Xing Fu Tang Taiwanese Boba

IMG_4480

There’s boba everywhere in Taiwan. For a boba tea lover like me, it was both heavenly and overwhelming. When there’s a boba shop on every block, how do you decide which ones to try? Taiwanese establishments don’t have a big presence on Yelp, so I had to rely mostly on instinct.

Shopping in Ximendeng, a touristy neighborhood in Taipei, I picked the boba shop with the longest line, figuring the locals knew. Xing Fu Tang, I would later find out, is a hugely popular boba chain with at least 60 locations in Taiwan. During my trip, I would see many people carrying those pill-shaped cups.

I waited in line for 20 minutes under the scorching sun, but it was worth it. Xing Fu Tang’s signature drink, the brown sugar milk tea, was unlike any milk tea I’ve had in the United States. It had a strong tea flavor, it was creamy as hell, and the boba balls were as fresh as they come. The only reason I wouldn’t drink this more often if I lived in Taipei is because it would make me seriously fat.

Oh, and because they use real milk and I’m lactose-intolerant. But hey, I was on vacation. (Read my blog post, “When Cheating on Your Diet Is Worth It.”)

IMG_4476
The big wok where they keep the boba balls warm.

As outstanding as that milk tea was, the grapefruit green tea I had at the Xing Fu Tang in Jioufen was even better — and dairy-free! Jioufen is another tourist area, a mountain town filled with narrow, winding cobblestone streets lined with street-food vendors and souvenir shops.

This grapefruit green tea was the best I’ve ever had, surpassing even my favorite from Tea Bar in Azusa. It wasn’t bitter like some grapefruit drinks can be, but it wasn’t too sweet, either. It had bits of pulp (but not an annoying amount) and it tasted super-fresh. Even without boba pearls, this drink was something to remember.

The location — at the end of the long main street in Jioufen, overlooking the lush green landscape — is a huge plus. You couldn’t ask for a more picturesque spot to enjoy a refreshing beverage.

IMG_5116

If you find yourself in Taiwan, jonesing for boba, Xing Fu Tang is the spot. Just beware of other Xing Fu Tang locations, though. They’re not all equal. I tried a small offshoot in Ximendeng (with a much shorter line) and another in Danshui Harbor, and they were both disappointing.

XING FU TANG (Ximendeng)No. 29, Chengdu Road
成都路29號
萬華區, 台北市 108
Taiwan

XING FU TANG (Jioufen)No. 175, Jishan Street
基山街175號
瑞芳區, 新北市 224
Taiwan

Advertisements

Magnum Non-Dairy Chocolate-Dipped Ice Cream Bars

IMG_3488

I’ve been searching for a non-dairy substitute for Häagen-Dazs ice cream bars for as long as I’ve been dairy-free. Here’s what I wrote about them years ago, in my review of the disappointing Coconut Bliss Ice Cream Bars:

“I really wanted to like these because they look just like Häagen-Dazs Vanilla Milk Chocolate Almond Bars, one of my favorite treats from my dairy-eating days. The Häagen-Dazs bars contain the richest, creamiest vanilla ice cream coated in thick, high-quality chocolate studded with crunchy roasted almonds. They’re ridiculously good.”

That’s the gold standard I’ve been holding that, until now, nothing has met.

But now there are Magnum Non-Dairy Almond frozen dessert bars.

IMG_6232

If you can get past the name — which always makes me think of condoms — this thing is awesome. The ice cream is smooth and not too sweet, “made from an expert blend of coconut oil and pea protein.” (It tastes better than it sounds.) It’s described on their website as “velvety and fragrant Madagascan vanilla.” A little over-the-top, but what else would you expect from a company called Magnum?

The vegan milk chocolate shell is a high-quality Belgian chocolate, embedded with chopped, roasted almonds. Both the chocolate and the nuts are excellent. The only problem is that the chocolate shell tends to crack and fall apart when you bite into it — but that’s the case with any chocolate-dipped frozen treat. Keep a plate handy.

This is truly the best imitation of Häagen-Dazs, the holy grail of ice cream bars, that I’ve ever tasted. Just don’t confuse them with these.

images

Cado Non-Dairy Ice Cream

IMG_4273

It seemed too weird not to try: ice cream made from avocados. I’ve had non-dairy ice creams made from almonds, cashews, coconuts… even peas and rice. Why not avocados?

When it comes to dairy-free ice cream, the flavor that’s hardest to do well is vanilla. It’s so basic you can’t fake it. So I went for the vanilla bean Cado, as a sort of litmus test.

IMG_4275

It looked good. It had the right color and I could see the vanilla bean specks. Upon the first spoonful, I was impressed. I could taste the vanilla, and though a bit thin in texture and not very creamy, it was fairly smooth.

