One of Korea’s wonderful traits is the importance it places on community. This is no more evident than with locals regularly visiting a place where they can communally sweat and wash, a ‘jimjilbang’ (찜질방). A jimjilbang is a public bathhouse providing bathhouse services such as pools, massages and saunas. (Although I’ve only experienced the high-end jimjilbang ‘spaland’ I loved this aspect of Korean culture). However, one doesn’t need to pay to perspire in a sauna during Korea’s sweaty summers, mother nature provides this free of charge, available in any outdoor area.
Although many of my Korean co-workers, and some foreign friends, regularly express their aversion to this humid heaven, I for one am SK summer lovin’! Not only does the sun regularly shine and everyone smiles a little more, it’s the perfect opportunity to indulge in Korea’s antidote to heat…
Namely ‘pat bingsu’ (팥빙수). The saviour of the sweaty day, pat bingsu is a refreshing mountain of icy deliciousness. ‘Pat’ (팥) denotes red bean and ‘bingsu,’ (빙수) shaved ice. A Korean institution, it is sold in almost every cafe between the months of May and September.
In its traditional form, it is shaved ice served with red bean and tinned fruit cocktail, drenched in Asia’s go-to syrupy flavouring, condensed milk. Upon delivery the ingredients are attractively layered and visible. However, patbingsu ettiquette dictates that this attractive-look be destroyed, and for it to be eaten at its most unattractive; sludged together into one big icy soup.
Before trying pat bingsu my boyfriend skeptically labelled it a ‘glorified ice cube,’ and made a point of having no hope in becoming a fan of this Korean tradition. But as a big fan of this Korean tradition, and like most edible products in Korea it’s designed with that communal spirit in mind, for more than one, I was determined for him to try it. Not only to try it, but fingers crossed, like it! After much persuasion, and a sweaty-hot day, we made the order. And… Success! He enjoyed the ‘glorified ice cube.’ So in the short month we spent together in Korea we took many an opportunity to be refreshed by a bingsu, in many an establishment, sampling many a flavour.
Not only is this famous dessert available in its most traditional form, but also in a large variety of other modern flavours… I’ve spotted green tea bingsu, mango bingsu, berry yoghurt bingsu, oreo bingsu, coconut bingsu, nut bingsu, coffee bingsu and one menu is even offering ‘snow flower’ bingsu (Your guess is as good as mine).
One can purchase this icy deliciousness almost anywhere. Coffee shops, paris baguette (the major bakery player in Korea), ice-cream shops, small cafes, street stalls and conveniently in convenience stores! A pre-packed version sits nestled among the papicos and red bean fish… Although, convenience unfortunately weakens satisfaction.
In no particular order here’s a low-down of the bingsu’s I’ve shared with my boyfriend and friends…
The classic: pat bingsu
1. A modern twist on an old classic. Condensed milk served separately and almonds sprinkled over the top. Recommended.
Green bean cafe, Oe-Dong, Gimhae ₩5,000
2. Convenience store bingsu. Served with milk to add flavour. Too much ice, not enough red bean. Not recommended.
Seven eleven, ₩1,500
3. Toppings galore bingsu. Ddeok, cornflakes and almonds mix well for tasty results!
Bellissima, Shinnae (South East Asian area), Gimhae ₩4,500
4. Classic bingsu. Served on a street stall with all the classic makings, served with a soaking of fruit syrup by a friendly ajumma. Fruity and sweet, the experience gives it an even sweeter taste.
Bingsu street (close to shopping street), Nampo-Dong, Busan ₩3,500
Another favourite: green tea (nok cha) bingsu
5. My favourite bingsu. Served with green tea ice-cream, ddeok (Rice cake) and a ‘natuur pop’ mini choc. *My favourite*
Natuur pop, Seomyeon, Busan. ₩7,000
(picture coming soon)
6. Green tea bingsu (nokcha bingsu).
Cafe story, Boseong, Jeollanam-do ₩7,000
The ‘good for your health’ fruity bingsu:
7. Blueberry yoghurt bingsu. Yoghurt, frozen berries and fruit flavoured ice. Refreshing and lighter on the waist-line.
Cafe Droptop (chain), Oe-Dong, Gimhae ₩9,000
The not so widely available: choco bingsu
8. Tastes like co-co pops bingsu. Bananas, strawberry, cornflakes and choco ice-cream mix to create a taste like co-co pops.
Cafe name unknown, Main street, Oe-Dong, Gimhae ₩5,000 (single but big enough for two). Recommended.
And the champion bingsu of Summer 2013 is…
***’Natuur pop’ green tea bingsu***
A deliciously rich green-tea flavoured ice-cream, with soft ddeok and sweet ice.
Refreshing and not overpowering. The perfect bingsu refreshment.
(Red beans; tasty but for me easily sickly, lost the original bingsu’s the crown)
Although not to the taste of all Westerners, I find bingsu’s to be refreshing, light (although deceptively so, the big couple sizes often equate to around 1,000 calories) and a lovely mixture of various flavours. Ice desserts can also be found in most of Asia. My first taste being in Malaysia where the ‘ice kacang’ was laced with red bean, condensed milk, and interestingly, but not so deliciously, sweetcorn!
From my limited experience I think it would be tough to beat Korea on both the taste, flavour creativity and sheer availability of an Asian ice summertime treat. So if you’re heading to Korea in the summertime, or living here without having yet enjoyed this Korean institution, save some space for dessert!