Gluttony: The Top 3 Taiwanese Shaved Ice Desserts
It’s probably just the heat, but I’ve been craving one thing day and night for a couple weeks now: red bean and condensed milk with shaved ice, or 紅豆牛奶冰 (hong dou niu nai bing). My cravings have inspired me to write about one of my favorite “street” foods of all time: shaved ice. This post will take you inside one of Taiwan’s most famous shaved ice shops for a look into this country’s variations on an Asian summer staple.
Shaved ice, 刨冰 (bao bing) or 剉冰 (pronounced tsua bing in Taiwanese slang) is ubiquitous in most parts of Asia—Hong Kong, Singapore, the Philippines all have very distinct takes on the dish— but I’m particularly fond of the Taiwanese style. The shaved ice is plain and unflavored, and there is free reign over the condiments, which range from glutinous rice balls of all shapes and flavors (sweet potato and taro, for instance) and tapioca, to peanuts, green beans, red beans, and fruit, to other desserts, like pudding and ice cream… to name a few. One of the reasons why I love Taiwanese shaved ice so much is the freedom you have in choosing exactly what you want to eat.
To give you an idea, let’s go into one of my mom’s all-time favorite haunts, Tai Yi Niu Nai Da Wang 臺一牛奶大王 (loosely translated, “Taiwan’s number one king of milk”). It’s a little place right by Taiwan University, which usually looks like this:
… but can also look like this:
For over four decades, students have lined up to eat here all year round. The place is still one of the beacons of shaved ice today, considered to be a 人氣 (ren qi) store. (The term 人氣 has origins in Japan, pronounced ninki, which means popular. In Chinese it’s become a term that has a broader, more active meaning, and somewhere that is 人氣—usually a restaurant—is one that has the ability to draw crowds.)
Inside 臺一 you’ll be presented with more choices that you’ll know what to do with, which is typical of these dessert restaurants in Taiwan. There are your shaved ice combinations, but there is also a wide range of fruit juices and sweet soups for the wintertime (hence, the coats in the photo above).
However, there are some classic combinations that are always safe bets, choices that have been loved and treasured throughout the years at 臺一 and in Taiwan at large. Here are three of the heavy hitters:
1. Red bean and condensed milk
As with any good classic, there are many ways to enhance this dish. With peanuts, for example, or with tapioca pearls and taro. Recently, pudding has been a favorite, but I like to keep things simple. One of the reasons why 臺一 is so revered is because the red beans are so perfectly cooked – not too squishy, with just the right amount of chewiness.
2. 八寶冰 (ba bao niu nai bing), eight treasure milk ice.
The go-to choice for customers who can’t make up their minds, this dish has 8 different kinds of condiments: 3 different types of glutinous rice … chunks (like I said, shapes can vary quite a bit), grass jelly, peanuts, red beans, green beans and a larger sweet bean. You can choose to have syrup or condensed milk over it too.
3. 芒果冰 (mang guo bing), mango ice
Taiwan is an absolute fruit haven, and Taiwanese red mangoes are some of the sweetest in the world. All that is to say, mango + ice = absolute perfection. Sweet condensed milk can be added if you’re into a more rich, creamy flavor.
Here ends today’s gluttonous adventure. More on other shaved ice traditions in upcoming posts!
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TAGS: dessert • shaved ice • street food • Taiwan
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