Ice Scramble Revival

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By Mike Aquino for Yahoo! Southeast Asia

If you were that kid who bought merienda from the street vendors outside school (more of us than most parents would be comfortable with), the "ice scramble" was likely part of your childhood.

It had immense market share back in the 1980s, though it was nothing more than crushed ice, sugar, milk, a dash of banana flavoring, pink or purple food color, and the finishing touch of powdered skim milk plus chocolate syrup or sago. Simplicity aside, it was magic on hot afternoons after class.

Not everybody saw the appeal, though — parents wary of hepatitis infections would regularly warn their kids from buying ice scramble from the vendors outside the school gates. But the ice! And the sweetness! And the psychedelic colors! The warnings never seemed to work — and if anybody ever got sick off of a dodgy ice scramble, they never seemed to be people you knew.

An ice scramble is technically a slush, a drink composed of a slurry of flavored liquid with suspended ice particles. In an ice scramble, the ice chips keep the sweetened evaporated milk close to freezing temperature, intensifying the sugary dash one gets with every mouthful.

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Ice scrambles are cheap to make, which explains their historic appeal to kids, for whom tight allowances are the norm. Ice blocks, never expensive to begin with, can yield dozens of servings a block with the help of an inexpensive ice shaver. Skim milk, evap, food coloring, and sugar cost mere centavos per serving. You paid no more than one peso for an ice scramble back in the 1980s; even in today's inflated economy, you can get a decent cup of the stuff for about ten pesos.

Maybe that's why the venerable ice scramble is making such a comeback these days; after all, wouldn't a combination of cheap and good be popular with a global recession still fresh in our memories?

You could tell something was up when the ice scramble made a breakthrough into malls. Food franchisers raised the bar on the lowly slushy snack with a bunch of extras: dollops of strawberry syrup, dashes of pinipig, little morsels of mini-marshmallows, and scoops of chocolate nuggets, among others; instant mixes made a number of other flavors available to the scramble-mad public.

The mall-based scrambles solved several problems at once. First, it shushed the sanitary issues that temporarily sidelined the ice scramble business when the hepatitis rumors got too big to ignore in the late '80s. Second, it pumped fresh ideas into the sphere of scramble possibilities: the Icebreaker franchise, for instance, serves exotic toppings like rice krispies and ground-up Oreo cookies.

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And yet the ice scramble can fall victim to its own success. The ice scramble market is quickly reaching saturation point, thanks to the scads of new scramble franchises being launched by entrepreneurs. It's safe to say the ice scramble market has already hit its peak, and with the cold "Ber" months coming on, we'll see many of these scramble sellers going the way of the lechon manok and the pearl shake.

So enjoy that ice scramble while it lasts, though it might last a long time yet. There's always a brisk demand for ice plus sugar plus nostalgia.

Editor's Note: Was ice scramble also part of your childhood? What Pinoy food from your childhood do you miss? Share your answers in the comments section below.