Tag Archives: Taiwan

On the Cheese Tea trend at Bingo Tea

We are always on the lookout for bubble tea, but little did we know that the whole landscape had changed in the past few years. One of the biggest bubble tea trends now is cheese milk/foam tea, which originated in Taiwan years ago. To be honest, cheese foam sounds a little bizarre, but think more cream cheese than cheddar. The sweetened, light milk foam topping eventually incorporates itself into the rest of the tea drink, making it extra creamy. We tried “cheese” milk for the first time at Bingo Tea (2150 S Archer Ave, Chicago, IL 60616) in Chicago’s Chinatown. The topping has been given the more palatable name of “Sea Salt Milk Foam” and is available as an add-on to any drink. We tried the classic matcha milk tea with boba and a peach tea with a sea salt milk foam, which we thought was a great combination. The matcha was solid, too! Bingo Tea also boasts a special reusable cup with a sipping lid (like a typical coffee cup lid) which allowed you to integrate the foam and tea while sipping. If you order a milk tea with tapioca boba, you do get a straw.

Though it may be the main attraction, cheese/milk foam is not the only unique drink at Bingo Tea. They also have a wide variety of interesting drinks including fresh fruit teas with dragon fruit, yogurt-based drinks, rose oolong tea, purple yam milk tea, and add-ons like grass jelly and matcha pudding. The prices may be a little higher than most bubble tea places, but they do also include the reusable plastic drink cup. Bingo Tea is also a great place to hang out, the inside is warm and modern, and there is even a selection of house-made baked goods including Durian Bread. We hear that they are eyeing expansion, and may soon be opening a Bingo Tea Malaysian restaurant and bubble tea cafe in Uptown. Perhaps the biggest attraction of Bingo Tea, however, is the mascot (which looks exactly like M)! Bingo Tea is a great addition to the Chicago Bubble Tea scene, and we look forward to trying milk foam on some other tea varieties.

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Pastry Post-Doc: Mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival

chinaIt’s almost time for the Mid-Autumn Festival in China and Vietnam (September 15 this year), which means one thing – mooncakes (yue bing)! Mooncakes are round, molded pastry cakes with dense fillings, and have been eaten in conjunction with the Mid-Autumn Festival since the Ming Dynasty. Mooncakes, as befits their name, are said to represent the moon, and are traditionally imprinted with the Chinese characters for longevity or harmony. Mooncakes are made with pastry crust and are traditionally filled with red bean or lotus paste with whole egg yolks, but the fillings vary wildly, depending on location. You can buy pre-made mooncakes with countless crust and filling types at most Asian grocery stores or bakeries (and even more elaborate varieties if you are in Hong Kong), but you can also make them on your own! Andew Gooi has a lovely video of how mooncakes are made, which you can see below.

Mooncakes are traditionally shaped with wooden molds, but you can also find some plastic or silicone (round or square) online. Making mooncakes is a multi-step process and may require some special ingredients from a well-stocked Asian grocery, like golden syrup, which you can also make on your own. China Sichuan Food and House of Annie have recipes for a traditional Cantonese version with egg yolk and red bean filling. Serious Eats has a recipe without the egg yolk. If you are feeling lost, Omnivore’s Cookbook has an extremely comprehensive recipe and step-by-step guide for the mooncake newbie newbie. If you are in the mood for something avant-garde, Christine has a recipe for for the more modern green tea custard or pandan snow skin mooncakes.

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Koko Bakery for sweets and bubble tea in Cleveland

chinaKoko Bakery (3710 Payne Ave, Cleveland, OH 44114) has a little something for everyone, and is a great place in to get your bubble tea fix, and follow it up with some egg tarts and sweet red bean buns. Koko Bakery reminds us of an amalgamation of some of our favorite spots in Chicago: combining the Chinese buns from Chiu Quon Bakery with the huge bubble tea menu of Saint’s Alp, all in a clean, simple cafe that has an almost-intimidating variety of treats (and free wifi).
kokobakery Along one side of the restaurant, there is a bakery case with all sorts of Chinese, Hong Kongese, and Taiwanese pastries, in both sweet and savory varieties – all you do is pick up a tray, and start using the tongs to pick out which items you want (most priced under $2). We tried the red bean bun, the Char Siu Bao (BBQ pork bun) and the egg tarts, and all were quite good (and super cheap). Other varieties of buns and pastries included bo lo (pineapple bun), taro, cream-filled, strawberry, peanut butter, scallion, cheese, beef, chocolate and coconut. Koko also has frozen buns to take and bake, sweet cakes in flavors like Ube and green tea, and a second bakery case filled with Asian and European inspired petit fours: from mango and chocolate mousses to mooncakes to mini cheesecakes. It seems like pretty much every surface of this modest store is covered in baked goods, and on the right side, you will find other non-refrigerated sweets like sesame cookies and loaves of milk bread.

