Know Your Frozen Desserts: Taiwanese Snow Ice, Baltimore Snowballs, and More Icy Treats
Now that the temperature is finally warming up and hopefully offering a glimpse of that summer we wait all year long for, it could be downright embarrassing if you don't know how to tell your ice desserts apart. We don't want you ordering Taiwanese snow ice when what you really want is Philadelphia water ice, after all.
Tamara Palmer Peanut-flavored Taiwanese snow ice at Fluffy Snow.
Below, a quick primer of some of the regional styles that have emerged locally and where to find them:
Taiwanese Snow Ice
Fluffy Snow opened last fall to showcase what's known in Taiwan as xue hua bing ("snowflake ice"). A rotary blade almost chiffonades frozen columns of flavored ice into a mix of impressively tiny shreds and thin ribbons. There's no brainfreeze danger -- the ice is so finely shaved the dessert teeters on the edge of meltdown. Some flavors such as coconut are dairy free, while others like peanut and green tea have a milk base mixed into the ice, which helps pass off the illusion of ice cream once you've loaded up your bowl with syrups and toppings. The shop has given some competition to nearby 37 Degrees Dessert Cafe, which was the first in the city to offer snow ice. As far as we know, you still have to hit the Outer Sunset to try this treat.
Flavor Brigade can be credited for bringing this regional style west when it opened two years ago in Oakland's Dimond District. Unlike Hawaiian shaved ice or snowballs where syrup is poured over the ice, in this frozen dessert fruit or concentrated syrups are already mixed into it, creating an almost sorbet-like consistency. You'll find some of those electric colors like you will in Baltimore.
Flickr/tilaturtle Chocolate Baltimore snowball with marshmallow cream by Skylite Snowballs.
The Skylite Snowballs truck introduced Baltimore snowballs to the Bay Area in 2010. Snowballs aren't fine enough to instantly dissolve nor are they coarse like snowcones. For the essential flavorings, owner Katie Baum swapped the neon, chemically-addled syrups from her Maryland youth with healthier California flavors like Four Barrel Coffee, cucumber, pear vanilla, Earl Grey, and Tcho chocolate, in a menu developed by Chez Panisse pastry chef Stacie Pierce. Luckily, the Baltimore traditions of marshmallow cream and chocolate toppings survived the translation. The truck's most regular appearance is on Wednesday evenings at Off The Grid in Berkeley.
Sometimes you just want your ice dessert on a stick, and with more nutritional content than something that's electric blue can provide. The Pop Nation cart makes gluten-free, vegan ice pops using whole fruits and natural sweeteners. Year-round flavors include mango coconut with black sesame, watermelon mint, and sea salted dark chocolate, with seasonal specials like aprium chili, blackberry mojito, pear honey, and plum cardamom. Its Bay Area appearances include frequent (but not weekly) stops in the North Bay, East Bay, and in San Francisco at the Mission Community Market on Thursdays.