In retrospect, my initial positive reaction was probably due to the fact that I was picturing avocados in my mind, and this ice cream had no detectable resemblance to avocados. So, points for the food science.

But after a few more bites, I grew sick of Cado. The taste of vanilla wears off quickly, leaving you with the overwhelming taste of sugar. Halfway through this sundae, I had to stop. It felt like eating cotton candy.

IMG_4281

Cado says it’s the first avocado-based, non-dairy ice cream. So perhaps the science will improve and produce better results in the future. For now, I’ll eat my avocados in guacamole and on toast — and stick with almonds and coconuts for ice cream.

Smoothie House Shave Ice in Taiwan

fullsizeoutput_60ab

Although most of my food reviews are about Southern California, I have to tell you about something I ate while traveling in Taiwan: shave ice. I didn’t expect to find any desserts I liked, since many Taiwanese sweets I’ve tried in the U.S. contain red bean or taro, or are heavy on the peanuts and sesame seeds — unappealing to my American tastes.

I’ve never cared for shave ice, because the ones I had were like snowballs drizzled with syrup. But Taiwanese shave ice is totally different. For one thing, the ice is fluffier. It’s like the difference between skiing in New Hampshire and skiing in Colorado — ice versus powder. In fact, Taiwanese shave ice is often called “snow” or “snowflake” ice.

The second big difference is that Taiwanese ice is flavorful. It’s flavored even before it’s shaved — usually with fruit, but I also had a chocolate one that tasted just like ice cream.

And the third difference is that Taiwanese shave ice is piled with fresh fruit, not just syrup. Mango was the most popular choice, since it’s in season right now. But my favorite was the lychee snowflake ice with strawberry and raspberry at Smoothie House.

fullsizeoutput_60b4
Right now, $250 NT is equal to about $8 US.

I’m usually a minimalist when it comes to food, easily overwhelmed when there’s a lot going on in a dish. But this shave ice was complicated and it all worked. The lychee base was already delicious on its own. The fresh strawberries and blueberries were a classic combo. Then there was raspberry-flavored jelly (which is like Jell-O) and a bowl of raspberry purée on the side.

Why on the side? So that as you eat down the layers of your shave ice, you can drizzle on additional purée. This is important because the shave ice in Taiwan is typically enormous, a good five or six inches in height.

Finally, just for decoration and delight, it was sprinkled with rose petals and gold leaf flakes, then topped with a pink macaron.

fullsizeoutput_60ac

If you’re ever in Taipei, a shave ice at Smoothie House is a must. It was surprisingly hard to find dairy-free options in Taiwan; most boba shops use real milk, and coffee shops don’t usually offer almond, coconut, or soy milk. I found no dairy-free ice cream. But this shave ice is dairy-free and delicious. It’s meant to be shared, like a Vermonster at Ben & Jerry’s. It’s not just a dessert — it’s an event.

There are several Smoothie House locations in Taiwan. The one I went to was in the Da’an District of Taipei, a hip, upscale neighborhood that reminded me of Soho in New York. Despite the weather — 90 degrees and muggy, even at night — we enjoyed our shave ice at an outdoor table, people-watching and planning our next adventure.

fullsizeoutput_60b8

When you get to the nearest metro station, you will see huge ads for Smoothie House plastered everywhere, including ones that claim “recommended by CNN.” Believe the hype.

SMOOTHIE HOUSE, No. 15 Yongkang St., Da’an District, Taipei City 10650, Taiwan

fullsizeoutput_60b0

 

Bacio di Latte Gelato

fullsizeoutput_58a3

This blog is about dairy-free eating, but every so often I come across a dairy-full food that’s so good it’s worth cheating on my diet for — like the peanut butter pie at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab in Las Vegas. This time it’s the vanilla & rose gelato at Bacio di Latte in the Century City mall.

I first wandered in looking for dairy-free sorbets. They do have quite a few, and they’re good. But when I saw the vanilla & rose gelato, I had to try it. The rosewater ice cream I once ate at Mashti Malone’s — a Persian ice cream shop in Hollywood — left a sweet memory.

fullsizeoutput_58a1

Bacio di Latte is a clean, bright, inviting, and well-run ice cream parlor. My only pet peeve is their ordering system. You’re supposed to pay for your order before trying samples. Personally, I want to try flavors before deciding whether I want a cone or cup, how many scoops, etc. I did it my way and pissed off the staff.

fullsizeoutput_589f

Here’s a tip: Order a waffle cone rather than a cup. It costs the same, but you get more ice cream in the cone — a “cone scoop” is bigger than a “cup scoop.” Plus, the waffle cones are made fresh in-house and they’re delicious.

fullsizeoutput_589b

As you can see, the single scoop in a waffle cone is enormous. I ate every last bite, taking two Lactaid pills to be safe. The gelato was smooth, creamy, and delightfully rosy. What surprised me most was how it didn’t make me feel over-sugared the way many desserts do. It wasn’t until the last few bites of cone that I thought, “I need to stop eating this.” (By then it was too late!) I think this speaks to the freshness and quality of the ingredients.

