Tag Archives: shaved ice

Cuabing/Baobing (剉冰/刨冰), Traditional Taiwanese Shaved Ice

I still haven’t had the heart to unfollow Ample Hills and Davey’s on Instagram even though I simultaneously cry and drool whenever I see Ooey Gooey Butter Cake…

But when it’s out of sight it’s out of mind, because Taiwan has its own cult of cold desserts, and I’m a convert if not a true believer.

I was at a friend’s house last week when she served us with small bowls of shaved ice on top of a few taro balls, mung beans, peanuts, red beans, sweet potatoes, and aiyu jelly. We spooned black sugar syrup over it and then filled the bowl half-way with milk.

This is the sort of dish that since I was a little kid I’ve seen my mom eat. It’s also the sort that made me turn up my nose. I remember my mom using our popsicle mold to make red bean or peanut soup popsicles, and I remember never being even a little bit tempted to try one.

To my American tastes, everything about many traditional Taiwanese desserts was all mixed up and weird. Taro, sweet potatoes, beans? These foods should be salty and hot, not sweet and certainly never cold. Desserts should be rich and toothsome, not aqueous and slick. Peanuts should be salty if not honey-roasted/embedded within a candy bar; they should be crunchy unless boiled (in which case they definitely need to be salty). The only Q food is Jell-O, and that should only be eaten if you are in a hospital or a public school cafeteria. Actually, even then you probably shouldn’t eat it.

Assimilating is fun! It’s also a proven coping strategy when you’re a foreigner who has had strong opinions about dessert. This dish I had at my friend’s house—I’ve since hunted down a vendor near my house so I can eat it all the time.

It’s called cuabing (剉冰). Apparently “cuabing” is a Taiwanese word; in Mandarin it’s called baobing (刨冰; bàobīng). Both literally translate as “shave ice.” It consists of unflavored shaved ice similar to the texture of a snowcone. It’s sweetened with black sugar syrup and is topped with at least a few ingredients such as:

  • Red beans (紅豆; hóngdòu)
  • Mung beans (綠豆; lǜdòu)
  • Grass jelly (仙草; xiāncǎo)
  • Aiyu jelly (愛玉; àiyù)
  • Konnyaku jelly (蒟蒻; jǔruò)
  • Tapioca pearls (珍珠; zhēnzhū)
  • Tofu pudding (豆花; dòuhuā)
  • Taro balls (芋圓; yùyuán)
  • Sweet potatoes (地瓜; dìguā)
  • Peanuts (花生; huāshēng)
  • Lotus seeds (蓮子; liánzi)
  • Fruit (水果; shuǐguǒ)
  • Milk (牛奶; niúnǎi)

Stands serving cuabing and other traditional cold snacks are very common near street markets.

Small stand inside the morning market on Minxiang Street, Yonghe District.
Cuabing toppings.
Taiwanese ice shop
Shaved ice shop at the end of the evening market near my house.
From right to left: mango shaved ice, xue hua bing, burnt sugar bao bing (cua bing), hand-made douhua (tofu pudding). 45 NTD (roughly $1.50 USD) for a giant bowl of cuabing with four toppings.
Cua bing.
A drizzle of burnt sugar ,or black sugar, syrup.
Cua bing toppings.
Toppings underneath the ice. From top left, clockwise: tapioca pearls, grass jelly, peanuts, taro balls.

Cuabing is a traditional preparation of  shaved ice that contrasts with xuehuabing (雪花冰; xuěhuābīng), which often also gets called “shaved ice” when named in English.

Xuehuabing’s shaved ice is a water-milk mixture, resulting in a smooth ice cream–like texture and a milky flavor. It’s usually topped with sweetened condensed milk, fruit (Taiwan is especially known for its mango shaved ice), and ingredients like tapioca pearls, tofu pudding, and ice cream/sorbet. Xuehuabing is the more modern, sexy style of shaved ice that’s popular with younger people and people outside Taiwan. It’s infinitely more Instagrammable and way sweeter, so I feel certain it’s only a matter of time before it becomes mega trendy in the U.S. (outside of California, I mean). Is Ice Monster franchising yet? A summer pop-up in New York City would be an absolute coup.

Monster Ice.
Monstrous xuehuabing from Monster Ice. I’ve got a coffee flavored one, my friend’s got a milk tea flavor.