KokoBakeryCase

The bubble tea menu is also massive! You can get all different varieties, from iced fruit smoothies to sweetened coffee to the Hong Kong style milk teas (in flavors like matcha, mango, melon, Thai tea, lychee, etc.), and you can also customize the sugar level and type of bubbles you want. Just when you thought you couldn’t eat any more, Koko also has substantial savory meals, and Taiwanese shaved ice, though we have never tried these selections. Koko Bakery is a solid Chinese bakery in Cleveland, and you can be assured that there will be something new to try on each visit!Koko2

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Taiwanese shaved snow at Snow Dragon Shavery

taiwanWe have been wanting to try Snow Dragon Shavery (2618 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60614) for a long time. Their Technicolor treats have been blowing up Instagram for a while, and everything there looks so darn delicious. However, what we are really there for is the Taiwanese shaved snow ice, an enigmatic creation that is becoming more and more popular stateside. The inside of Snow Dragon is bright and colorful, and it is open super late – Midnight on Friday and Saturday – for all of those late-night ice cream cravings.SnowIceYou can pick your flavor of snow ice, one sauce and two toppings. Flavors of snow include traditional, vanilla, tutti frutti, key lime, mango and coconut and there was a complete toppings bar with fresh fruit, boba and candy. The combinations are nearly infinite but we settled on matcha green tea shaved ice, topped with mango sauce, fresh strawberries and chocolate chips. The texture of the snow ice is really unique, and almost seemed like flaky, layered sheets, which melt instantly in your mouth. Unlike a snow cone, the shaved snow also has more of a creamy taste and texture.SnowMacaronsThe menu at Snow Dragon is huge, and there is pretty much every type of icy treat you could want including a selection of FroYo, a rainbow of exotic macarons (think Ube and Passionfruit) ice cream, bubble tea, Indian kulfi popsicles and more. Perhaps the most notable (and photogenic) offering – other than the snow ice – are the overstuffed macaron ice cream sandwiches! We look forward to getting back to Snow Dragon to sample more of their eclectic, icy treats. And we even hear they now have an outposts in Navy Pier and Evanston!SnowDragon

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Bubble Tea and More at Saint’s Alp in Chicago’s Chinatown

Hong KongtaiwanThe name of the Hong Kong-based chain Saint’s Alp (2157 S China Place, Chicago, IL 60616) has always puzzled us – much like the steakhouse chain Ruth’s Chris, it seemed like the apostrophe was in the wrong place. But whatever the grammar, Saint’s Alp is an awesome place for a Taiwanese-style bubble tea or a savory snack in Chicago. Saint’s Alp started in Hong Kong, but has since expanded to over 40 stores worldwide, and their Chicago location was the first in the US. The Chicago Saint’s Alp relocated semi-recently to a shop in Chinatown Plaza, so it really is in the heart of it all. Truth be told – we have never gone to Saint’s Alp for the food, but we have never been steered wrong by their bubble teas. What is particularly impressive about Saint’s Alp is their massive tea selection. BobaIf you are indecisive – be warned – there is actually a book of tea varieties to flip through before you make your choice. They have more traditional green, black and oolong tea varieties along with the milk teas (which may or may not have tea in them in some cases). We especially like these dairy-or nut milk based teas, a generally popular choice, which come in varieties like Black Tea, Matcha, Almond Milk, Taro and Sesame. You can order the teas with the classic round, tapioca pearls – or boba – but there are also other more unique add-ins like “nata” coconut cream or rainbow agar jelly. Most teas are available either hot or iced, and in small or large sizes – any of which will run you less than $5.SaintsAlpWithout seeing the menu itself, it is impossible to gauge all of the varieties available, from Sumiyaki Coffee (instant coffee usually served with coconut milk) to Kumquat Lime Nectar to Iced Mint Cream Tea. There are also fresh fruit smoothies, and milkshake-like sweet drinks with yogurt or chocolate. Although there is a seating area inside Saint’s Alp, there is nothing better than taking a stroll around Chinatown and Ping Tom Park with an iced bubble tea in hand. Though if you are like me, you may want to take a look at the menu beforehand!