True to form, I went back a few days later to chase the dragon. This time I got a cup: half vanilla & rose gelato, and half strawberry sorbet. The sorbet was fantastic — bursting with fresh strawberries, and creamy in texture even though dairy-free. It paired beautifully with the vanilla & rose.

fullsizeoutput_58af
Garnished with a rose petal.

There are many more flavors to choose from; the chocolate selection alone is mind-boggling. My husband is also a fan of the affogato — a scoop of gelato topped with a shot of espresso. Everything we’ve had there was top-notch. But the vanilla & rose is the stand-out. Try it and let me know what you think.

fullsizeoutput_589c

BACIO DI LATTE, Westfield Century City, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90067

The Bigg Chill Frozen Yogurt

fullsizeoutput_5887

As soon as my husband and I moved to West Los Angeles, we noticed a frozen yogurt shop in our neighborhood that was always busy — day and night, all year round. Even in the dead of winter (albeit L.A. winter), there was a line out the door. Adding to the mystery was that this shop, aptly named The Bigg Chill, seemed stuck in the ’80s — from the very fact of its serving froyo to its dated neon-and-pastel decor.

We went in a few times to check it out, but were deterred by the long wait and the dearth of dairy-free options. The Bigg Chill has only one dairy-free flavor at the time. I once sampled the honey cashew, made from almond milk, and it was just strange.

Then I tasted Wow Cow.

fullsizeoutput_5897

Wow Cow is not dairy-free, but it is low-lactose. And since my issue is lactose intolerance, I have no problem digesting it. Wow Cow is also fat free, low calorie, and cholesterol free — hard to believe when you find out how good it tastes.

When I visited last week, the Wow Cow flavor was vanilla, my absolute favorite kind of soft serve. The Wow Cow had a strong vanilla taste and a super-smooth consistency. It wasn’t as rich and dense as ice cream, but neither is regular frozen yogurt. Wow Cow — or as my husband mistakenly called it, “Magic Moo” — is an excellent substitute for the lactose-laden fat bomb that is soft serve.

fullsizeoutput_5895

So, after years of wondering what all the fuss was about, I finally get why The Bigg Chill is such a neighborhood favorite. They’ve got healthier versions of the ice cream we all love, a dizzying array of toppings (including nine kinds of vegan cookie dough), and a friendly, cozy vibe. The place is packed with regulars — moms and kids, high schoolers, sorority girls. Even if you don’t talk to anyone, you feel like you’re at a party.

As for the Miami Vice-like decor, it’s delightfully retro without trying to be — they just haven’t bothered to change it in twenty years. It’s like an ’80s time warp in there. When I walked in, they were playing Phil Collins. I don’t think it’s an accident that their logo looks like a Pac-Man.

fullsizeoutput_588b
By day…
fullsizeoutput_588a
By night…

Why do I have both daytime and nighttime pictures? Because after having a Wow Cow on Wednesday night, I went back the very next afternoon to get it again. (You know, for research.) I’m only half joking when I say that The Bigg Chill must be putting crack in their froyo. Which would be in keeping with the ’80s thing.

Their flavors change every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Check their website before going — and if they’ve got vanilla Wow Cow, hightail it over there.

THE BIGG CHILL, 10850 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064

Dairy-Free Passionfruit Mango Smoothie

6E8b0Fr2Qo+ASDSeqLw

I’ve loved passionfruit ever since I was ten years old and went on a family trip to Taiwan. It was a hot summer and everywhere we went, we were given fresh passionfruit juice served over crushed ice. It’s not easy to find passionfruit in L.A., but passionfruit juice in a can is a decent substitute.

fullsizeoutput_586a

Now that summer is here, treat yourself to a taste of the tropics with this easy dairy-free smoothie. You can use plain Non-Dairy Chobani yogurt, the best non-dairy yogurt I’ve tried — or if you prefer a less sweet smoothie, Green Valley Lactose-Free yogurt (okay for lactose-intolerant people, but not suitable for those with dairy allergies).

fullsizeoutput_3a6d

DAIRY-FREE PASSIONFRUIT MANGO SMOOTHIE RECIPE

1 cup frozen mango chunks
1/2 cup plain non-dairy yogurt, such as Chobani
1 cup passionfruit juice

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Chill until cold. Makes one serving.