Sugar Rush

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Coco's Malaysian Shaved Ice Nails it All (Except the Ice)

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[Photograph: Max Falkowitz]

When I was eating my way through Singapore, a frosty bowl of shaved ice was a daily—if not twice or thrice daily—reprieve from the heat. In New York there's no tropical heat for an excuse, but the craving remains, and Coco, a Thai and Malaysian restaurant in Elmhurst, aims to satisfy it.

Their Rainbow Ice ($3.95) is a take on the ubiquitous Malaysian ABC, short for air batu campur ("mixed water ice), also known as ais kacang. In it, finely shaved ice gets topped with several brightly colored, artificial-tasting-but-oh-so-delicious syrups and all manner of chunkies from tapioca pearls and agar cubes to canned corn. The texture of Coco's shaved ice is brutally coarse—much more like an American snow cone—but it nails the proper flavor, which is more than you can say for plenty other ABCs in the city.

In addition to tender tapioca pearls and sqiggly agar cubes, the rainbow ice comes with crunchy peanuts and salty canned corn. Noticeably lacking are the attap chee, chewy sweet palm seeds, but the interplay of icy crunch, wobbly jellies, and other mix-ins keeps every bite an interesting one. The ice is thankfully not too sweet—syrup is applied with a light hand—which makes this a dessert to refresh, not put you to sleep.

About the author: Max Falkowitz is the New York editor and ice cream maker in residence at Serious Eats. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

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