In Taipei, two of the biggest names in the iced dessert business are Xin Fa Ting in Shilin and Tai Yi Milk King in Da'an. Unless you go to either one of these shops during a generally low-traffic time (like late-morning on a Sunday) you're going to meet huge crowds, especially on Saturday night when all the young people are out and about. Although that may sound daunting, the staff at both shops seem to well accustomed to dealing with the high volumes of customers, and although there often are long lines in both places, the wait never seems to exceed 5-8 minutes.
|Xin Fa Ting's peanut shaved ice|
|Tai Yi Milk King's pudding and chocolate ice|
Both shops have their own style of preparing their cold desserts, so let's get down to business and compare the two!
(And just so you know - both shops sell more than iced desserts, but I'll be focusing on that since it is their specialty).
Xin Fa Ting
|The busy little street where the shop is located.|
Xin Fa Ting is tucked inside Shilin Night Market on a small lane surrounded by clothing stores, yet it isn't hard to find at all. The place is always buzzing and the crowds which wait outside act as a better beacon to potential customers than the signage.
|Xin Fa Ting on a semi-busy day. |
Each table has cute "fortune teller" gadgets you
can play with for 10NT (~$0.33).
You wait in line with your party, keeping close to whom you came with so the staff can easily see how many seats you need. During peak times, you will not get your own table; chances are you will be eating across from complete strangers, which can be awkward, but once you get your shaved ice you cease to care. After being seated, you order what you want from the menu (if you are clearly not a local like me, they will give you a menu in English, although I enjoy ordering in Chinese anyway). You then pay, wait for less than 5 minutes (yes, they're usually fast even during peak times) and bam! - they bring you your ice.
I think, like many other places in Taipei, Xin Fa Ting is a wonderful great for people watching. You can look at what others have ordered and scope out possible flavors to try next time, and you can watch at couples feeding each other shaved ice (awww).
Also, the staff is incredibly nice and patient. There's a lot of hustle and bustle at this place, but they don't mind if you can't quickly decide what you want.
|Backgroud: Mango shaved ice|
Foreground: Green tea & red bean shaved ice
I think Xin Fa Ting is well-known because of the consistency of their ice - it is one-of-a-kind. The ice is so fine, yes somehow it manages to stack perfectly. It's finer than snow, and it has a soft, powdery feeling in your mouth. I'd say the softness is close to cotton candy, yet naturally it melts instead of going slightly hard. I liked that some flavors are infused with the ice. Xin Fa Ting's ice is an experience. There are many great combos on the menu as well.
The only complaint I have about Xin Fa Ting regards the "manufactured" nature of some of their flavors. For example, the passion fruit shaved ice consists of a radioactive like green sauce over ice without any fruit to be found (sorry, I failed to get a picture of it). It looks as if there's no "real" passion fruit to be found in it, but it's not a tragedy since there are many other adequate flavors to choose from.
Recommendations: The fruit shaved ice (mango, strawberry) if you can get them (they're seasonal); any of the flavors that are "infused" with the ice (e.g., peanut, coffee, green tea).
The cost is about 70NT ($2.33) - 100NT ($3.33). The fruit flavors are 100NT while the others range from about 70NT to 80NT.
Here's Xin Fa Ting on the map:
|Tai Yi Milk King's storefront on a Saturday night.|
See that long line?!
Here's how you order at Tai Yi Milk King:
First off, unless you have a good idea of what you want, do not step into the shop! The counter area is small compared to the crowd that comes in, and you will be overwhelmed if you're not used to going there. It's awkward to linger around inside if you don't know what you want because there barely will be enough space for you do so, so have an idea of the kind of toppings you want on your ice before you step up.
Once you decide what you want, you order the shaved ice and either pick from the set menu or tell them what toppings you want. This allows for endless combinations! Once you order, the guys in the back make your ice at top speed (I'd say about half the time it takes at Xin Fa Ting - it's fast!) then they hand you your ice. You seat yourself. There's more room than Xin Fa Ting, especially because Tai Yi Milk King has two floors.
|Background: Strawberry & mango shaved ice|
Forground: Chocolate & banana shaved ice
While Xin Fa Ting's "signature" seems to be the fineness of their ice, Tai Yi Milk King's is clearly the milk! The condensed milk, to be more accurate. It's poured on top of all their shaved ice creations and gives a creamy feeling to it. I think the milk Tai Yi Milk King is unique not only because of the texture it produces, but also because it turns the shaved ice into "three" deserts.
Allow me to explain:
You get the shaved ice with the toppings, milk, and ice layers (dessert #1). Then, it starts to melt into this milkshake consistency (dessert #2). Finally, it melts down into a flavored milk that you can drink up using the straws they so courteously provide (dessert #3). Clever, no? And there's more than enough to enjoy because the portion sizes are generous, about one and a half the size you get at Xin Fa Ting.
I think the biggest complaint I have about Tai Yi Milk King's shaved ice is, well, the ice! I don't dislike the ice, but I believe it doesn't compliment the toppings as well as Xin Fa Ting's paper-thin ice does. I prefer finer ice.
Recommendations: Anything with chocolate or a "sauce" because when the ice melts, you can enjoy the "drink" at the end. The fruit flavors are good too as the fruit is fresh.
Prices vary at Tai Yi Milk King because it depends on what toppings you order. You can pay as little as 70NT-80NT, but if you add a lot of fruit, it can be around 110NT+ ($3.67).
Here's Tai Yi Milk King on the map: