Of Ice and Colours

Words: Sarita Urupongsa

The unique “O Aew” or jelly in shaved ice is one type of refreshing dessert to try and introduced by the town of Penang in Malaysia. It became popular in the Hokkien or Fujian region of China and Taiwan and a first dessert choice for summertime. It later arrived in Southeast Asia, thanks to Chinese migration and earned a reputation as one of Phuket’s local sweets.

O Aew begins with drying the seeds of the O Aew fruit and grinding them. A Chinese herb known for its cooling effect known as Jian Kang (a gypsum powder) and cultivated bananas get added to solidify the combination with the grounded seeds. When boiled together in water an opaque, white jelly becomes the result. To serve this dessert, the jelly should be cut into small pieces.

People in the old days would eat O Aew on its own to cure mouth ulcers or simply quench a thirst. Now O Aew is enjoyed with shaved ice as a dessert, or with different types of sweet side dishes at a dessert café. As a tip, do as the locals would who order O Aew based on colour codes. Pick a combination: white and red, white and black, or white, black and red. White stands for O Aew, red for red beans while black refers to grass jelly.


  • Boiled red beans
  • Grass jelly
  • Cultivated banana
  • Shaved ice
  • Red salacca-flavoured syrup or regular syrup
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