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The snack that world leaders ate together
A brief history of bao bing
Hello, Snackers. Today on Snack Stack:
Shaved ice topped with fruit, condensed milk, red beans, or other sweet toppings.
Find it in
China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Chinese immigrant communities in the USA and elsewhere.
All the world loves to snack, and the planet is full of variations on the same snacking themes. In the sweet-and-cold category, there’s shaved ice, whose many forms include halo-halo (in the Philippines), gola (in India), piraguas (in Puerto Rico), Hawaiian shave ice, and today’s star, bao bing.
Bao bing originates in China and has likely been around since the seventh century AD. It’s thin sheets of ice—not puffy, powdery, snow-like mounds like you’ll find in other parts of the world—and the toppings are key. Usually there’s fruit of some kind (like lychee or mango), and often some red beans, along with condensed milk, although the more traditional style used sugarcane juice as the key sweetener. As with any ice cream or frozen yogurt, the topping options are endless, and plenty of shops and customers have branched out into decidedly modern toppings like gummy bears and Oreos.
Little fun fact: When U.S. President Richard Nixon traveled to China in 1972 to meet with Mao Zedong, the People’s Liberation Army band played “America the Beautiful,” the two men exchanged toasts, they did all kinds of diplomatic stuff … and they ate bao bing together. (What flavors? Not sure; I’ve been researching this but can’t find the info; if anyone happens to know, please send details.)
Like many foods, bao bing is well-traveled, following immigrant communities to Southeast Asia, the USA, and beyond. By 1989, it was enough of a thing in the United States that the New York Times ran a trend piece titled “The Americanization of Bao Bing, a Cool, Fruity Asian Treat”:
Ten years ago, only one restaurant in New York's Chinatown sold bing. Today, more than 40 do. In Elmhurst and Flushing, Queens, and the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, restaurants catering to Asians make and sell bing, as do those in other large cities with Asian communities.
At the Bamboo Garden, at 22A Bowery between Pell and Bayard Streets in Manhattan, Mr. Yee and his staff sell 40 to 100 orders of bao bing a day. Mr. Yee, who was reared in New York, said he began to serve it only after customers began to request it. “A lot of the new immigrants, especially people from Hong Kong, really like bings,” he said.
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New York Times: “The Americanization of Bao Bing, a Cool, Fruity Asian Treat”
Gastro Obscura: Bao Bing