We had heard about this ice cream shop in Taipei city centre that serves some rather interesting ice cream flavours, so now that we are on holiday in Taiwan we went to have a look (and taste).
The shop’s called Snow King and it’s been in Taipei since 1947. The founder of the shop, Kao Jih-Hsing, used to sell ice cream on the streets of Taipei but when he had saved enough money to open his own shop he started experimenting with some pretty unusual combinations and, can you believe it, the customers actually like them so much that the shop has been in business for nearly 70 years.
We struggled to find the shop and were walking in circles for nearly an hour – my husband and I were blaming each other for reading the map wrong, but then a helpful Taiwanese lady saw us looking lost at a street corner and came to our aid. She found the shop in Google Maps and ever so kindly escorted us to the shop, which turned out to be only a stone-throw away from the street corner where we were standing. The Taiwanese seem to have a talent for hiding their shops, hotels and restaurants from (Western) customers, given that we had walked past the shop at least five times searching for it. Well, you judge for yourselves, would this shop front indicate to you that there is an ice cream parlour at this address (see photo below)?
The shop was very quiet when we were there – I suppose it’s February and ice cream may not be as popular as Chinese dumplings, pork buns or stinky tofu at this time of the year. We were the only customers there, well apart from the lady who escorted us there. We were so excited about the shop and its ice cream that she decided to come and have a look as well.
We sat by the window (given that our hotel room doesn’t have any we are drawn to some daylight like hyenas are to pig knuckles).
The staff at the shop (I think one of them was the current owner, Kao Ching-feng, the original Snow King’s grandson) were extremely friendly and helpful. They recommended several ice cream flavours to us, pointed out the flavours that children should not try (as apparently a scoop of those flavours will push even a sumo wrestler over the legal limit) and told us that all the ice cream is handmade and homemade.
We were given permission to take a photo of their kitchen (see photo below), in which they make the ice cream fresh as and when a bowl/bucket is about to run out. We told them that our daughter has type 1 diabetes and they said that they had created some less sugary ice creams specifically for their diabetic customers.
When we visited, the menu looked like this
From the working-mother-of-two-point of view the most appealing ones are pig knuckle (do pigs have knuckles?), curry and sesame oil chicken, as these sound like an efficient way to cut out one course, by combining the main and the dessert.
I suppose these are comparable to an English ice cream shop offering Fish and Chips, Vindaloo or Lancashire hotpot ice cream flavours, or a Finnish shop offering makaroonilaatikko (pasta and mince oven bake), poronkäristys (reindeer stew) or pea soup ice cream. Maybe these ice cream flavours would be an acquired taste, but then again, we were told that the most popular ice cream flavour in Snow King was kidney bean!
I’m guessing their ‘diabetes-friendly’ flavours were soybean curd and egg, but instead of trying to persuade our 4-year old to go for these options, we let her choose whichever scoop she wanted while her insulin pump was set to rev at 150% to neutralise the sugar in the ice cream.
I know a person or two back in England and in Finland whose taste buds and endorphin producing glands would be caressed best with the bottom right hand corner’s flavours (you know who you are!). I can’t deny it, rose and plum wine flavours sound like they are right up my street but I would rather have the alcohol in a liquid form and ice cream with some other (disgustingly sweet) flavour, like salty caramel or strawberry cheesecake.
But the ice cream actually at Snow King was not particularly sweet – certainly not as sweet as your typical ice creams in England/Finland, and the texture was a little different, not as creamy. I asked the staff what the base of their ice cream was and they said that the ingredients were a carefully kept secret, but that some of their ice creams were made in milk, some in juice, and some in eggs. We have been super careful not to eat salads or anything else that might glue us to the toilet for the rest of the holiday, and here we were licking out the last drops of our milk and raw egg based Snow King ice creams, with bits of fruit, that may have been washed in tap water instead of clean, filtered water (if washed at all!). I know, not very systematic, but when there are risks to be taken, I say take it with ice cream rather than a piece of lettuce.
We selected four different flavours, and ended up going back for some seconds. We tried: coconut, peach, custard apple, sugar cane, strawberry, brandy and walnut. Custard apple by the way is not apple with custard, it’s a fruit (see some custard apples on the counter in the photo below).
The flavours were very good, but quite delicate for a Western palate that has got used to flavour enhancers, gallons of sugar and E-numbers.
I know, our ice cream choices were not quite as daring as they could have been, but we were a bit scared that by ordering pig knuckle you’d get a scoop of ice cream with a trotter sticking out of it.
Maybe we’ll go to Snow King again before we leave Taipei and pluck up the courage to force down the trotter.
Which flavour would you have gone for?