Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Chinese American Cuisine 101: Zhin-zhu-nai-tsa

I will preface this by saying that this is something I consider quite a treat - they tend to be high in calories and caffeine, and I can't handle either of them well. However, they are very nice, they're yummy, and I think they're also kosher. (Excellent, as Bill and Ted would say.)

What I'm talking about is bubble milk tea, also known colloquially as boba. As always, Wikipedia has a great description: All About Bubble Tea. It's also referred to as "Pearl Milk Iced Tea," because that's the formal name: Zhin-zhu (pearl) nai (milk) tsa (tea).

This is not necessarily for the faint of heart. Of all of the Westerners (I lump in Americans and Canadians here) I've introduced this drink to, about 50% of them like it. On the road trip back from my trip to Mexico in June (we were coming back from working with underprivileged kids in Tijuana), we stopped by with a bunch of (Caucasian) teenagers from Idaho at a Californian Asian grocery store chain called 99 Ranch (or Ranch 99, depending on who you talk to). While there, some of my team members convinced these poor, hapless kids to order this drink.

My boyfriend and I had been wandering the store, seeing if we could purchase some goodies to bring back to his friends, when we saw the guys, happily sipping their boba.

"Oh, you got the pearl milk tea?" exclaimed my boyfriend. "That stuff's great!"

I didn't know he'd liked it at the time we first tried it on our first date. In fact, he had been positively skeptical of it the whole time.

Let me tell you why - the tapioca balls are chewy. I don't know how many of you guys remember the ill-fated Orbitz drink, but it seems that a lot of Westerners don't like little chewy bits in their drinks. Given that I grew up with it (but not necessarily with this stuff, as it only started becoming common in the last 5-8 years or so), the transition to chewy bits in my drink was pretty much none. (Besides, I'm the type of person who likes high pulp in my juice - the pulpier, the better.)

So, if you're feeling adventurous and want to try something instead of your standard frappaccino, try to find a store in your area and check out the standard "pearl milk iced tea."


Johnny said...

Most people are nervous about what they don't know and then go into "trying it" with a pre-disposed negative impression about strange foods.

Connie said...

Gotta admit I'm not accustomed to a drink I can chew but I'm game for about anything....at least once ;0)

Wicked Witch said...

Boba tea! I absolutely love the stuff. It is very good.

wzgirl said...

I do like the tea - but not the bubbles. We've got a place real close to our house - they have what seem like thousands of flavors!! Love the jasmine tea & the Thai Iced tea....

spitgirl said...

There are also a couple of recent twists on the traditional pearl milk iced teas that you guys might want to try - for instance, the snow bubble, or the smaller bubbles. I wouldn't recommend giving very small children the regular sized bubbles, because you have to suck them through a straw and they're just that size to be a choking hazard.

They also have the clear bubbles (probably made out of agar agar), which are less chewy than the brown ones.