Last summer we were all about paletas. And, why not? The Mexican ice treats are remarkably refreshing on a hot day, while the array of flavors includes many unfamiliar and exotic, at least to anyone who recalls the typical grape or orange of childhood. Despite your love of mango or mamey, perhaps you've tasted your way through the paleta universe and are looking for something different. Then head east, to the San Gabriel Valley, to check out ice bars with distinctly Asian flavors.
Beyond the shared flavors of coconut, mango and pineapple, there are a few additional differences between paletas and Asian ice bars. Unlike paletas, you'll only find milk or cream bars and no water bars. Another being Asian ice bars come from companies with names like Cremo, Sweety and Wei-Chuan, and are sold by the box or bag at the large Chinese supermarkets around the SGV, instead of at individually in a tiny family-run paleteria (if anyone knows of a mama & baba ice bar place in the SGV, please let us know). Then again, paletas found at supermarkets generally come from the plants of two companies, so it's really not that different. Similarly, most ice bars found in this area are manufactured in the U.S., in plants in Bell Gardens, Monterey Park and Oakland. Turn the page...
1. Durian: Known for its stench, which has been compared to any number of disgusting and unpleasant aromas, durian also has an incomparably good flavor that is difficult to describe. While there is a hint of the odor in the ice bars, we don't think you'll get thrown out of hotels or public areas for eating them.
2. Green Bean (Mung Bean): Sweetened mung beans are another staple in Asian desserts, ranging from mooncakes to ice bars. Not usually as sweet as their red counterpart, mung bean ice bars can be plain or with jelly made from konjac.
3. Jackfruit: Large enough to kill a person unfortunate enough to be under one falling from a tree, jackfruit flavor has been compared to a slightly tart banana. Blended with coconut milk for ice bars, the tartness fades, leaving a taste that is a combination of banana and sweet citrus.
4. Lychee: One of the most traditional flavors in Asia, the white fleshed fruit is another that is difficult to describe other than light and refreshing. There's no other way to describe it other than - it tastes like lychee.
5. Pandan Leaf: We've mentioned pandan flavored desserts here at Squid Ink before. Pandan is one of the most interesting and complex flavors, with a hint of coconut and/or vanilla combined with a green flavor.
7. Sesame: One that presumably most of you are familiar with, the blend of sesame and milk results in a remarkably refreshing delight, tasting like sweetened, frozen tahini on a stick.
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8. Taro: A plant that is used as a root vegetable, taro is another traditional Asian flavor with a wide range of uses, ranging from fried chips and hot pots to taro milk tea. In ice bar form, it is often the sweetest flavor. Again, another that's difficult to describe. Perhaps the best comparison would be a milder, sweeter sweet potato.
Now that we've described them, where do you go to get them? The freezer sections of any of the following Chinese supermarkets: Hawaii Supermarket, Hong Kong Supermarket, 99 Ranch Market, 168 Market and SG Superstore. Of these, 168 has the largest selection and has ice bars on sale the most often. Like to try them but live too far away? This is what ice chests and coolers were made for.
Follow Jim Thurman on Twitter @JThur01.