One yummy new treat I tried in Taiwan was Xue Hua Bing, translated "snowflake ice" or something close to that. Its closest American relative is shaved ice, but xue hua bing is so much more. First, the texture of the ice is different. It's powdery, with much less crunch than a sno-cone or slush. I believe xue hua bing ice is shaved off a block of frozen sweetened milk, instead of just plain ice which then has a sugary colored syrup poured over it. It's served in huge mounds on a plate and covered with thick syrups and/or toppings like fresh fruits, sorbets, jellies, or mung beans if you want to get crazy.
I first tried xue hua bing at the Shilin Night Market in Taipei (more on the street markets later). I would compare it to the county fair, in that you just see dozens of stands selling bizarre foods and wares.
One of the funniest things I saw in Taiwan was at the Shilin market. We all sat down at a table to order our xue hua bing, and our table was directly against the backside of another booth and its dishwashing sink. The female employee that was washing dishes at the sink was also brushing her teeth. She just brushed away and then put her toothbrush in the cannister with the silverware and, gulp, the other toothbrushes.
We didn't run into many English speakers at the restaurants and food stands in Taiwan, but people serving us were friendly and helpful. The lady taking our order pointed to several things on the menu and said what she could in English. When she found out Katie spoke Chinese, she really started talking about all the choices. We shared two orders between the seven of us, a Peanut Butter variety with chocolate syrup, and a mango ice with syrup and huge mango cubes on top.
To me, the texture of this ice even looks completely different than anything I've ever seen here. It was wonderful, and I imagine that the demand really spikes when Taiwan's weather gets hot and humid and intolerable. The xue hua bing was so delicious that when I dropped a spoonful on the table, even though the cleanliness standards of the place were obviously in question (see above), I scooped it right back up and ate it. My justification was that my spoon probably wasn't much cleaner the table anyway.
We had Xue Hua Bing again at Ice Monster, another little restaurant in Taipei. Well, restaurant is probably the wrong term to use. There are a lot of restaurants or food stands in Taiwan with three (or fewer) walls. They don't have a front door, per se, but instead the street side of the establishment is completely open. The effect of this is you can walk down any city sidewalk and smell the most incredible odors and aromas from the restaurants, which combine with urban pollution to make for a unique smell indeed.
At Ice Monster, we tried an order with fresh strawberries and a scoop of mango sorbet. It was very good. I still preferred our other selection, which had wheat grass jellies and mung beans on top. I've had boba drinks with jelly in Las Vegas and Utah, but I don't think I'd had ever eaten mung beans before, let alone in my dessert.
My latest business idea is selling Koolickles for $1 a pop. In the process of making Koolickles, you have a leftover solution of pickle juice, Kool Aid, and sugar. Wouldn't it be good to freeze that stuff and make shaved ice with it? Kids would love it. I could chop up Koolickles to top it off, and it would look like xue hua bing.