Frost Bite

by aaron on February 9, 2012

(This article appeared in the Feb-March 2012, Hana Hou Magazine)

Photo by Ann Cecil

The love child of ice cream and shave ice, xue hua bing, a.k.a. “snowflake ice,” was invented five years ago in the Shilin night market of Taipei. It became an instant star of Taiwan’s frozen-confection world, and now Frost City has brought snowflake ice to Honolulu.

The mom-and-pop store, which opened in January, churns out miniature Matterhorns of paper-thin, fruit-flavored ice ribbons that are somehow light as powdered snow yet creamy as gelato. The texture is so satisfying, equal parts crisp and satiny, that it’s already got a cult following. “Many people come back two to three times a week,” says owner Stella Tseung, who makes sure that with thirty-six flavors, there’s something new to come back for, like locally sourced lychee and black currants from France. For the adventurous, Frost City offers stranger fruits like longan and durian as well as non-ice Chinese specialties like tea eggs and sweet milk tea.

“And to think Frost City started out as a joke,” Stella chuckles. “In Hong Kong, where I’m from, snowflake ice is very popular. Whenever my kids went back to China, they’d buy it every night. I used to joke that I should open a shop in Hawai‘i so they could have it all the time.” Her kids didn’t take it as a joke, though; they thought it was a brilliant idea, and before she knew it, Stella was off to Taiwan, training day and night in the shop of Mr. Chan, whose family had invented xue hua bing.

Today you can find the entire Tseung clan—Stella, husband William and all three kids—in their shop, handcrafting everything from scratch. When they’re not taking orders or clearing tables, they’re freezing ice blocks or stewing a batch of fresh pineapple. “It’s a very labor-intensive process,” Stella says. “Each flavor takes several hours to prepare.” Unlike shave ice, where artificially sweetened syrups are poured over unflavored ice, snowflake ice comprises 100 percent natural ingredients (cream, milk, water, sugar and fruit), which are frozen into blocks and then shaved.

And it’s surprisingly healthy: An average serving contains only 150 calories.

Frost City — 2570 Beretania Street, Suite 105. Honolulu, HI 96822

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