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Are You Ready for This Jelly? 

Indulge in the gelatinous wonders of bao bing at Meet Fresh.

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While dessert is awesome for many reasons, its versatility often gets overlooked. It can range from a piece of fresh fruit to a weighty platter of ice cream, hot fudge and various candy-coated condiments.

It seems like sweetness is the only real prerequisite for a quality dessert, but there is much to be said about things like temperature, texture and the general feeling of refreshment that a good dessert delivers. Lately, I've been fascinated with desserts that downplay their sweetness in favor of these other defining characteristics—which led me to Meet Fresh (3390 S. State Street, Ste. 32, 385-549-1134, meetfresh.us).

Meet Fresh is part of a global restaurant chain headquartered in China, and they specialize in the Taiwanese dessert known as bao bing, or shaved ice. Before visions of snow cones start dancing around in your head, you must understand that bao bing is to snow cones what gelato is to ice cream. Bao bing is shaved so thin you'd mistake it for freshly fallen snow if it wasn't covered in fresh mango or doused with simple syrup. It's got a wonderfully smooth texture, and remains cold enough to bring on a decent brain freeze when you eat it too fast.

Over the years, bao bing has become a blank canvas of sorts for purveyors of this Taiwanese classic. It's topped with everything from ice cream to mochi to boba, though dumplings made from the starchy taro root are the most popular. Meet Fresh specializes in these colorful chilled dessert bowls, as well as other Taiwanese favorites like hot red bean soup and chilled tofu pudding. Craving something a bit different for my sweet tooth, I ordered up some of their signature bowls, a tasty, frothy milk tea with black sugar boba ($4.75), and dug right in.

First on the list was the Double Taro Ball Signature ($8), which feels a bit like the menu's bao bing staple. On top of that velvety shaved ice sits a mountain of dumplings—both taro and sweet potato—taro paste, cool ice cream and jiggly grass jelly. The latter is made from the Chinese mesona plant, an herbaceous and slightly minty herb that lends a tea-like quality to these slippery purple cubes. When you look at a bowl full of vibrant purples, oranges and lavenders, your brain tries to anticipate the flavors that you will encounter—I was expecting a sugary hit of something like grape jelly mixed with marshmallows—but it's not the case with bao bing.

You'd think that a dish as colorful and wobbly as bao bing would have an equally colorful flavor palette, but it's surprisingly subtle. The taro paste and dumplings are a bit like plantains in their ever-so-slight sweetness, providing a bit more texture than flavor. The sweet potato dumplings also have taro stuffed inside, so you get a slight ramp-up of sweet there, but nothing explosive. Even the ice cream on top is a bit muted on the sweetness level.

Though the flavors are subtle and the slippery, chewy textures may not be for everyone, I have to say that I'm a fan. I've had my tastebuds slapped around by the excessive sugariness of American desserts, but every so often it's nice to have a cool, refreshing dessert that doesn't launch a salvo of sugar bombs at your mouth.

Cutting back on the sweetness of course means cutting back on calories, and the bao bing at Meet Fresh is healthier than a banana split or slice of cheesecake. With the build-your-own bowl option and the ability to swap soy milk for any of the restaurant's milk teas, it's also one of the more vegan-friendly dessert shops around town. Overall, not a bad place to indulge one's sweet tooth while sticking to a low-sugar diet.

If you're all-in for sugar and dairy, I'd suggest one of Meet Fresh's egg waffles. I snagged the Chocolate Deluxe ($8.50); it has chocolate chips baked into the batter, which gets cooked up bubble style, yielding a waffle that is bedazzled with uniform spheres. The waffle gets a slight fold before going into a cup and getting topped with ice cream, chocolate syrup and nuts. My preferred method of attack is to pick the whole thing up like a taco and scarf accordingly. You get small bits of dark chocolate within the crisp waffle batter, and it's not long before the melty ice cream lends a nice spongy texture to the exterior.

As part of the constantly evolving restaurant scene in the Salt Lake Chinatown area, Meet Fresh adds yet another unique opportunity for locals to get diverse eats without leaving the country. I for one am always delighted when I get the chance to learn more about a different culture by checking out their popular foods. It's a fascinating—and tasty—way to learn more about the world around us, and I'd definitely recommend a little culinary field trip to Meet Fresh.

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