Creativity reigns at Taiwan’s Snow King

This blog post is long overdue! It’s been several weeks since K and I returned from a fabulous long weekend in Asia. While Taipei, Taiwan has never been at the top of my travel destination wish list, K was looking for an opportunity to brush up on his Mandarin and also see Taiwan for the first time. And we both ended up having a blast! Plus, the trip included overnight stays in Hong Kong on the way to and from Taipei, and it was fun to revisit after our amazing honeymoon stop there.

Taipei is a great city for foodies. The night markets were just as exciting as I’d imagined after watching this clip of Anthony Bourdain exploring one! We didn’t eat in a formal restaurant during our whole time there; we would eat brunch at our hotel, snack our way through the afternoon, and then eat dinner at the street markets. Our favorite was the Raohe Night Market, mostly because it was home to the best soup dumplings ever (as proclaimed by K). While the famous Maokong Gondola was closed for renovations, we did get to appreciate the natural beauty surrounding the city from the observation deck of Taipei 101 (once the tallest building in the world!).

Despite feeling perpetually full from all the fantastic food we were eating, I made a point of finding some ice cream in Taipei. A brief internet search pointed to Snow King, which earned great reviews for their interesting flavors. The shop was quite far from our hotel, but UberX made it easy and affordable to get there.

IMG_0126Open since 1947,  Snow King is apparently legendary in Taipei. It is oddly located on the second floor of a commercial building. We actually initially thought it was closed (see the grate above?). Inside, Snow King was bright, cheer, and thankfully air-conditioned 🙂

IMG_0127 IMG_0129The staff was friendly and even though they didn’t speak English, we all spoke the language of ice cream! I enjoyed looking at the colorful tubs in the display case and reading over the menu – which thankfully did have English translations.

IMG_0128 IMG_0130If you can manage to read the small text above, you will see some strange flavors listed! Tomato, Kidney Bean, Pig Knuckles, Soybean Curd, Beer, Carrot, Curry? Yes, those are all ice creams! There were plenty of more traditional, yummy flavors like Mango, Chocolate, Sesame, Red Bean, Ginger, Coffee, and Mint. K and I decided to try three different flavors: yummy-sounding Sticky Rice, intriguing Jasmine, and out-there Chili Pepper.

The biggest drawback of Snow King is that it’s cash only. But the ice cream is cheap; from memory, our bill was around USD $4.

IMG_0131

front to back: Jasmine, Sticky Rice, Chili Pepper

The verdict? This is good ice cream. I tend to be skeptical of places with such long menus, as I oftentimes find that these places are more concerned with developing wacky flavors than they are with the quality of the ice cream. At Snow King, each ice cream we tasted was full-bodied and creamy. We both agreed that the Jasmine was the standout, floral and lightly sweetened. It was lighter in texture than the other two — somewhere between sorbetto and ice cream? Given that neither K nor I drink tea, we were quite impressed! The Sticky Rice was satisfying — thick with a chewy bite from the ice. The light, sweet soy aftertaste was oddly addictive. This ice cream stands on its own, and I don’t think it would pair well with many other flavors or desserts. Next up was the Chili Pepper, which I made K taste first. He liked it but warned me that it did pack some heat. I tentatively took a small bite, and I liked the bright flavor when it first hit my taste buds. But it only took a few milliseconds for my mouth to feel the heat from the chili pepper. I hurried to get water! While I’m a wimp, I bet any lover of spice would like this flavor.

Overall, Snow King impressed me with its dedication to both good-quality ice cream and boundary-pushing flavors.

The Stats:
Snow King
No. 65, Wuchang Road
Section 1, Jhong Jheng District, Taipei City
+886 2 2331 8415

Hong Kong’s Ice Cream Gallery — Foie Gras and Lobster, Oh My!

After a relaxing and luxurious few days in the Maldives, it felt strange to be in the bustling metropolis of Hong Kong. (I should mention that we visited before the major protests, which I’m watching on TV right now!)

