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August 31, 2010 / Katie

Bada Boom, Bada Baobing

Snow cones, move over. You haven’t truly lived until you’ve eaten Taiwanese style shaved ice. Baobing (刨冰), as it’s called in Chinese, is one of my favorite desserts. In fact, I’m a little obsessed and am constantly pumping fellow sinophiles and foodies for shaved ice tips.

While this icy treat can be found in New York’s Chinatown and Flushing, nothing compares to the baobing delight served at Sinbala (辛巴乐)–an authentic Taiwanese joint in my hometown of Arcadia, California (sometimes referred to as ‘Arcasia’ for its large Chinese population).

Sinbala bao bing toppings menuBaobing is made of finely shaved ice and most commonly served up with a combination of sweet red or green beans, tapioca balls, chewy goodies like aiyu jelly, and a healthy drizzle of condensed milk on top. Other variations include fruit, ice cream, strawberry syrup, peanuts, and even corn.

Sinbala, located in a 99 Ranch shopping center I lovingly call F.O.B. Court, has the most extensive list of toppings I’ve seen in my quest for the perfect baobing. But their secret ingredient–brown sugar–is what makes this specialty so delicious. It adds just the right touch of sweetness and what I can only think to call savory or umami, infusing the mountain of ice with a smoky molasses flavor.

I dream about this shaved ice. And of course, I had to indulge on a recent trip home. Even though I arrived at Sinbala well after the lunch hour, the place was hopping. The waitresses, wearing plaid and flower print aprons, buzzed around the tightly arranged tables. I ordered the signature Sinbala sausage rice and a baobing for one.


Who knew a pile of slush could make my heart sing?

Shaved ice is a treat meant to be shared with others, and in the past, I always had a few good friends with spoons at the ready to help me out. This was, admittedly, the first time I had ever attempted to devour one whole baobing on my own. I sampled it tentatively at first, feeling self-conscious that the mostly Taiwanese clientele would think me a gluttonous laowai (while interning at a Chinese newspaper, my then-boss waved his finger at me when he saw me sipping a coke during lunch, warning that I would get fat).

baobing toppings

Later, I gave into its icy goodness, and unabashedly shoveled spoonful after spoonful into my mouth. I made it through most of the ice and uncovered the hidden treasure nestled inside: lychees, tangyuan (glutinous rice balls), almond tofu, and aiyu jelly. Although in the end I wasn’t able to declare complete and utter victory over this dessert, I certainly made a valiant effort and will be dreaming of that baobing for months to come…until my next trip home.

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