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What is this drink I had in Chinatown--weird "milkshake"

I was in Chinatown in the spring, and I saw some Asian ladies sipping, and using a long spoon, to eat a thick beverage that had gelatinous chunks in it. I pointed to it and asked for one, too! It was cold, served in a tall glass with a thick straw, lightly sweet, very unusual but quite good. My question is..What was it. what was in it, and which Asian cuisine did it belong to?! BTW, my teenaged daughter was so disgusted by it, she couldn't even watch me eat it!

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  1. Bubble tea. The "chunks" are tapioca beads.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Mazzer

      Thanks! Do you know its real name, or what culture it belongs to?

      1. re: goodfoodlovr

        Well, the original bubble tea started out in Taiwan as a snack for schoolkids... the chunks, if they were brown, were sweetened boiled tapioca. Those tapioca balls (usually called "boba", though that's not the politest word in Taiwanese) make their way into a variety of other smoothies, ice blended drinks, and even something called "Finland juice" which contains a raw egg.

        1. re: Das Ubergeek

          Mr. Geek, do you know by any chance where one buys the dark brown boba to cook themselves? I frequently shop at asian markets and I have only seen the white ones, never ever brown. Or do they start out white and something goes in the cooking water, prehaps?

          1. re: Saucey

            These tapioca balls are quite chewy (if cooked properly)... some liken the consistency to gummy bears. Is this what you had?
            From my experience, I believe most Asian markets sell tapioca that you can cook yourself. They aren't white; I've used bags of light brown-colored tapioca. As with the white ones, the light brown disappears through cooking and you're left with the dark brown cooked tapioca balls.
            There are variations on the tapioca balls now and I've seen bags of multi-colored tapioca sold in markets. Also, frozen tapioca balls are also available now, as well as boba milk tea packages where you can everything in one package to make boba milk tea (boba, tea, straw, etc).

    2. It's originally a Taiwanese drink, and it's sometimes even referred to as "frog's egg milk" in Taiwan. This Wikipedia entry gives a decent overview of its origins: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubble_tea.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ArtemisNYC

        Thanks for the origin info! the Wikipedia article was very informative as well. This is the 1st question I posted to Chowhound and I'm overwhelmed at the response!

        1. re: goodfoodlovr

          I appreciate it, and keep the posts coming!

      2. AKA Boba Tea.

        Here's another link w/ a photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boba_tea

        1. Was it coconut milk based? There are also drinks called "Bing," meaning ice, and can be served with red bean, or with fruit cocktail, or with the gelatinous chunks, and they are sweet and slushy. Those are more commonly eaten with a long spoon.

          Tapioca balls in the boba drinks are a translucent black and very chewy but flavorless apart from the sugar syrup they've absorbed. Can be found in teas, ice slushes. Hope that helps.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Quik

            Thanks! It could have been a bing, now that you mention it. Originally I remembered a rice-y flavor, but the more I think about it, maybe it had a coconut flavor. Talking about this makes me want to go back to Chinatown in NY to try it again! Almost 100% sure there is no bing, bubbletea, or boba in Ohio!

            1. re: goodfoodlovr

              You might have had coconut jelly instead of tapioca pearls. They're white translucent little strips and are a little less chewy than the pearls. They also have more flavor than the pearls. My favorite place (Porter Square outside Boston) will give you half and half between the two.

          2. Your daughter was disgusted by it? Disgusted by what? Watch her pass out when you try this drink.

            "Start with a popular durian drink, sold at boba or bubble tea stores. In San Francisco, there is only one chain I like (4 stores owned by the same family in the area), and that is Sweetheart Cafe, which uses real fruit. Ask for "durian smoothie with pearls", one of their best sellers.

            (Oh, I actually saw some durians at Berkeley Bowl today. They looked fresh, not frozen.)


            6 Replies
            1. re: grocerytrekker

              Oh I 've heard the tales of the legendary durian! I think I might pass out myself if I tried that!

              1. re: goodfoodlovr

                Actually, when you order a durian "shake" as they often call the milk based drink here in NY, it isn't overwhelming in taste or smell. It's the perfect introduction to durian because you get all the good flavors (vanilla, custard, banana, and sometimes just the faintest hint of garlic) without the bad (puke, stanky feet, locker room, diesel fuel, benzene, garbage can on a hot day.)

