Two tasty ways to survive the sizzling summer heat

Some food and beverage trends are getting people from all over the city to line up to try in the gruelling summer.

The dirty tea

It can be gruelling to venture outdoors in the summer heat, so ordering food deliveries online is the rational option most people opt for. But some food and beverage trends are getting people from all over the city to line up to try.

When thinking about the perfect beverages for summer, it’s often something chilled, refreshing, minty, bitter or lemony, like the all-time favorite Hong Kong-style cold lemon black tea or iced Americano.

But a trend this summer has gone in the opposite direction. Dirty tea, or zangzangcha, is the new beverage sensation raved about by lots of beverage franchises and customers.

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Dirty tea is a milk tea with brown sugar pearls and brown sugar syrup.

The “dirty” food concept is almost an extension of last year’s popular dirty chocolate pastry, or zangzangbao, which is an extreme interpretation of a chocolate croissant that dips the pastry in a thick chocolate sauce before a generous dusting of cocoa powder. The dirty in the name refers to the presentation of the croissant as well as the mess all over your hands after eating it.

Dirty tea, on the other hand, is only dirty to look at but not messy to drink. The original flavor of dirty tea is composed of brown sugar pearls (tapioca balls), brown sugar syrup and milk. Brown sugar is a kind of raw cane sugar before the super refining process.

When putting the ingredients together in the cup, the pearls and syrup are layered at the bottom, while the plastic cup is turned in a circular motion so the syrup will drip all over the wall of the cup.

Next, fresh milk is poured in the cup, and the contrast of dark brown and white colors presents a unique “dirty” mark on the cup, hence the name of the beverage.

Before putting in a straw, shake the cups up and down 10 times, so the milk and brown sugar is blended better.

The biggest selling point of dirty tea is the glistening brown sugar pearls and handmade brown sugar syrup.

The tapioca balls are cooked for hours to get an al dente texture and rich brown sugar flavor, and is also the reason why dirty tea is offered in limited quantities at some shops.

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The "dirty" pattern created by brown sugar syrup is the selling point of dirty tea.

Though dirty tea is new to the local market, it’s not entirely a new creation, but a gourmet traditional Taiwan-style milk tea with a new name. Tea and bakery franchise Lelecha is credited with the dirty tea trend in Shanghai and the lines are long.

They also had a blast selling zangzangbao in Shanghai.

The Alley is another franchise that is attracting people to wait in line under the sun for hours this summer with their dirty tea called brown sugar deerioca milk — as the logo of the brand is a deer with giant antlers.

After dirty tea became trendy, Heytea brought back its similar bobotea, brulee bobotea and Oreo bobotea, with options to choose between fresh milk or milk tea as the base. They also have bobotea-flavored ice cream.

There are other flavors of dirty tea, such as mango and strawberry, which are relatively healthier and lighter, as well as classic chocolate and matcha.

Picture-perfect fruit ice cream

IKEA is known for its 1-yuan ice cream cone, but this summer there’s another ice trend from IKEA that has hit the food and beverage scene: its fruit ice cream served in the actual fruit.

Inside the coconut, pineapple, peach, papaya or orange, there’s ice cream with different fruit flavors that correspond with the fruit bowl.

The taste may not be creative, but the picture-perfect presentation still attracts lots of people. The price is 25 yuan each.

IKEA is not the only brand that puts ice cream in fruit bowls, other stores are also picking up the trend.

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IKEA's fruit ice cream.

On the B1 floor of Reel Department Store, you can find Cremaice presenting Japanese-style soft milk ice cream in fruit bowls made of honeydew melon and watermelon, as well as Cho Collector’s watermelon ice cream sandwich that stuffs two slices of fresh watermelon with a watermelon-favored ice cream and pineapple ice cream served in a pineapple bowl.

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Watermelon ice cream sandwich.

Bullfrog feast

There are two ways to combat the humid, hot summer. One is eating chilled and iced treats, the other is going the opposite way with spicy, fiery cuisine.

Last year, bullfrog dishes became a sensation in Shanghai, with people spending hours waiting for a seat at bullfrog hotpot restaurants. Bullfrog has a light taste and texture between chicken and fish, as well as the ability to soak in all the flavors from the sauce and broth, which makes it popular in summer.

This year, double-deck bullfrog pot served in a traditional copper hotpot heated over charcoal is the new trend. The rich, heavy and spiced flavor can instantly stimulate the appetite, and people are willing to spend more than three hours in line for the delicacy. The copper hotpot can keep the dish hot throughout.

A generously packed double-deck bullfrog pot can contain approximately 2 kilos of bullfrog meat (4 kilos of raw bullfrog before it is butchered), which is enough for three to four people. The bullfrogs are layered on top of vegetable sides such as bean sprouts, onion and lettuce.

Restaurants also offer combinations of bullfrog with other popular foods like crayfish and shrimp.

New restaurants specializing in the bullfrog pot have sprung up. There are multiple franchises spreading across the city and new stores constantly opening. The price of double-deck bullfrog pot is around 200 to 300 yuan (US$30-40) depending on portion size.

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The double-deck bullfrog pot served in a traditional copper hotpot.


The pursuit of spicy and sour flavors continues with another trend this summer, the rise of the classic Chongqing dish, fish boiled with sour pickled cabbage and chili, or suancaiyu.

This trend is different because it’s not a new creation or concept, rather one of the most popular home-style Chinese dishes that can be found everywhere. Made with freshwater fish such as grass carp or snakehead fish and very sour pickled cabbage and green chili, this dish is perfect for clearing the heat and humidity.

The key of a good suancaiyu is not overcooking the thin slices of fish and making the intensely flavored broth. The fish is also marinated before being boiled for a richer taste.

To finish off, sizzling hot oil is splashed on the dish with dried chili and peppercorn on top to boost the strong fragrance. Suancaiyu is usually served in gigantic bowls.

A popular suancaiyu franchise with four stores in Shanghai that’s drawing long lines this year is called Tai’er Suancaiyu. Their selling point is not the fish, but pickled cabbage, which they claimed to be more delicious than the fish. The franchise only serves tables of no more than four people and uses bass as the main ingredient.

Suancaiyu hotpot is also very popular because you can dip your favorite vegetables and meats in the delicious broth.

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The spicy and sour suancaiyu is a popular home-style Chinese dish.

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