Savoury ice cream has become a popular fad in trendy Western restaurants, but local vendor Liny Hsueh (
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 nation's only seafood-flavored frozen desserts line.
The combination might even pique the interest of Ferran Adria, Spain's experimental chef famed for his startling combinations of seemingly incongruous ingredients often based on their their similar molecular structure.
Hsueh's ice cream booth sits amongst stalls at an indoor fish market in Bisha port (
She launched Dr. Ice in 2003 and now has two shops in the city better known by their Chinese name "Shia Bing Hsieh Chiang" (蝦冰蟹醬, "shrimp ice crab sauce").
The 13 flavors on offer include pineapple shrimp, wasabi cuttlefish, strawberry tuna and mango seaweed, all in stark colors 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.
"I walked by Shia Bing Hsieh Chiang several months ago and entered out of curiosity. Now I visit the store often with my classmates," 14-year-old student Yvonne Yen said.
"I like the ice cream here, especially the cuttlefish flavor, because of the rich texture and lighter sweet taste. The color [black] is really cool," Yen said.
Peter Lin, a first-time customer who tried shrimp and seaweed flavored 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," the 41-year-old said.
Hsueh's family initially expressed similar skepticism 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," the spirited Hsueh, 45, said.
"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," she said.
Hsueh was also encouraged by an old Taiwanese saying which 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 over NT$10 billion (US$298.8 million) a year.
The novelty proved an initial success, with Hsueh greeting the patrons at her small store and making up to NT$700,000 a month during summer.
In less than a year she opened her second branch shop in 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 the sunny southern part of the country, where ice desserts business has an average ten-month sales season compared with five in the north.
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