                Almost all the time the drink is made with frozen durian which is processed when it is barely ripe, mild, and pleasant tasting. It is the very ripe and over ripe durian that is so intense in taste and smell.

                So take a chance some time and try it. The worst that can happen is that after a sip or two it isn't to your taste and you spent $2. Then forever after you have the bragging rights that you've tried durian.

                If you get a chance there is an interesting Southern Asian desert made from crushed ice, condensed milk, various jelly pieces, sweet beans, sweet corn kernels, etc. that is like a cold, solid version of bubble tea and the other milky drinks. I don't remember which cultures serve it besides Malaysian and Indonesian. I encountered the best version in Cambodia where they had a dessert bar where you made your own, which had around two dozen tasty ingredients in it.

                1. re: JMF

                  that dessert sounds like halo-halo, a filipino "drink"/dessert

                  1. re: JMF

                    without the corn: Korean pahtbingsu (paht = red bean)

                    1. re: JMF

                      We call that Taiwanese slush here -- you get to pick three or four ingredients, and you get ice and condensed milk on top.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        There's a Vietnamese version also, sometimes called rainbow drink or che ba mau. It's in colored layers which may include an assortment of mung beans, red beans, coconut milk, a green gelatin cut into strips, litchi, or other odds and ends served over crushed ice.

                2. Bubble tea is everywhere here in Portland. But I don't like the sweet varieties. It gets so confusing when I see a menu with 30 choices! How do I ask for a plain green tea type that isn't sickenly sweet? Also I like minimum-to-zero ice.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Leonardo

                    Wow, this is opening a whole new world to me! If bubble tea is rampant in Portland, maybe I should open my own shop here in Ohio...maybe call it Bubblebucks!

                    1. re: goodfoodlovr

                      Chowhound IS a whole new world, welcome! :)

                      I like "Bubblebucks"--funny, I wish I'd thought of it. Maybe, in the Midwest, we'll have Caribubble.


                  2. I've never seen anyone use a spoon with a boba drink. Makes me think you had something else. I'm no expert, but I've seen plenty of Chinese/other Asian dessert drinks with all sorts of things at the bottom, gelatinous and otherwise: grass jelly, salted plums, chunks of canned fruits, "nata" coconut jelly, red or green bean, etc. If the ladies were using a spoon, I think what you had was more along those lines.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: maestra

                      that does it! I really need to go back to Chinatown, NYC and try to find that place again and pin down EXACTLY what it was! If I do, I'll report back. Regarding the Durian shake: that really doesn't sound too onerous! Maybe I'll be brave...

                    2. mmmm, i looooove the honeydew bubble tea with extra tapiocas and crushed ice! it's sweet though, maybe not what you are looking for. other than the honeydew, i haven't really liked any of the other flavors i've had.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: rabidog

                        My son loves this stuff, but I agree that it is often far too sweet. Finally I just asked the woman who owns the stand if she could make me one that was less sweet. She just uses a frozen mix so the result is basically a diluted bubble tea, but I like it much better that way.

                        1. re: Kater

                          in indonesia... this drink is called chendal (I think it's the correct spelling).

                      2. ITS CHE BA MAU FOR SURE--> VIETNAMESE drink . Go to a vietnamese restaurant and see--- thick, gelatinous, long spoon, tall glass, thick straw, slightly sweet, ricey, it should have beans and stuff i'm pretty sure its not bubble tea, thats just odd.

                        1. Yes it is called Chendal. My family is Dutch and Indonesian and I have been drinking Chendal since I was knee high to a grass hopper. The typical recipe we use is with tapioca balls and/or agar agar cubes (gelitan cubes with a light coconut flavor) layered with ice and then pour mixed coconut milk with coconut sugar(liquid) to taste and water. I personaly use a 1:1:1 ratio. Its ment to be semi sweet and eaten with a long spoon if your using tall glasses. If you have short glasses feel free to use short spoons. A great substitution to tapioca or agar agar is to take rice flour, sugar, ground pandan(leaves of the screwpine tree) and water in a pan heat and mix then slowly pour the mix into ice water. It will form little green strings with a delicate sweet flavor. It is the best drink for a hot afternoon. Catch you later and happy sipping.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: thebauerguy

                            In Malaysia and Singapore, it's a regular dessert option as well. So that is how they make those green strings!