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Good Asian Grub: Shaved Ice in Chinatown

Shaved ice with pudding, red beans, and ai yu jelly (photos by Carol Shih)

The ladies and gents of the Web Team crowded around my desk area as soon as I uploaded the above photo into Photoshop. Jason Heid thought it looked like “rotten mashed potatoes.” Liz Johnstone called it “caviar.” Best of all, ShopTalk Editor Raya Ramsey dubbed it “old lady food.”

No, my good people. This here is shaved ice with a large helping of pudding, red beans, and ai yu jelly from Tapioca House in Chinatown. Shaved ice, a popular dessert in East Asia that we eat in the summertime, is just crushed ice with syrups (like condensed milk), fruit toppings, and other random Asian junk with weird textures we like that other people don’t (mochi, jellies, pudding, you name it.) You can put anything you want on it, and usually you select from a multitude of toppings for your favorite shaved ice mixture. It’s extremely important to pick strong combos so when the ice melts, you still have this tasty goodness at the bottom of your bowl to slurp up.

And when the Texas sun sucks up your soul – nothing, not even Henry’s Ice Cream or Paciugo – combats the heat like a cold comforting dessert like shaved ice.

Jump for ice.

There aren’t many places in Dallas to get shaved ice, and to be honest, I haven’t found a place here that can match the desserts from Star Snow Ice in Houston’s Chinatown. (Which explains why these photos stink so much, Liz-Johnstone-who-is-giving-me-crap-for-them.) But your best bet for trying shaved ice is in our own little Richardson Chinatown along Greenville Avenue. Tapioca House, which sits at the left corner of the plaza, serves bowls of shaved ice that are bigger than a football player’s head. There’s a little sign in Chinese on the wall that says you can choose three toppings (from pudding, jelly, red bean, tapioca grass jelly, and ai yu jelly) for a total of $2.75. If you don’t read Chinese, you’d probably never realize Tapioca House sells anything other than bubble tea, but now that you know that it also sells shaved ice, stand confidently in front of the cashier and order like a pro. Make sure you go with a friend; you’ll never be able to finish it by yourself.

May's shaved ice with taro pudding, multicolored fruit jelly, mochi, and yi ren

A few doors down from Tapioca House is May’s Ice Cream, which is actually a better place to get shaved ice. (Its name probably makes that obvious.) May’s offers four toppings for a $3 bowl of shaved ice, or you can get yours packed to-go in a 32 oz. foam container. The ice here is fluffier, feathery, and not at all like the crunchy shaved ice you’d find in snow cones. This kind of ice melts on your tongue instantly like snowflakes and cotton candy. Choose from 19 different toppings like taro pudding, almond pudding, grass jelly, mochi, and fruit jelly at May’s. There’s also this sweet rice grain (yi ren), peanuts, and mung bean you can add to your bowl. The woman who works behind the counter doesn’t speak English too well, but if you point and grunt, she’ll get what you mean and pour this condensed milk mixture into your shaved ice until your bowl is flowing with milk and sweetness.

Tips on choosing toppings for a good bowl of shaved ice: I like mine with something sweet (like red bean), something chewy (hence the kiddie colored fruit jelly), something mushy (grass jelly), and something grainy (yi ren). If you diversify your toppings, you’ll enjoy every last bite even when the ice is melted and your mixture is drowning in a bowl of watery soup.

9 comments on “Good Asian Grub: Shaved Ice in Chinatown

  1. That is really and wholly unappetizing to me. Take a friend? I like my friends. When an article about food includes the words “grunt” and “slurp” and “watery soup” I usually don’t expect the writer to be so wildly enthusiastic about the subject food.

  2. Shojimoto in Arlington serves a Filipino version of shaved ice called halo halo. I know some people who will come from as far as Wylie for this stuff. I haven’t tried Shojimoto yet, but I love halo halo.

  3. Also check out Asian World Market in Plano (Legacy & 75). There’s a food court a few shops down serving all kinds of asian grub. The shave ice place is in the back and their fruits are fresh. The mango topping is great!!! Also, they have a filipino food booth in the middle of the food court. Check it out!

  4. This article does a TERRIBLE job of introducing and enticing people to try a new food. The picture is equally awful. The author could’ve easily chosen a more photogenic combination of toppings to purchase and photograph. Moreover, the photography itself is awful… food bloggers take better care with their shots. Lastly, the attempt at humorous writing (“point and grunt”) comes across as talking down to people and makes it seem like it would be a hassle for newcomers to bother trying May’s. Honestly, this piece comes across like a Facebook or Yelp entry, not what should be published in D.

  5. up above article is right to some extent but a little harsh.
    I’m so happy that more food writers in Dallas are finally writing about these hidden gems that are kept away. This is going to give an opportunity for people of Dallas and it’s cuisine to elevate to a level similar to LA, NYC, San FRAN, Chicago, Houston, etc. Dallas has so many different cultural pockets that are waiting to get explored. But we still tend to always migrate to “trendy, hip, new” places when food is just mediocre.
    like 214holly said…. educational. let’s educate the people of Dallas in what other foods that are out there besides, flat iron steaks, filet, mussels, fried chicken, scallops, (basically the criteria to have a decent restaurant in Dallas, you guys know what im talking about)

  6. The shaved ice (and asian food for that matter) in Dallas is not comparable to those in LA SF NY at all. Please let me know if there’s actually a good place to go other than the ones mentioned in the article.

  7. If I were to judge all the Asian food in Dallas by LA SF NY and Houston standards, I would hardly eat any Asian food in Dallas at all because you and I both know that it doesn’t compare. (http://sidedish.wpengine.com/2012/05/22/when-youre-eating-asian-food-in-dallas-youll-be-happier-if-you-lower-your-standards/)
    Therefore, my philosophy is to make do with what we have here and enjoy the hell out of it, even if it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, DisappointedinD. At least it’s a taste of home.