January 13th, 2013 by Jihye Chang
It’s probably too early to talk about Bing-Soo or Bingsu (빙수 – Shaved ice), but it’s hot enough in Tallahassee!
Shaved ice is really popular summer treat in Korea. It is usually made with sweet red bean paste and various condiments – toasted grain powder mix (Misu-garu, 미숫가루), toasted nuts and seeds, some rice cake, jelly, fruits, ice cream, etc. Red bean is called “Pat” (팥), and it’s the most important ingredient for making this icy treat. Therefore the most common name for this dessert is actually “Pat Bing Soo” (팥빙수). During the early 2000s, Pat Bing Soo with a lot of different toppings was very popular. Also different kinds of Bingsoo made with sweetened fruit compote or green tea, coffee, black tea became popular. But during the past 2-3 years, I have observed the return of original simplicity: shaved ice with just sweet enough stewed red bean, a few pieces of well made rice cake, little bit of condensed milk or milk, and a few drops of pine nuts.
Photo below was taken at “Dong Bing Go” (동빙고) in Dongbu Ichon-Dong. It’s one of the very popular and famous bingsoo places in Seoul.
There are many places now famous for this dish, including “Gabae” (가배) of Samchung-Dong; Bing Bing Bing and Ok Roo Mong in Hongik University area and so on. One of the oldest and most popular place to taste this is “Mill Top” in Hyundai Department store Abgujung branch. You have to wait easily 30 minutes to try this, and they only focus on this dish. It’s the very simple version – red bean, shaved ice, a few chewy rice cake pieces, and condensed milk. For that, the price might seem a bit high. (Most of these famous and popular places charge $6-7 per small bowl) But it takes great care and good ingredients to make a really good bowl of Pat Bing Soo. One must start with Korean grown/ house made red bean that’s not too sweet or flavorless. The ice should be shaved very finely so that it doesn’t have a coarse texture in your mouth. The amount of milk or condensed milk should not be too much, otherwise it will overwhelm the balance of the dish. The rice cake should also have a good texture and freshness.
I really liked the version at Gabae, Samchung-Dong. Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to explain how to get to this place. But Samchungdong is a very popular date course with many precious restaurants and shops, so you might want to just take a walk in that area and ask around for this place. (Gabae is located close to the Samchung police station, but it’s tucked into a very small alley way, and the sign is not too obvious. It’s right next door to the popular cafe-chain called 5 Ci Jung). The bottom right one is Strawberry Bing Soo. Gabae freezes and stores a huge amount of strawberries when they are in season, and use them as a base of this dish. And then they garnish it with fresh fruits and some nuts. Very delicious and refreshing! I took some of my American friends to this place last summer, and they all liked the Strawberry version more.
The most expensive and luxurious version of Bing Soo can be found at the Hotel Shilla’s lobby “The Library.” They make it with in-season apple mango shipped from Cheju island. The price? Whopping $34 + tax + service charge! Probably the most expensive dessert I have ever eaten. But it was actually worth it. They use 2 whole apple mangoes for one bowl of this. The ice is shaved so finely and thinly, it melts in your mouth. It also has slight yogurt tang. And the apple mango – it is so much better than the bland and flavorless mangoes found in a lot of American supermarkets. It’s even better than the in season mangoes I had in Taiwan. The flesh is a bit firmer, and it has a lot more fragrance and a lot more flavor. There are a few other places that serve similar version of this, but the Hotel Shilla’s version is a must try.
So, there. I think I am already longing for a trip to Korea during the summer time!