Bingsu (shaved ice with toppings) is a popular snack food found almost everywhere in Korea during the summer months. As it becomes a heavily dominant menu eaten across the nation by many Koreans and travelers seeking unique eats, lots of dessert businesses are coming up with more creative concoctions to delight their customers. To beat the sweltering heat this summer, let’s indulge in some of these tasty treats known to be the best of the best! Read on to find a variety of places where you can explore endless diversity of bingsu and flavors.
Believed to date back all the way to the Joseon Dynasty, the original bingsu was simple, served as finely broken ice chips topped with sweetened red bean porridge. The beans sit aloft a mound of thinly shaved ice chips flavored with a mixture of milk or condensed milk. Finishing with a garnish of choice, such as nuts and seeds, these toppings give the bingsu texture as well as nutritional supplements. The most popular bingsus found are those topped with misutgaru (roasted rice and grain powder) or served with generous pieces of chewy rice cake, completing a flavorful taste sensation.
Today, many bingsus shy away from the predominant red bean taste and some even omit the red beans altogether. This modification is especially welcomed by those who cannot eat red beans (also known as pat in Korean). The fruit toppings, whether freshly diced or added with honey and syrup, go so well with shaved ice, they make a perfect combination that will have you craving more. Recent popular fruit bingsus are those with shaved ice made of fruit or fruit extract, maximizing the fresh fruitiness. Flavor greatly depend on the main ingredient, options ranging over a wide variety of fruits, including mangos, strawberries, grapefruits, etc. Fruit bingsus may not be as sweet as the classic pat bingsu, but will melt in your mouth all the same, offering a burst of refreshing fruity flavors until your last scoop.
For the health-conscious or those seeking unique flavors, healthy bingsu is the perfect choice. Topped with generous chunks of sweet pumpkin, jujube or almond, just by looking at these nutritious ingredients will make you feel healthier. In particular, hanbang (medicinal herbs) bingsu includes nutrient-filled ingredients such as gugija (wolfberry fruit), yulmu (Job’s tear), odi (mulberry fruit), nuts, and cinnamon powder, and has a similar taste to traditional Korean tea sujeonggwa (cinnamon punch). Even sweet poatoes create refreshing sweet harmony together with shaved ice when served as bingsu. Purple sweet potato bingsu is especially pleasurable due to its gorgeous color.
From the traditional red beans to complex mixes of ice cream and fruits, bingsus can easily be found in almost any coffee shop or bakery in Korea. However, take a closer look as you walk by the shops an you might find special bingsus rarely seen in ordinary cafes. Caramel bingsu offers a harmonious blend of bitter sweet caramel ice cream and syrup, while cacao bingsu steals the heart of chocolate fans with its strong, rich flavor. Dango bingsu is topped with dango (Japanese-style rice cake), presenting interesting appearance and texture. These unique bingsus are attracting a lot of attention from the young generations, as they are not only visually appealing but taste heavenly too!
* This column was last updated in July 2017, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here.