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Why Taiwanese 'Shaved Snow' Is Better

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
July 14, 2014

Instead of using stabilizers, Grace Street employees prevent delicate shaved snow from melting by insulating it with a double layer of metal bowls. Photo credit: Julia Bainbridge

If your memory of sweet summer frozen treats involves technicolor syrup and ice chunks that require molars to cleave, then you have not had shaved snow. 

“The goal is to make sure it just disappears in mouth, and for the finish to be light,” says Colin Quek, general manager at New York City’s Grace Street, which in addition to Taiwanese shaved snow makes Korean-style donuts and stellar coffee. Quek and his team traveled around China and Korea, researching shaved snow and how to get it “soft and airy yet cold and creamy.”

The best way, Quek’s team found, was with a machine and a bit of mojo. One hand wields a razor, which shaves thin swaths of frozen liquid from a spinning disc of flavored ice, while the other holds a bowl, moving it left to right so that the delicate results softly pile themselves atop one another. “It’s like you’re catching ribbons,” said Quek, who likens the myriad layers to those in a croissant. “It’s the cold dessert version of the layers of dough and butter in a croissant; you get the airy texture that way.”

Shaved ice is somewhat crude in comparison. The folks at Grace Street say the texture scale goes like this, from least to most delicate:

Puerto Rican shaved ice: The result of manual work—Quek has primarily seen people sweep razor-like tools across a big block of ice—are “uneven” and “the ice chunks are too big.” This is similar to American snow cones. 

Korean and Taiwanese shaved ice: These contain “smaller chunks” than those in American shaved ice, “but there’s still a lot of crunch. It’s like tiny bits of ice packed together.” As is true of the above, the flavor comes from syrups and toppings added after the ice is shaved. “It’s usually topped with either fruit or condensed milk, mochi and boba,” says Quek.

Taiwanese shaved snow: The texture is melt-in-your-mouth sweet, cold air. The flavor—usually mango or green tea, although Grace Street is working on black sesame—is infused into the block itself. And the ice block also contains a mixture of water and milk, so the shavings are silkier. Grace Street serves the snow with a scoop of red bean ice cream and cubes of mochi on the side.

Qwek says that really what Grace Street is doing is a hybrid of Korean shaved ice and Taiwanese shaved snow—“We’re making it our own special way”—but uneducated palates will be none the wiser.

You can also find top versions of the stuff at Ice Fire Land in Flushing, New York, Blockheads Shavery and Class 302 in Los Angeles, Kuma Snow Cream in Las Vegas, and Snowflake in San Francisco.