste, peanuts are a type of bean. I don't know of anything that isn't a bean being called "kacang," do you?

By the way, since "other shaved ice desserts" are referenced in this thread, what about Sago Gula Melaka? I like that! How far back does that go? I didn't have it in the 70s, for whatever that's worth.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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The hawker must have a hell of a time handling the change  :laugh:

Note: Did we care that in those days the hawkers handled the change and food with the same hands? :blink::shock::unsure:

:biggrin: And in those days the 1/2 sen was a 'note' not a coin. :wink:

My grandfather had quite an extensive collection of old notes and coins - BUT it was stolen when my Mom's house was burglared. :sad: I bet that collection would be quite valuable today.

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But wongste, peanuts are a type of bean. I don't know of anything that isn't a bean being called "kacang," do you?

By the way, since "other shaved ice desserts" are referenced in this thread, what about Sago Gula Melaka? I like that! How far back does that go? I didn't have it in the 70s, for whatever that's worth.

What about Kacang Hazel for hazelnut? I haven't come across a Malay name for hazelnut other than being referred to as that.

Almond is Badam. Chestnut is Buah Berangan.

And peas? Are they nuts or beans? Kacang Pis.

Lentil is Kacang Dhal.

What else? :smile:

Sago Gula Melaka is actually an Indonesian dessert. This is so easy to make and very yummy. I'm trying to remember if this was around when I was a kid .... :hmmm::unsure::unsure: But I do remember Abuk-abuk from when I was little .... hmph ... gotta ask my Mom.

Edited by kew (log)
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Guess ais kacang could mean bean ice or nut ice ... since there is both red beans and peanuts in ais kacang ...I don't like peanuts in mine though so I guess it should be Bean Ice in my case :biggrin:.

Asked mum what she remembers about ice blocks - same as what Pan and kew already said - commercially made ice blocks that's covered with saw dust and covered with wet gunny sacks to keep them cool. The graters they used back then were a long blade affixed on a wooden bench crosswise and the ais kacang / ice ball seller would slide the block ice up and down along the length of the wooden bench to shave the ice - it's still used today at some cendol stalls.

Would the introduction of ice into the region be tied to that of soda / aerated drinks ... since the thought of warm soda doesn't sound too appealing? Fraser & Neave started its factory bottling aerated drinks in 1893 so perhaps ice might've been introduced somewhat near that time :hmmm:.

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But wongste, peanuts are a type of bean. I don't know of anything that isn't a bean being called "kacang," do you?

Pan, you got me there. Apart from the "kacang hazel" example that kew gave, which I suspect might be a translation done more with expedience than accuracy in mind, every 'kacang' I know belongs in the same family that includes peanuts, peas and beans.

Would you be satisfied with kacang-kacang, a mangrove shrub? :wink:

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Actually, peanuts are not beans, they grow underground, while beans form aboveground. However, they are a legume, which is in the same family.

Nuts (pecans, almonds, etc) are totally different. They grow as the seed of certain trees.

I love cold Dinty Moore beef stew. It is like dog food! And I am like a dog.

--NeroW

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Actually, peanuts are not beans, they grow underground, while beans form aboveground. However, they are a legume, which is in the same family.

Nuts (pecans, almonds, etc) are totally different. They grow as the seed of certain trees.

Why not?

The botanical definition of a bean is : "any of various edible seeds of plants of the family Leguminosae"

And the definition of a nut is : Goddes of the Sky. Oops sorry I mean the botanical definition : " hard, dry fruit with an outer husk that sometimes does not split open readily and an inner shell that is papery to woody. "

I searched the Net (out of curiosity and confusion) and am unable to find anything that specifies if a Nut or Bean should grow underground or aboveground.

Therefore, I would say a peanut is a bean as well as a nut. :smile:

And how exactly is a peanut different from the pecans, almonds, etc ... since peanut is also a seed because you can grow a tree from it?

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I think of beans as seeds that grow in pods.

It was odd to me to find out that hazelnuts are called "kacang hazel" in Malay, and I did come across that appelation last summer. I would have thought "biji hazel" would make more sense, but who ever said that any language has to be fully consistent? English isn't, with "peanut." Incidentally, when did peanuts cease to be called "kacang Jawa" in Malay?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Although the word itself means "seed" it is usually used more as a numerical coefficient/classifier. Hence, Kaang Hazel sounds more appealing than Biji Hazel.

Anyway, I have referred to Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and they have : hazelnut = kacang Hazel, walnut = Walnut, pecan = kekacang Pekan.

Pekan though is a Malay word for a small town, although this pekan is pronounced somewhat differently.

:smile:

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Although the word itself means "seed" it is usually used more as a numerical coefficient/classifier. Hence, Kaang Hazel sounds more appealing than Biji Hazel.

So as to avoid the phrase "sebiji biji hazel." You pointed to buah berangan, too. I guess there really isn't any one word in Malay that is precisely equivalent to the English word "nut." And, for that matter, "nut" doesn't cover all non-legume seeds in English, either. Sorry for the off-topic tangent. :unsure:

Let's talk about other shaved ice desserts. What's the fundamental difference between cendol and ais kacang?

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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Let's talk about other shaved ice desserts. What's the fundamental difference between cendol and ais kacang?

Also Pan ..... Hazel could be a girl's name and 'biji' could mean something else altogether too but I'm not saying. :wink: (I can't believe I even insinuated that much! :raz::biggrin: )

How we handle the 'biji biji' thing .... here's an example. There's this red seed that's called 'biji saga'. Satu biji saga. Not satu biji biji saga.

Let's talk about other shaved ice desserts. What's the fundamental difference between cendol and ais kacang?

Hmph ... maybe it's easier the other way around - the fundamental similarites would be the shaved ice and palm sugar syrup.

Oh now you're making me want some good cendol. Mostly cendol now is prepared at home using commercially made cendol strips (?) ie just add coconut milk and palm sugar and some ice. Making the cendol can't be that hard though. I've never attempted it but my Grandma used to make them. (insert the roll-eyes smiley appropriately :biggrin: )

And ...... there is a myth involving cendols and how the 'mamak' cendol don't go 'basi' (bad) considering that it has coconut milk and sits under the hot sun the whole day. This is why I do not eat cendols from hawkers. LOL! :raz:

Edited by kew (log)
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