Five cool facts on ice balls from yesteryear

ICE balls, made from fine ice shavings crafted into a ball, were popular in Malaya during the 1950s and 1960s. Here are five cool facts about this icy treat, also known as ais kepal!

1. Anyone could enjoy one

This treat was inexpensive, costing only five sen, making them accessible to children from all walks of life. They provided a sweet and cooling treat in the tropical heat.

2. Ice ball hotspots

They were sold by mobile pushcart vendors who moved from one location to another throughout the day and could be commonly found near markets, schools and other busy public places.

Nowadays, this frosty dessert can be found at tourist magnets like George Town, Penang and Concubine Lane, Ipoh.

Read More: Cold treats business not dampened by wet spell

3. Colourful, customisable combos created aesthetic flavour adventures

Ice balls are made from a hand-cranked ice shaver to produce fine ice shavings, which are then compacted into a ball shape by hand.

These ice balls were then drizzled with colourful syrups, such as rose, sarsaparilla, and pandan, making them visually appealing and delicious.

Some ice balls had fillings such as sweet red beans, agar-agar (jelly), and attap chee (palm seeds), which added texture and flavour.

4. Made by hand, eaten the same way

Ice balls were eaten with bare hands, making them both fun and messy. They were more than just a treat; they created a social experience.

Children and friends would gather around the vendor, making it a communal activity.

However, with the advent of ice-based desserts like ice kacang and the availability of home refrigerators, the popularity of traditional ice balls waned by the late 1970s.

5. Old is gold

However, there has been a nostalgic revival in recent years, with heritage food events bringing back this beloved treat.

Ice balls represent a cherished part of Malaya's cultural heritage, reflecting the simple joys of the past and the vibrant street food culture.

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