The heat is back and the Iced Dessert Quest returns from hiatus! This time around, the Militant takes you to Taiwan, which offers its own take on shaved ice, called chhoah-peng.
The island of Taiwan, once called "Ilha Formosa"(Beautiful Island) by Portugese explorers, lies sandwiched longitudinally between Japan and the Philippines, and off of the eastern coast of the People's Republic of China, who doesn't even recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation, but a rogue province or some prodigal child that will one day (after much bullying) come back to papa. That reason alone is why Taiwanese athletes compete under the "Chinese Taipei" moniker every four years during the Summer Olympics, which, incidentally, the next of which happens a year from now in - surprise - Beijing, China.
Speaking of summers, they do get pretty hot there in Taiwan, which means all the more reason to whip out the ice shaver. A popular seasonal dessert, chhoah-peng (pronounced kinda like "shopping"), which comes in several variations, usually starts with some form of sweet beans, fruits and jelly, topped with a tall mound of shaved ice and topped with sweetened mild and/or syrup. The name, "chhoah-peng" roughly translates to "hand-grabbed shaved ice," in reference to how its various ingredients are grabbed from buckets in the countryside stands where the dessert originated from.
The largest concentration of Taiwanese in Southern California is in the San Gabriel Valley, where the Militant spent a good deal of Wednesday afternoon with a member of his militia on a foodie quest of sorts in the 626. After one of the Militant's operatives in the Taiwanese community failed to fully cooperate ("Oh, there's lots of Taiwanese dessert shops in the San Gabriel Valley, you'll stumble into one of them," she said), the Militant was left to search fo a place on his own. After a Yelp and Chowhound tip, The Militant headed due east along Valley Blvd and ended up near the corner of Valley and Garfield Ave. to a place called Kang Kang Food Court. Not a true "food court" in housing a variety of different food vendors, but a fast food eatery that boasts a massive selection of pan-Chinese dishes, all at low prices. The most expensive thing on the menu was a little over $6.
A good 25% of the entire food counter was dedicated to chhoah-peng ingredients, which Kang Kang Food Court sells as "Taiwanese Ice Slush." Unlike the previously-featured Korean bingsu and Singaporean/Malaysian ice kachang, there is no set combination of ingredients here, you chose three or four items ranging from sweet red beans, sweet green beans, taro chunks and tapioca to fruits like pineapple, peach, longan, mandarin oranges and lychee to almond, grass and lemon jelly cubes. A three-item chhoah-peng is $2.77 while one with four items is only $3.50. Sweetened milk here comes optional, not standard, at 25 cents extra.
The ice variety here at Kang Kang Food Court is lighter, finer and fluffier than other shaved ices the Militant has experienced - more like little snowflakes. The taste of chhoah-peng, at least the one served here at Kang Kang is slightly more bland in flavor -- mainly due to the lack of syrups and sweetened ingredients. Even the sweetened milk got lost in that fluffy ice. The Militant stresses yet again, for the uninitiated, that the contents this iced dessert must be mixed before consumption, or else you spend 2/3 of the time just eating ice. But maybe for the diabetics out there, chhoah-peng might be your chance to enjoy some iced desserts without fear of getting rushed to the hospital. There are also those out there that like the fluffier, finer ice consistency, so this might be worth trying for you folks. Either way, it was still a great respite from that SGV heat.
Other places to try chhoah-peng? Like my Taiwanese community operative said, "There's lots of places in the SGV." But according to fellow local blog-guerrillista and 626-area informant LA Bus Girl, she tipped the Militant off to one Sinbala Restaurant in Arcadia, who reportedly sells a version of chhoah-peng, albeit under the mainland Chinese name "bah-bao-bing." Like Kang Kang, you select the base ingredients, but according to some Yelpsters, their version is doused with a brown sugar syrup, so all you cursed with the sweet tooth might wanna head there. The Militant welcomes your comments on other recommended places to find chhoah-peng.
Kang Kang Food Court
27 E. Valley Blvd.
Item: Taiwanese Ice Slush; $2.77 (three items), $3.50 (four items)