What's Behind The Viral Grilled Ice Cube Trend In China

You're in Changsha, China, immersing yourself in the bustling ambiance of night markets and the tantalizing aromas of street food. Amidst the usual fare, one street vendor captures your attention with an unconventional spectacle. With a flair for the dramatic, they oil a grill over smoldering charcoal and then dump a heap of ice onto the grill. Yes, ice — the antithesis of what one would typically expect to sizzle over an open flame. This isn't just a display of culinary rebellion.

It's the preparation of China's latest viral food sensation: grilled ice cubes, which are akin to the popular stir-fried stones and rocks. The vendor treats these cubes like succulent lamb skewers or other proteins, basting them with a savory and spicy sauce and then generously seasoning them with salt, chili flakes, and cumin. The ice is tossed and turned over the grill. Then, for $2, the vendor hands you a serving of their perplexing creation, the ice cubes glistening and quickly melting with spices. It's no wonder this dish has gone viral across social media. 

When asked about the origins of grilled ice cubes, street vendors stated that they were invented in northern China; however, food historians and researchers found no proof to back up this claim. Savvy consumers believe this is a newly invented dish, riding on social media trends and virality. It's possible that this trend started as an act of goodwill committed by a merchant who wanted to help people cool off during the summer in China with free seasoned iced cubes. 

Will viral grilled ice endure like other street foods?

So, how did this dish get popular and go viral? Well, its novelty has certainly helped grilled ice cubes take the internet by storm, much like how popular stir-fried stones and pebbles became. Tourists enjoying this new dish post about it on TikTok and Instagram, using the hashtag #grilledice. News media outlets across China are equally fascinated, with the South China Morning Post calling grilled ice cubes "the 'hottest' street food in China."

But beyond the initial burst of viral interest, the true test of a street food's longevity lies in its ability to resonate with people over time. The world of street food has always been innovative, melding the traditional with the modern, pushing vendors to be creative and invent new dishes all the time. 

With their rich flavors and deep cultural roots, dishes like Singapore chow mei fun, mochi and dango, tanghulu anything, boba tea, cumin lamb skewers, and curry fish balls have stood the test of time. In contrast, the staying power of grilled ice cubes is yet to be determined. Will they join the ranks of enduring street food favorites or melt away as soon as their novelty diminishes?