You’ve heard the food proverb, “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.”
To reach those lips, never mind your hips, the people behind the Taiwanese shaved ice served at Nu Cafe in the Southwest Management District performed 1,250 experiments over more than seven years to get the perfect recipe, which they unveiled 11 years ago at Dun Huang Plaza shopping center.
While Nu Cafe serves smoothies, milks teas and coffees, it’s the shaved ice that is extraordinary and, on a recent hot and humid Houston evening, attracted a crowd looking to cool off with the sweet treat.
While the service that night was friendly and fast, the Nu Cafe shaved ice process is not.
Nu Cafe claims to be one of the only places in Texas to abide by the traditional method of preparation of Taiwanese shaved ice. Each block of ice used in the shaved ice treats takes 10 hours to prepare.
“Our artisan shaved ice is an original recipe prepared over the course of hours, not scooped together in a matter of minutes. You can’t rush greatness, and we certainly don’t try,” says Nu Cafe.
And, once you taste it, we think you’ll decide a lifetime on the hips is worth it. But don’t take our word for it:
Houstonia Magazine: “Nu Cafe is the place to go for the new Asian ‘snowflake ice.’ Also known as ‘snow ice,’ this frozen dessert, a hybrid of ice cream and shaved ice, is all the rage with young people in Taiwan and California.”
Houston Press (which named Nu Cafe “Best Ice Cream” for 2020): “If you’re into eating clouds, snowflake ice is the snack to try. However, it’s recommended you set aside two to three hours to complete the steps involved in taking this treat to the next level. The first step is to get really full on dim sum, shellfish or whatever in Asiatown. Second step: get a massage, because you deserve it. Then lastly, hit up Nu Café for their unique, thinly shaved ice.”
Houston Chronicle: To make Taiwanese snowflake ice, giant blocks of flavored frozen ice are placed on a rotating spit, then shaved to create triangular mounds of diaphanous ice sheets. … Fruit-laden strawberry with condensed milk is always a winner.”
KPRC-TV Channel 2: “… the dessert is worth the trek to Dun Huang just for the experience. Each bite of the snowflake ice dissolves on the tongue almost immediately, a sensation like eating icy-cold spun air.”
Walking into Nu Cafe, you’re instantly transported into a winter wonderland with snowflake decorations and sounds of ice being shaved. (The air conditioning helps, too.) At the counter, pick up an order sheet and choose your size.
Nu Cafe’s snowflake ice, if you’re eating-in, is served on a plate in the shape of a “hill” (big) or “mountain” (bigger). The “mountain” comes with two toppings and a drizzle, while the “hill” comes with one topping and a drizzle.
Then choose your flavor from among 17 options. We decided go for the popular green tea flavor topped with a traditional combo of fruit (strawberries and mango) and a drizzle of condensed milk. Also, we ordered the less traditional — but very American — sea salt caramel with Oreos and M&Ms and a drizzle of chocolate.
The combinations seem endless. Toppings range from lychee jelly to rainbow sprinkles and flan — and everything in between.
Once you order, be sure to stay for the show. A Nu Cafe employee pops a frozen cylinder of ice into a shaved ice machine. As the razor-sharp blade of the machine hits the ice, ribbons of snowflake ice fall onto your plate in layers.
When your name is called, prepare to be handed a work of shaved ice art. Get your camera ready, but no need to rush. It’s amazing how long the shaved ice retains its consistency given how light and fluffy it is.
The portion sizes are huge, so don’t be shy about asking for a to-go container. The ice can be popped into your freezer and eaten later, just be sure to let it thaw out a little first.
Nu Cafe claims it has an “original secret recipe” that is “often imitated, never recreated … despite what others might lead you to believe.”
On Facebook, the cafe says: “Over the years we have had many imitators who have tried to imitate our shaved ice, which we make from scratch.”
After that, one might say, Nu Cafe threw some shade, or maybe snowballs.
“We are flattered,” Nu Cafe posted. “You guys are so sweet to advertise for us.”
9889 Bellaire Blvd., Suite 112A
Houston, TX 77036
Open noon to 10 p.m. every day
— By Dorothy Puch Lillig