Right off the bat I must apologize to those of you who aren’t in Korea to experience the wonderful dessert of the gods: Bingsu. You probably shouldn’t read this; it might induce salivation and a deep dark hunger that even the most gourmet ice cream or finely shaved snow cone cannot sate. This style of shaved ice is, as far as I know, unique to South Korea. In it’s most basic form, bingsu is shaved ice topped with various fruits, condensed milk, red beans and rice cake; there are many variations of it: the featured fruit changes by season, sometimes the fruit is substituted for chocolate, coffee, coconut….you name it; sometimes the ice is flavored or the bingsu features milk ice rather than plain ice. Occasionally there is ice cream or whipped cream. Bingsu is just a bowl of happiness, okay? The bingsu knows no bounds.
Of course, upon coming to Korea, I quickly become addicted to bingsu and started eating it 2-3 times a week. I’m obsessed with trying as many different ones as I possibly can. So, I present to you the fruits of my first month of labor: The June Bingsu Review, a ranking of bingsu from worst to best:
Mango Cheesecake Bingsu from A Twosome Place in 신촌 Sinchon, near Sinchon Station. I wanted to go to this dessert cafe because it exterior looked pretty cool; alas, with a name like A Twosome Place, I knew it would be awkward to go alone (as it is with most places in Korea). So I waited for a friend to suggest that we go. The cafe interior is lovely. It’s supposed to be a European-style dessert cafe, and I would agree that the interior does a good job of reflecting that vibe. But Europe must have terrible bingsu. The mango cheesecake bingsu that my friend picked is beautiful, but that’s about it. If I have to get most of the sweetness and flavor from the cheesecake (which wasn’t great either) then it’s not very good bingsu. The thimble sized container of (condensed??) milk they served on the side did nothing to help. It was very thin, and disappeared into the ribbons of ice as soon as I poured it on. The way the ice was shaved is elegant, but the taste is lifeless. I will say that the layered texture of the ice in this one complements the mango pieces well.
This green tea bingsu was obtained after a long, painful trek to Namsan Tower. There’s a scoop of green tea ice cream, condensed milk, red beans, and slightly green tea flavored ice. I thought it was great at the time because I was DYING, but now that I think about it, it was really quite average. The ice flakes were particularly….icy. My advice? Don’t go trekking up Namsan tower for this thing. If you happen to be there and would like something refreshing, this would do.
This is the Mango Yuzu bingsu from Sulbing dessert cafe (설빙) in Myeongdong. Yuzu is a citrus fruit indigenous to East Asia; the flavor is difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t had it, but I would say it’s similar to a lemon meets an orange and a grapefruit? It’s not one of my favorite citrus flavors, but it does go well with mango. Still, this bingsu my least favorite one from 설빙 and doesn’t rank too high on my bingsu charts in general. The mango chunks are just too large. I had to eat the mango pieces separately from the rest of it, and for someone who values mix-ability of bingsu, that’s going to minus some points. Also, at this particular store they forgot to give us condensed milk, which I’m kind of salty about.
This is an Oreo Bingsu from Nora’s Cafe in Hongdae. I was super excited when I saw the advertisement for it out in the street because I was under the impression that Oreo bingsu was somehow very rare, but there are other cafes and dessert places that feature this item on their menu. Though the Nora’s cafe was super cute, check out some other store’s Oreo bingsu. Pass on this one. It was like eating a big bowl of Oreo cereal in skim milk (I dislike skim milk with a passion). The ice was pretty watery, like slush. BUT there’s a hidden layer of ice cream or something on the inside… Whatever it was, it was rich and sweet, but definitely showed up too late to make me change my opinion.
This 팥빙수 (patbingsu) is from 팥미옥 in Sinchon, a store which proudly advertises “100% MILK FLAKE.” The frozen milk has a great texture, but it’s not sweet. It’s less than “just sweet enough”. I was forced to get all the sweetness from the red bean. If you like red beans a lot, you’d probably like this one. It was too much for me; there’s another layer of them halfway through. This one could’ve been better if it were served with a side of condensed milk to take the edge off the RED BEAN RED BEAN RED BEAN.
This is the Premium Mango Coconut Bingsu from 설빙. It has whipped cream instead of ice cream on top, and the ice is of the standard light, fluffy Sulbing quality with a bit of coconut flavoring. As you can see from the picture, this bingsu also came with a block of white chocolate and cheesecake. I believe the citrus syrup on top is yuzu, but it was hard to tell; the flavor of the syrup was lost to the mango and the coconut, in my opinion. The mango and coconut combination was lovely and perfect for summer, but the mango slices were huge, so it didn’t mix well.
This blueberry bingsu is from a place in Sinchon that advertises “100% MILK FLAKE”. It’s true. It’s actually frozen milk. The flakes are a little bigger than I’m used to seeing, but it’s actually like fresh-fallen snow. Melts in your mouth. No crunch. They also don’t overload it with blueberries, which is great. Unlike in the red bean one, which was lacking in sweetness, the blueberry syrup of this bingsu brings the sweetness level to “just sweet enough.” Still, a little condensed milk wouldn’t hurt….maybe I just have a condensed milk addiction? Hahahaha.
9/10 for the fruit one, 8/10 for the green tea
These were from a cute little bingsu place in Sinchon that takes pride in their red beans. The one on the left is a milk base topped with fruit, and the one on the right is green tea. I will say that this is the finest textured bingsu I’ve ever had. It’s SO smooth, and the red beans and 떡 were on point. It’s just sweet enough, so you probably wouldn’t feel bad if you ate this while you were dieting or something. The fruit one was particularly refreshing. Though you can’t mix it because of the big chunks of fruit, you could eat around the fruit or even cut it into pieces if you wanted to. I wasn’t bombarded with useless chunks of fruit like I was with the mango bingsu from Sulbing. The green tea one was good, but it kind of bored me.
This berry yogurt bingsu from 설빙 is my favorite one to date. It’s perfect. The ice cream on top is tart like greek yogurt, which is so perfect with the sweet berries and berry sauce. Occasionally there was a sour raspberry, which was a nice surprise. Berries mix very well. There’s another delicious layer of sauce halfway through, so you never find yourself with boring lumps of ice. At the very bottom, there’s a sour powder that made my jaws tingle in the most delightful way. If you go to Sulbing and you’re feeling a fruit bingsu, get this one.