5 Cooling Treats to Beat the Summer Heat in Asia

5 Cooling Treats to Beat the Summer Heat in Asia

Kerry-Ann Augustin : The mercury is rising and there’s only so much air conditioning can do to help.

For Asians, what you eat plays an important role in maintaining good health and regulating body function, and it’s no different when it comes to combating hot, humid days.

Here are five refreshing, restorative treats in Asia that will help you beat the heat this summer.


A hot day calls for a bowl of chilled somen.

One of the best ways to cool off during Japan’s sweltering summers is by slurping on somen.

Traditionally, the fine white noodles are served on a bed of ice accompanied by a bowl of mentsuyu, a dipping sauce made from dashi (stock), soya sauce, mirin and sugar.

Measuring 1.3 millimetres or less in diameter, these hand-pulled strands are made with wheat flour, a trend that began during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333).

Nagashi somen involves catching noodles as they slide down the flume. 

Another way to savour this chilled treat lies in nagashi somen (flowing somen), a concept made popular in 1959 by the quaint House of Chiho restaurant near Kyushu’s Takachiho Gorge.

In nagashi somen, boiled noodles slide down a long bamboo flume carried by a flow of ice-cold water. Patrons sit or stand alongside this flume with chopsticks in hand, ready to catch the silky smooth noodles as they float by.

Many believe the restaurant’s owner was inspired after observing local farmers cool their freshly boiled noodles in the river, and by the area’s pristine springs, waterfalls and bamboo groves.

Regardless of how somen is served, no summer culinary experience in Japan is complete without these cool noodles.

Khao chae

Khao chae rice grains must remain separate and the water should be clear. 

During Songkran and the summer months, there’s nothing like khao chae, an iconic Thai delicacy of chilled soaked rice with an assortment of dishes.

But centuries ago, this cooling dish, steeped in history and tradition, was only enjoyed by the royal family.

Introduced by the ethnic Mon people, who once held sway over large parts of mainland Southeast Asia, this rice and water dish evolved into an elaborate meal in the royal kitchens.

The long, laborious preparation demanded such a high level of skill, that it became known as khao chae chaowang or “dish from the palace”.

Rice is smoked using a horseshoe-shaped tian op candle. 

There are four important elements – parboiled rice that has been smoked with a traditional tian op (scented candle), water infused with fragrant jasmine and pink tea rose petals, ice cubes and side dishes.

Typically, it’s accompanied by deep-fried shrimp paste balls, candied beef, crispy pork floss, shallots stuffed with ground fish, green chilies filled with pork and shredded ginger, although contemporary side dishes vary.

Traditional or modern, the way to savour khao chae has not changed in hundreds of years. Smoky rice is served in floral water with ice cubes, and you place one condiment in your mouth followed by a spoonful of rice and cool perfumed water.

The two are never mixed together in your bowl, and this special ritual, combined with the unusual flavours, make this an experience not to be missed.

Jal jeera

Jal jeera is a sublime mix of Indian herbs and spices. 

One of the best ways to survive India’s scorching heat is with refreshing jal jeera.

This herbaceous cumin-spiked cooler is said to have been concocted by people living on the banks of the Ganges River.

Although its name simply means “cumin water” in Hindi, this invigorating potion contains a litany of other ingredients.

In addition to roasted cumin, the drink calls for coriander, mint, tamarind, grated jaggery, black or rock salt, black pepper, ginger powder, chili powder and asafoetida. Some even add a dash of garam masala into the mix.

And it’s not just a thirst quencher. Jal jeera is said to help treat indigestion and prevent anaemia, as well as rehydrate and regulate body temperature.

Jal jeera topped with boondi. Image: Instagram @i_got_hangryy

In days of yore, its ingredients were painstakingly ground together on stone slabs called silla batti, but these days, a blender is all you need.

For extra texture, this beautiful blend is often garnished with mint leaves and crispy orbs of boondi, an Indian fried snack made from chickpea flour.

Over the years, tastemakers in India have jazzed up jal jeera, turning the traditional offering into everything from cocktails to sorbets and ice creams.


This colourful dessert is as much a treat for the eyes as it is for the tastebuds. 

Ask anyone in the Philippines how to combat the heat and they’ll point to a tall glass of ice-cold halo-halo.

This hodgepodge of colours, textures and flavours is so sinfully delicious, you’ll forget how hot and humid the weather is.

Just pile chewy red beans, nata de coco (coconut jelly), tapioca pearls, macapuno (coconut sport), evaporated milk, cream caramel, slices of banana and jackfruit, and dollops of purple yam ice cream on shaved ice and you have a Filipino summer classic.

Halo-halo with salted duck egg and chilli. Image: Instagram @itsaceig8

Halo-halo or “mix-mix” in Tagalog is said to be descended from kakigori, a dessert of shaved ice, sweet syrup and condensed milk brought to the Philippines by Japanese migrants in the mid-1800s.

The settlers were experts in preserving mung beans (monggo in Tagalog) in syrup, and added mung beans and red beans to kakigori to create a new, popular spinoff called mongo-ya in Japanese.

Japanese-run mongo-ya shops died out after World War II, but the love for this sweet treat continued, with Filipinos adding local touches such as yam ice cream, coconut jelly and local fruits to create what we know today as halo-halo.

Today, you’ll find this dessert across the Philippines, with variations featuring carabao (water buffalo) milk and avocado, and even salted duck eggs and chilli.

Nutritious and flavourful, samgyetang is a must-have in summer. 

Not all hot days are won over with cool treats. In some cultures, a warm offering is the secret to beating the heat.

In South Korea, they go by the mantra yi yeol chi yeol, meaning “fight fire with fire”, and they do exactly that with a piping hot bowl of samgyetang.

This hearty dish of spring chicken stuffed with chapssal (sweet glutinous rice), ginseng, garlic, ginger, jujubes, chestnuts and ginkgo nuts, and boiled for over 30 minutes is well worth the wait.

The bird is fall-off-the-bone tender and the rice stuffing soaks up the luscious flavours of the chicken and herbs.

The glutinous rice inside the chicken absorbs all the flavour. Image: Getty Images

In a tradition that dates back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), this nutritious delicacy is a must-have during the three hottest days of Korean summer – chobokjungbok and malbok.

Samgyetang is said to help replenish energy and improve the immune system.

It will also make you sweat buckets, balancing the body’s internal and external temperatures – just what you need on a warm, sluggish day.