Savoury ice cream has become a popular fad in trendy Western restaurants, but Taiwan vendor Liny Hsueh is whipping up business with an even stranger range of flavours — seafood.
Hsueh’s ”Dr Ice” brand offers ice cream, ”snowflake ice” (shaved ice) and ”bubble ice” (thinly shaved ice) made from shrimp, cuttlefish, tuna, seaweed and laver (purple seaweed) combined with fruits, mint, wasabi, peanut and wine.
Salty, pungent seafood does not seem ideally suited to traditionally sweet and soft ice cream, yet Hsueh has managed to find a harmony between the two to create the island’s only seafood-flavoured frozen desserts line.
The combination might even peak the interest of Ferran Adria, Spain’s experimental chef famed for his startling combinations of seemingly incongruous ingredients often based on their similar molecular structure.
Hsueh’s ice-cream booth sits among stalls at an indoor fish market in Bisha port in northern Keelung city that tout live fish, shrimp and squid swimming in tanks or spread on ice to preserve their freshness.
She launched Dr Ice in 2003 and now has two shops in the city better known by their Chinese name, Shia Bing Hsieh Chiang (shrimp ice crab sauce).
The 13 flavours on offer include pineapple shrimp, wasabi cuttlefish, strawberry tuna and mango seaweed, all in stark colours from orange to green to black.
All are served in white or blue shell on fish-shaped plates and bowls, and some also come with a sprinkle of small dried fish, roe or chopped squid.
‘The colour is really cool’
During a weekend afternoon in October, customers who braved a cold sea breeze and drizzle to visit Bisha port to buy or eat fresh seafood crowded Hsueh’s small store.
”I walked by Shia Bing Hsieh Chiang several months ago and entered out of curiosity. Now I visit the store often with my classmates,” said 14-year-old student Yvonne Yen.
”I like the ice cream here, especially the cuttlefish flavour, because of the rich texture and lighter sweet taste. The colour [black] is really cool,” added Yen, sitting with five girls of her age.
Peter Lin, a first-time customer who tried shrimp-and-seaweed-flavoured ice cream, said he was surprised that it didn’t carry the smell or salty taste of seafood.
”I was a little worried that it would taste disgusting and weird,” said the 41-year-old man, who paid 35 Taiwan dollars (about R7,04) for each scoop.
Hsueh’s family initially expressed similar scepticism when she announced she was going to make ”snowflakes ice” from shrimp.
”They thought I was crazy because shrimp seemed an impossible ingredient for frozen desserts,” said the spirited Hsueh (45), who grew up in a fishing village in Keelung.
”I had to find a niche in the crowded market of ice desserts and I thought that even though Taiwan is an island with abundant oceanic resources, seafood was never used to make them, and I wanted to give it a try.”
Before her venture only seaweed was used to make shaved ice in Green Island, an islet off south-eastern Taitung county, for a small local market.
Hsueh was also encouraged by an old Taiwanese saying that goes: ”The number-one job is selling ice desserts and the number two is being a doctor.”
More inviting still was the dessert market, estimated by industry watchers at more than 10-billion Taiwan dollars a year.
The novelty proved an initial success, with Hsueh greeting patrons from all over the island at her small store and making up to 700 000 Taiwan dollars a month during summer.
In less than a year, she opened her second branch shop in capital city Taipei’s bustling Tung Hua Street night market, popular with locals and foreign tourists, but it flopped and closed after six months.
Hsueh decided to focus her efforts in Keelung and opened a booth in Bisha fish market last December, developing a new line of seafood sausage, dumpling and meat balls to make up for the slow winter season.
Now, she is ready to expand again and this time is targeting sunny southern Taiwan, where ice-desserts business has an average 10-month sales season compared with five in the north.
”I am continuing to experiment with different seafood to create new flavours,” she said, adding scallop could be the newest addition to her ”Dr Ice” line. — Sapa-AFP