Sunday, July 4, 2010

Eating My Way Through Taiwan: Hei Tong Cuo Bing

Taiwanese Shaved Ice

The temperatures have kicked up here in Taiwan. It has been about 35C which is about 95F for you Americans. It is interesting that most Americans, unless they have studied college-level science classes have little or no understanding of what the temperature in degrees C means. C stands for Celsius. It is named after a Swedish Astronomer named Anders Celsius. It is used in countries that use the metric system. In the US, the metric system is only used in science. The common usage in America is the English system. That is inches, feet, yards, degrees Fahrenheit, and weight in oz and pounds. The metric system measures in millimeters, centimeters and meters. That is One thousandth, One hundredth and one meter. It extends to Kilometers, which is one thousand meters.

Using Fahrenheit temperatures, the freezing point of water is 32 degrees. Using the Celsius sytem, the freezing point of water is 0 degrees. Using Fahrenheit the boiling point of water is 212F; using Celsius it is 100C. So temperatures in Celsius are based on the freezing and boiling point of water. The basis for Fahrenheit temperatures is strange. A man, Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, based 0F on the lowest recorded temperature outside his home in one year. He based 100F on his own body temperature. (Either he had a fever or his thermometer was not accurate.) When he laid his scale next to the thermometer’s mercury at the freezing point of ice it recorded 32 degrees. Next to the mercury at the boiling point of water recorded 212F. That’s it. Which scale seems to make the most sense?

There is a formula for calculating Fahrenheit temperatures from Celsius temperatures. That formula looks like this: C * 9/5 + 32 = F. So when the temperature is 35C the formula computes out like this: (35 * 9) = 315; (315/5) = 63; 63 + 32 = 95F. When converting from Fahrenheit to Celsius the formula is (F-32) * 5/9 = C. (95 – 32) = 63; 63 * 5 = 315; (315/9) = 35C.

So I said all of that to say “It’s Hot.” The humidity is very high, about 98%. So it’s also “sticky.” I don’t seem to mind that too much, but the rest of the family does. So we were looking for a way to cool off and our friend Ken, suggested a nice Taiwanese Shaved Ice. In Chinese it’s called Hei Tong Cuo Bing (Hay Tong (o makes sound like in home) Tsuo Bing) It means Black Sugar Shaved Ice. Although it really uses what Americans call Brown Sugar. It’s served in a bowl, and the ice with Brown Sugar Sauce is placed on top of a number of other things.

Buried under the ice is the following:

Tapioca Balls (Fen Yuan or Zhen Zhu (They’re the same thing)): These are the little balls that you find in Bubble tea or Boba tea in the US.

Red beans (Hong Dou): These are a kind of semi-sweet bean. They’re sold in the US but we usually use them to make Chili or something. In Taiwan, they are often used as a sweet. Chinese and Taiwanese people don’t have the sweet tooth that Americans have. (You can find Red bean ice Cream, here, not bad by the way.)

White Dutch Runner Beans ( Da Hua Dou): I have no idea what these are. I wouldn’t have recognized them if I did. One thing that worries me about that, is that apparently I will eat anything, whether I recognize it or not. That could be sort of dangerous.


Small Rice balls (Xiao Tang Yuan): The literal translation of the words xiao Tang Yuan is small Soup Circle. These don’t resemble Rice, they seem to me to be made of the sticky portion of rice. Probably it’s starch. They are very, very sticky and have an interesting consistency. They are often used in desert soups. (Ken’s wife is an excellent cook and has made foods for us using these things a number of times.)

The shaved ice is obviously served very cold. I found it to be delicious and refreshing. I think the rest of the family thought that a little bit goes a long way. They didn’t like the surprises hidden under the ice. Oh well too bad for them. I thought it was great.

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