Grass Jelly Desserts Are All the Rage in the San Gabriel Valley
If you needed further evidence of the scope of the Taiwanese diaspora in the San Gabriel Valley, then look no further than Meet Fresh in Temple City. Perpetually bustling since its fall opening, Meet Fresh specializes in Taiwanese desserts or, more specifically, desserts made from grass jelly. This is a popular ingredient in Taiwanese desserts, and it isn’t made from grass at all.
Also known as leaf jelly, grass jelly is made from the dried stalks and leaves of the Chinese mesona plant — a member of the mint family — which are boiled to produce a dark, thick liquid. Starch, usually arrowroot or cassava, is added to give it a gelatinous consistency. Meet Fresh describes the finished product as herbal jelly, which is a more apt description.
If you haven’t spent any time in Taiwan or Southeast Asia, chances are you’re not familiar with grass jelly. Maybe you’ve seen the canned version available at your local Asian supermarket, and perhaps you’ve even tried it. Grass jelly has been easily found around the SGV for years, turning up in Vietnamese dessert drinks and as a shaved ice topping and in beverages at Taiwanese tea houses and snack places. Considered to have cooling properties, or yin, it can be prepared either hot or cold and is usually served with other items among the jello.
Meet Fresh focuses on cold and iced combos for its herbal jelly desserts, seven in all. Six of the seven feature boba along with two other items (ranging from mung bean and lotus seed to red bean and peanut). The most popular is the Meet Fresh Signature, which includes a few taro and sweet potato balls in the herbal jelly, served atop herb-infused ice. All of these desserts come with a small container of nondairy coffee creamer on the side that can be added in to taste.
You’re probably asking, what does grass jelly taste like? On its own, it can have either a strong, slightly tart, mintlike flavor or, in the case of the canned stuff, be rather bland. The grass jelly served in stores is usually more balanced and nuanced. It’s smooth and mildly sweet, with the other ingredients providing welcome textural differences. While we can’t speak for any of the medicinal claims, it is extremely refreshing and perfect for hot summer days.
Meet Fresh also has tofu puddings, taro ball desserts, hot desserts, a small tea selection and the inevitable Taiwanese shaved ice, baobing, served with a variety of toppings. Started in 2007 by the youngest brother of the Fu family in Taichung, Taiwan, and making use of the recipes of an older brother and sister, the chain expanded to China, Australia and South Korea before it arrived stateside in Irvine in 2014. The Camellia Square location is the first in L.A. County, but an eastern branch will open soon in Hacienda Heights.
As mentioned, grass jelly is nothing new to the SGV. Meet Fresh isn’t even the first grass jelly specialist in the SGV. That honor goes to its main competitor, BlackBall, which beat Meet Fresh to the 626 by more than a year (though Meet Fresh was first to arrive in the United States). But, much like the arrival of Taiwanese bakery chains 85°C and Bake Code, this marks another watershed moment in the San Gabriel Valley. It now is home to both of the major Taiwanese grass jelly focused&ndasah;dessert chains, along with the crowds to go with them.
9055 E. Las Tunas Drive, Temple City. (626) 537-1715, meetfresh.us.
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