A Guide to Asian-Style Shaved Ice

From Korean bingsu to Filipino halo halo, shaved ice is the dessert sensation of the summer. Here's where to find it in New Jersey.

Jerseyans have long been familiar with Italian ice and with sno-cones, but the latest sensation has a different accent. Fluffy and colorful, Asian-style shaved ice (colloquially known as shave ice) is actually rather old school. As far back as the 11th century, Japanese Heian nobility were gobbling up a version called kakigori. Back then it could be made only in winter and was shaved with a knife.

Now an expensive machine turns massive cylinders of water or milk-enriched ice into ethereally light, snowy mounds which are then topped with fresh fruit, flavored syrups and toppings.

You see shaved ice now in Korean and Japanese culinary enclaves, even in Jersey’s robust Filipino markets. But don’t eat shaved ice because it’s trendy. Eat it because it’s very, very good.

Here’s a primer:

Bingsu: Korean bingsu flavors shaved ice with anything from green tea and taro to mango, chocolate, strawberry, delicately flavored jellies, egg custard, toasted rice powder and even plain Jane sprinkles. Patbingsu immerses things like chewy-sweet adzuki red beans or chewy tteok (Korean-style mochi) into shaved ice sweetened with condensed milk.

Black sesame shaved ice at Café Mocha in Palisades Park. Photo by Emily Bell

Where to find: Café Mocha, Palisades Park, 201-947-8992—where they also feature stuff like traditional Japanese fish-shaped Taiyaki pastry; Gateaux Bakery at Woo-Ri Korean Market, 206 Pegasus Avenue, Northvale, 201-750-1203; Café Leah, 225 Broad Avenue, Palisades Park, 201-585-0020; Café de Flore, 2175 Lemoine Avenue, Fort Lee, 201-592-0131.

Baobing: This is Taiwanese, similar to bingsu except the ice is ribbon-like instead of flaky, making it heavier on the tongue. There’s more emphasis on fruit. Sunshine Ice in Weehawken highlights healthy flavors like acai and avocado. According to the owner, whose name (really) is Icy, my Fruit Party baobing would be more popular in Taiwan than a Westernized chocolate option.

Halo Halo with Ube Ice Cream, Corn, and Flan at Bamboo Grill in Bergenfield. Photo by Emily Bell

Where to find: Sunshine Ice, 4514 Park Avenue, Weehawken, 201-293-5600; Red Onion, 260 Talmadge Road, Edison; 732-287-0202


Mango Ginger Hawaiian shaved ice at Little Bear Poke. Photo by Emily Bell

Hawaiian Shaved Ice: Mounds of fresh shaved ice laced with syrups. (Ideally fresh and house-made, sometimes bottled and artificially colored.) As with bingsu, toppings tend to include red beans, mochi, and sweetened condensed milk, but the emphasis is on the freshness of the water ice.


Where to find: Little Bear Poke, 254 Bellevue Avenue, Montclair, 973-337-5151; Nick’s Shaved Ice, 10 Park Street, Montclair, 862-312-3686; Kona Ice Peak (truck), Burlington Township; 609-354-2225

Halo Halo: Like a fruity Filipino ice cream sundae. An outlier in the category, made with crushed ice instead of flakes, halo halo showcases ingredients such as sugar palm fruit, Filipino nata de coco (coconut jellies made of fermented coconut water) and ube (brilliant royal purple yam used heavily in Filipino sweets). The most texturally varied of all shaved ices. Insanely good.

Taiwanese Earl Grey-flavored Baobing with Tapioca at Sunshine Ice in Weehawken. Photo by Emily Bell

Where to find: Bamboo Grill, 54 South Washington Avenue, Bergenfield, 201-384-5951; Red Ribbon Bakery, 10 South Washington Avenue, Bergenfield, 201-384-1000; Barangay Union Grill and Food Mart, 1045A Stuyvesant Avenue, Union, 908-964-3500; Little Quiapo, 530 Newark Avenue C, Jersey City; 201-656-0384

Click here to leave a comment
Read more Table Hopping articles.

By submitting comments you grant permission for all or part of those comments to appear in the print edition of New Jersey Monthly.