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Winter didn’t come until nearly spring this year, but plenty of snow has been falling in the Bay Area.
Snow ice, that is.
The cold and creamy Taiwanese dessert, also known as shaved snow or xue hua bing, has been popping up on the food radars from San Francisco to Dublin over the past year.
A cross between ice cream and the traditional shaved ice desserts popular in Hawaii and Asia, snow ice features soft ribbons of flavored ice topped with fruit, nuts and other assorted goods.
But if you’re having a hard time picturing the unfamiliar dessert, don’t despair. You’re not alone.
“We have a poster outside our store, and people thought it was a crepe at first,” says Janice Kou, owner of the year-old Snowflake in Dublin. “The green-tea-flavored snow ice – they thought that was lettuce.”
Whereas traditional shaved ice is made by grinding ice, then flavoring it with fruit syrups or condensed milk, snow ice starts out closer to ice cream.
Flavorings such as green tea or chocolate are mixed into a base of milk and water, then frozen into cylindrical blocks that look like giant candles. The blocks are mounted onto an ice shaver, which slices it off in sheets – thin enough that they melt in the mouth, much like cotton candy.
At 100% Sweet Cafe, which has locations in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond District as well as the Pacific East Mall in the city of Richmond, the dessert comes as a mountain of snow ice drizzled with a choice of sauce, such as strawberry or chocolate syrup. It’s finished with three toppings – anything from lychee to red beans to grass jelly.
A creamier and more petite version of snow ice can be found at Fluffy Snow in San Francisco’s Sunset District, which serves snow ice in the style of frozen yogurt, in small cups with toppings spooned on.
Fluffy Snow co-owner Winnie Ng says the most popular flavors are mango and strawberry, while peanut, green tea and original milk are also on tap.
She opened the shop with three girlfriends in September, a few years after one of them first came across the dessert in Hong Kong.
“We don’t get a lot of sunny (warm) days here, especially in the Sunset, but we think it’s a very healthy snack compared to ordinary ice cream,” Ng says. “It’s very low-calorie and low in sugar.”
Kou, who owns Snowflake, also discovered the Taiwanese dessert by way of Hong Kong. She and her husband, Jeff, were watching a Chinese television channel when a commercial for a shaved-ice cafe in Hong Kong caught their attention.
Now, they’re one of a few places making ice blocks in house, thanks to a $10,000 freezing machine imported from Taiwan. Kou says her strawberry ice is 80 percent fruit, 10 percent milk, and 10 percent water; other flavors like coconut and pineapple are non-dairy.
“A lot of people didn’t know what it was at first, but everybody is amazed by it,” she says.
This story has been corrected since it appeared in print.
Here are some Bay Area spots to get the Taiwanese sweet.
100% Sweet Cafe: 2512 Clement St. (near 27th Avenue), San Francisco; (415) 221-1628. Also, 3288 Pierce St. (near Central Avenue), Richmond.
37 Degrees Dessert Cafe: 1155 Taraval St. (near 21st Avenue), San Francisco; (415) 566-3887.
Fluffy Snow: 1314 Noriega St. (near 20th Avenue), San Francisco; (415) 566-6288.
Snowflake: 4288 Dublin Blvd., Suite 105 (near Tassajara Road), Dublin; (925) 551-0971. www.snowflakecafedessert.com.
Snowice: 3561 El Camino Real, Suite 99 (near Lawrence Expressway), Santa Clara; (408) 251-1002.