There’s no summer treat more international than shaved ice. From Asia to the Americas, nearly every country with a hot season has a variation on fluffy frozen flakes with syrup, each distinct in its flavors, toppings, and texture. In New York, the full range of treats is within a subway ride; which one you go for depends on what you like.
American shaved ice is arguably the simplest. Inspired by the snowballs of his Baltimore youth, Handsome Dan’s owner Daniel Levin serves heaping mounds of ice with homemade flavor syrups like Earl Grey, strawberry-lime, or passionfruit. His storefronts, in the East Village and Williamsburg, offer only two toppings: condensed milk and Pop Rocks. “You see a lot of shops popping up now that serve shaved ice with all these toppings,” he tells the Voice. “I want to serve what [reminds me of] my childhood.”
Similarly simple is Mexican raspado, shaved by hand from an enormous ice block to yield a slightly coarser treat. You can pick one up almost anywhere in the city for as little as a dollar, off pushcarts lined with fruit syrups. (Ignore the artificial blues and greens in favor of mango or tamarind, which dissolve the fluff into a delightful tropical slush.) Then there’s chamoyada, whose ice is itself fruit-flavored. “We try to get texture somewhere between a slushy and a sorbet,” says Fany Gerson of La Newyorkina, who sells her version at Smorgasburg and her Red Hook shop. Traditional chamoyada layers mango-flavored ice with salted chile powder, chamoy (pickled plum or apricot sauce), and a chile-tamarind-coated straw, but Gerson also offers contemporary flavors like cucumber-lime and lychee.
Taiwanese-style shaved snow smooths things out. At Grace Street in Koreatown, blocks of milky ice are shaved down to velvety folds of impossibly fine powder and flavored with green tea, black sesame, or sweet milk. General manager Colin Quek says Grace Street’s signature lightness comes in part from “finding toppings that [create] a balance,” rather than letting customers build their own mishmash, as trendier shaved-snow spots allow.
For real-deal pat bing soo, or Korean shaved ice, head to Koryodang bakery in Flushing, where an enormous bowl of snow groans under fresh fruit, red beans, and ice cream. At Larb Ubol in Hell’s Kitchen, the Thai version is a jumble of beans and jelly splashed with bright-pink Hale’s sala syrup, which tastes like bubblegum. Filipino halo-halo, served at Jeepney in the East Village, is streaked purple with a scoop of ube (purple yam) ice cream, slushy with evaporated milk and loaded with chunks of flan and fruit.
But on the densest August nights, you might prefer es teler from Indonesian coffeehouse Kopi Kopi, in Greenwich Village. “We don’t use beans like in Malaysia,” says owner Liz Lapadula. “They’re kind of heavy, and it’s so hot and humid all year round in Indonesia.” Instead, she dresses her ice with jackfruit, pandan jelly, young coconut, and avocado, plus condensed milk and coconut pandan syrup.
The cool silver lining to long hot days is the chance to try as many shaved ices as you can get your sticky hands on. No matter the form, they all offer the same glorious thing: the cheapest ticket you can buy to sweet, sweet relief from unrelenting summer heat.
Where to get your shaved ice:
Grace Street 17 West 32nd Street
Handsome Dan’s (original location): 218 Bedford Avenue (inside Mini Mall), Williamsburg
Jeepney 201 First Avenue
Kopi Kopi 68 West 3rd Street
Koryodang Bakery 149-06 Northern Boulevard, Flushing
La Newyorkina (brick and mortar) 61 Commerce Street, Red Hook
Larb Ubol 480 Ninth Avenue