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Phusion Cafe brings Taiwanese Cuisine to Cleveland

taiwanPhusion Cafe (3030 W. Superior Ave, Cleveland) is where we ended up instead when we thought we had arrived at Superior Pho. The first time we turned around in confusion, but this time we were excited to give the only place for Taiwanese food in Cleveland a try. If you enter from the back parking lot you will be greeted by the jumble of signs below. Phusion’s location in the lobby of a mini mall is not necessarily the most atmospheric, but don’t let that (or the vague name) dissuade you from some amazing Taiwanese food!

PhusionSign

The menu at Phusion has a large selection of typical some American-Chinese favorites like Egg rolls and General Tso’s chicken, but we made a beeline for the selection of more unique Taiwanese dishes. The server was more than happy to describe the Taiwanese dishes and offer recommendations. We were interested by the unique Taiwanese dishes including Hakka-style pork and squid ($12.95) and the Hakka-style tofu ($10.95) along with perhaps the most famous Taiwanese dish, Three Cups Chicken ($12.95). To start off, our server recommended the salt and pepper chicken, we got an appetizer portion, though you can also get it as a full sized entree. M ordered the ginger beef ($12.95) and L got the cold peanut and sesame noodles ($6.95). These cold noodles were the first Taiwanese dish we ever had, all the way back in Minneapolis, so seeing them again on the menu made us feel nostalgic.

GingerBeef

We only waited a short time for our food even though the dining room was pretty full with groups of college kids chatting and sipping on bubble tea. The salt and pepper chicken was crunchy, not greasy and actually consisted of high quality chicken (kind of the opposite of what we usually expect from popcorn chicken). The beef in the ginger beef dish was tender and flavorful, and there were actually long strips of ginger root throughout (we love ginger so this is a major plus). However, the favorite of the night was the delicious cold noodle dish topped with cucumber. The noodles were rich and savory, and the mix of peanut and sesame made for an incredible sauce. We could eat this every day!

SesameNoodles

And, yes, they have bubble tea! Not only that, it is made with Ten Ren Tea, a brand known for their high-quality leaves. Has anyone tried the bubble tea there yet? Phusion Cafe makes an excellent addition to an area where Taiwanese food is lacking, and delivers with authentic Taiwanese flavors. Our visit definitely made us want to duplicate that sesame and peanut noodle recipe at home.

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A New Place for: Xue-hua-bing, Taiwanese Ice Cream [updated]

Xue hua bing by Kimberlykv

We are always up for a new kind of iced treat, especially the international varieties – gelato from Italy, halo halo from the Philippines and the wave of frozen yogurts from Korea – all delicious. So add to the list Xue hua bing – an icy confection from Taiwan. The name translates to “snow ice” and is a mixture of milk, ice and fruit, and each serving is shaved off of a giant ice block, and topped with fruit and other confections. There used to be a dedicated spot for Xue hua bing in Chicago – Cloud 9 on Belmont – though it has been closed for a while now. So we were excited to learn about Snow Dragon Shavery (2618 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614), which has taken up the torch as the only dedicated XHB spot in Chicago.

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Japan and Taiwan: Honey Toast

Honey Toast from Sheng Kee Bakery in San Francisco by Jeffrey Chiang

I love learning about unique foods from around the world, especially if they are a little quirky. One of the quirkiest foods I have encountered recently is honey toast, a Japanese creation that has caught on in Taiwan, where the topping choices have become even more extravagant.  Honey toast is composed of a small loaf of hollowed out white bread,  the interior of the bread is cubed, toasted and stuffed back inside, and all is covered with a heaping helping of honey. Honey toast toppings may be a simple as ice cream, or may include fruit, syrups, or even something as decadent as macarons. Curious yet? A review of What8ver Cafe in British Columbia has a great description of honey toast. Or if you need a better visual, here is a video of Honey toast at Dazzling Café in Taipei being dissected. Making the honey toast does not seem terribly difficult, but definitely for carb lovers only.

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Xue Hua Bing at 527 Cafe

 Now that Cloud 9 in Chicago is closed, and Spring is theoretically around the corner, where can you go for you Xue Hua Bing (Taiwanese shaved ice) fix? 527 Cafe! Right in downtown Evanston (527 Davis St.), Cafe 527 makes some pretty good XHB, with gargantuan portions. The flavors available are mango, strawberry and passion fruit and the serving size is more than enough for you and your 2 closest friends.

Xue hua bing by Kimberlykv

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