I’m crazy about xuehuabing, but I love cuabing too for all the ways it’s not like xuehuabing. I love that it’s stubbornly unphotogenic and drably colored. That it’s a dessert topped with ingredients that wouldn’t be out of place in a healthy dinner. That it’s dirt cheap and often found in a tiny open-air shop with zero amenities. Unpretentious and refreshing, it’s the perfect cap to my weekly fruit/vegetable shopping trips to the market.

Sugar Hunting at Le Hua Night Market

It only took me exactly one month to finally go to a night market, and like many delightful evenings, it started off with a quest for shoes. Night markets attract lots of other stores outside of their designated streets, so I happened to be in the area to pick up some everyday kicks that Taipei’s rain will inevitably destroy. I would have looked for beaters within the actual market except none of those Asian mystery brand shoes will fit my gigantic American feet. I’m 100% serious. Sizes top out at one size below what I wear, so I’m stuck with Nikes, Vans, and other American brands as long as I call Taiwan home. Things could be worse.

Fresh Roshes. Need some waterproofing spray.

Nearby was the Le Hua Night Market, which as far as I can tell is the only night market in Yonghe District. How lucky that it’s only a 10 minute walk from my apartment!

Zhongshan Road entrance to Le Hua Night Market.
Inside Le Hua market.
Inside Le Hua market.

It was raining a little and only 6 p.m., so it wasn’t too crowded—exactly how I prefer it so there are fewer people staring when I take 15 minutes to type menus into an app on my phone and then order in broken Chinese. The language barrier makes any kind of self-serve situation really appealing because I don’t have to talk to anyone. But I think I was also drawn to this candy store because of the visual appeal of a big pile of candy:

Sugar! Yay!

Lots of fruit jellies and milk candies. I picked maybe 20 different varieties weighing around a quarter pound. It cost 55 NT (~$1.50).

I had jiǎozi (餃子; dumplings) for dinner because they’re easy to order. There are lots of stands that have foodstuffs on display, and I guess you’re supposed to choose what you want cooked. But I can’t tell what a lot of the foods are and how they’re prepared, so I’m going to hold off on trying any of those until I’m accompanied by a native.

The shaved ice stand, though, méiwèntí (沒問題; no problem). There are two shaved ice stands in Le Hua, so I will try the other one another time.

Shaved ice stand.
Shaved ice stand.

I ordered a mango shaved ice and tried to say “no milk,” but the lady topped it with sweetened condensed milk anyway. Like bubble tea, I think it was something that I actually liked all along.

Mango shaved ice. A dessert you can eat and not hate yourself afterward.

It also had a mango syrup (very good) and a comically weak smattering of sprinkles. Of course this is not half as rich, creamy, sweet as the American ice cream I know and love and am no longer seeing (see the this post’s footnote). But I shouldn’t compare because they’re wholly different things. i.e., shaved ice is not ersatz ice cream. Taiwan’s take on cold+sweet+creamy dessert is light in texture and sweetness, which matches fruit flavors and flavors like green tea and red bean. These are flavors that don’t need to be delivered via tongue-coating fat.

Other shaved ice flavors.
Other shaved ice flavors.

Food is the main draw, but you can also find clothing, shoes, jewelry, home goods, and toys at the night market. While I can’t fit the shoes, I can fit the clothes. But most of it isn’t really my style. Let’s just say that from my American perspective, most of the women’s clothing strikes me as ultra girly and excessively kěài (可爱; cute). OR, it features hilarious Engrish:

“Satiety”?? Someone’s been using a thesaurus.
I thought this was a cool design ruined by really uncool English.
I thought this was a cool design ruined by really uncool English.
Gslfw sdgmz qpues sljgrt? Ywqca lpmfd ytmzn mmwzg ghwk.
Gslfw sdgmz qpues sljgrt? Ywqca lpmfd ytmzn mmwzg ghwk.
It's obvious what happened here. The designer was inspired by a
It’s obvious what happened here. The designer was inspired by a “Baby On Board” sign.
“Stools” never, ever belongs on a shirt.
I guess "COMPUTER" and "CONVERSE" look pretty similar when printed on a T-shirt.
I guess “COMPUTER” and “CONVERSE” look pretty similar when printed on a T-shirt.
lnd_160a056a-9fbc-465d-b245-9f3dcc49a760-1
Lunkers.
No Engrish here. I just thought this was a cute pattern and wanted to share.

I couldn’t stop laughing while I was browsing the racks. Is this how Chinese people feel when non-Chinese people use Chinese characters for tattoos and other decorations? Engrish isn’t new to me but it never fails to amuse.