Icy treat cools off crowds

June 18, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Is it ice? Perhaps a creamy kind of snow cone? A little of both, actually. The new Cloud 9 in Lakeview offers customers xue hua bing, or Snow Ice, a traditional warm weather treat from Taiwan. It's similar to Hawaiian shave ice, but not the same.

"It's a lot like Hawaiian shaved ice, we do freeze a block of ice and we shave it; but, I guess, the main difference is, Hawaiian shaved ice, they just freeze water. We actually freeze the flavor right into the block of ice," said Kenny Tsai of Cloud 9.

They do it by first combining some water, sugar and milk powder in a blender. Once the mixture is completely incorporated, it's poured into specially-made silver, circular tins, that go immediately into a custom-made freezer imported from Taiwan. Tsai says the machine is the secret to achieving the proper consistency.

"The freezer, the temperature and how fast it freezes actually affects the texture when it shaves," Tsai said.

Tsai usually offers three flavors, such as chocolate, vanilla, mango, even strawberry. The frozen blocks are wedged into an enormous shaver that spins the blocks tight against a sharp blade. The resulting snow ice has the appearance of a flowing fabric. You get to choose from among a handful of sauces and toppings to add even more flavor.

"Right now we have drizzles which are basically fruit purees or chocolate. We actually use real fruit we don't have high fructose corn syrup except for the Hershey's chocolate," said Tsai.

Texture seems to be the main point of difference with snow ice, but even by itself - with no toppings - it's an icy, creamy, low-cal way to beat the heat.

"Some people like the fact that it's from Taiwan, some people like the fact that it's low in calories, low in fat, so it really depends on who comes in and what they're thinking about," Tsai said.

Now they've got two different sizes here, regular and a snack, the snack has got less than a gram of fat, less than 140 calories. Cloud 9's owners say mango is the most popular flavor. However, they're working on green tea and should have it in the store this week.

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