Hong Kong is one of K’s favorite cities, but this was my first time visiting. And even after just 36-hours there, I can totally understand his infatuation. There is a magical quality to the city; it’s a densely populated with both people and skyscrapers, but the hilly and lush terrain gives it a Jurassic Park-like feel. And Hong Kong was an important British colony until 1997, when it was formally handed over to the People’s Republic of China. So it retains some of its British/western identity and has a huge expat community. So we were able to find a craft-beer bar for K and a gluten-free grocery store for me!

Hong Kong is well-known for its vibrant food scene. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants is growing, and world-renowned celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver have recently opened restaurants. K and I had one of the best meals of our honeymoon here, at Ho Lee Fook, where everything is spicy and addicting (I’m looking at you, shredded chicken salad with the mysterious “strange sauce”).

But the most memorable culinary experience I had in Hong Kong took place in the late afternoon, when I was on the hunt for some local ice cream. And while I’ve had tried some very interesting flavors (remember cheese gelato and yak soft serve?), nothing prepared me for our visit to the Ice Cream Gallery.

Tucked inside a shopping mall, the Ice Cream Gallery has dished up over 600 different ice-cream flavors since 1994. Owner Arron Liu is known for churning out some of the finest (and most expensive!) gourmet ice cream in Asia.

What the Ice Cream Gallery lacks in colors, it makes up for in creativity and. Much of the ice cream is created in the style of French crème glacée, made from full-fat imported French cream and eggs. Some of these flavors sound more like fine cuisine than ice cream! French White Truffle, French Lobster, King Crab (!), French Foie Gras… I could barely believe my eyes. And even the traditional, classic flavors receive the special treatment; Pure Vanilla features Madagascar vanilla bourbon and Philippine mangoes are brought in for the Mango ice cream. According to their website, the Ice Cream Gallery doesn’t use any artificial flavors or colors, stabilizers, gelatin, or preservatives. The lack of food coloring explained why the colors behind the glass ice-cream case were fairly muted.

The most interesting savory-sounding ice creams caught K’s attention, and neither of us could settle on just one flavor. But we finally settled on four flavors (hey, it was our honeymoon!), and we ordered small cups of the following flavors:

French Foie Gras – made with fresh Roujie foie gras
French Lobster – made with fresh lobster
French Rose Champagne Chocolate – made with organic French roses, champagne and French 80% dark chocolate
Japanese Sesame 

The insane creations at the Ice Cream Gallery don’t come cheap. We had to fork over the equivalent of $35 USD for our tasting smorgasbord.

L to R: Foie Gras, Rose Champagne Chocolate, Lobster, Sesame

The verdict? I don’t think my taste buds have ever been so disoriented! I tried the Sesame first and was thoroughly impressed. Sweet, toasty, and just slightly gritty, this ice cream was delightful. It wasn’t the creamiest ice cream, but I enjoyed the airier texture. Next up was the Rose Champagne Chocolate. This flavor was sweeter than the sesame, but it retained a deep chocolatey flavor. The champagne flavor hit later, as the ice cream melted on my tongue. I couldn’t detect rose at all and wondered if I’d misinterpreted the name. Was it rosé champagne? Nope… I confirmed that rose was indeed a separate ingredient before I left. And now was the time for the savory flavors. The Lobster ice cream immediately reminded me of a rich lobster bisque…. but frozen and a tad bit sweeter? I’m not sure if the sweetness was just left over on my palate, or if there was actually a bit of sugar involved. The Foie Gras definitely tasted sweet, but it lacked the distinct fatty and salty flavor of foie gras. K said that if it was a blind taste test, he wouldn’t have known it was foie gras (and the boy loves his duck liver). Neither of us wanted to finish the two savory ice creams, but we were both glad we’d tried them. The Sesame, on the other hand, I couldn’t let go to waste. All in all, I’d really only recommend the Ice Cream Gallery to adventurous eaters. If you’re a vanilla-or-chocolate kind of ice-cream eater, you may prefer to try Hong Kong’s other shops. But if your taste buds are up to a challenge, walk run on over to the Ice Cream Gallery for an unforgettable experience.

The Stats:
Ice Cream Gallery
Windsor House/ICG Shop (Ground Floor – G16)
311 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
Hong Kong
http://www.icecreamgallery.com.hk