6 MUST TRY Bingsu Cafes (other than Sulbing)

If Italy has gelato and France has sorbet, Korea has bingsu.
(via The Korea Herald)

It’s not just shaved ice anymore. It’s sweet red beans, coffee, fruit and nuts, cookies and cake, whipped cream, a dessert medley on a powdery cloud of finely shaved ice. It’s expression. It’s art. It’s bonding. It’s culture.

Summer season in South Korea has groups of locals and tourists flocking into specialty dessert cafes to refresh their tastebuds with this decadent treat. Some prefer the original patbingsu with red beans and rice cakes, while others seek the most outlandish and Instagram-worthy variations of the classic dish. I ping-ponged between the two extremes for my first two years in Seoul and experienced the entire spectrum of flavors. A significant portion of that time was spent comparing the thousands of bingsu guides out there, then thoughtfully reviewing each bingsu cafe. Now I’m presenting my top picks for bingsu in Seoul, some of which have never appeared on any site’s recommendation list. I’m letting you in on a big secret, just to be clear, here!

Here’s what I look for in a bingsu:

  • Finely-shaved ice: Whether it’s frozen milk or frozen water, I like the ice to be so finely shaved that it’s soft. The closer it is to a powder than flakes, the better. No crunchy ice chunks please!
  • Mixability: If you don’t mix your bingsu, what are you even doing? For maximum mixability, fruit pieces should be bite-sized and plentiful enough to be evenly distributed throughout the bingsu after mixing. This way, several toppings can be enjoyed in one spoonful.
  • Balance of flavor: Sometimes overly sweet bingsu can make you thirstier, but one that has tartness, sourness, saltiness, and creaminess to balance out the sweet makes for an even more refreshing experience.
  • Freshness: The fresher the fruit, the better. In-house made red beans (not canned) also deserve extra points.
  • Uniqueness: A simple Patbingsu with red beans and rice cake is great, but it’s everywhere. The most memorable bingsu I’ve had are creative and a little weird. Show me something that’s delicious hard to find anywhere else!
  • Refreshing factor: Some bingsu can be quite heavy because of their toppings and make you even more sluggish during the summer months. A lighter bingsu that can be eaten after a meal is better, in my opinion.

So let’s get into it…

1. Homilbat 호밀밭
Address: 서울특별시 서대문구 신촌역로 43
43 Sinchonnyeok-ro, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul
Nearest Station: Sinchon Station, Exit 3
Hours: Everyday except Tuesday 12:30 pm -10:00pm
Price: 6,000 ~ 9,000 won ($)

I wrote about Homilbat last week, but this place is so great, it’s worth mentioning again. This small specialty shop has the finest shaved milk ice in Seoul; the fruit on their mixed is sweet, abundant, and for the most part, fresh. The coffee bingsu has a lovely balance of bitter and sweet, and the green tea one has depth of flavor. Homilbat prides itself on its in-house made sweet red beans, which are served on the side so you can control the amount of red bean in your dessert; this is great if you’re easing your taste buds into the red bean flavor. The bingsu is just the right size too–small enough for you to eat by yourself without feeling judged, but large enough to share. Read my full review of their fruit bingsu here.

2. Miss Lee Cafe 별다방 미스리
Address: Multiple Locations
See a list of locations here
Hours: Everyday 10:00am-11:00pm
Price: 9,000 won ($)
miss lee cafe bingsu

별다방 미스리 is best known for serving retro dosirak in metal tins, but few people know about their fantastic bingsu. They have a patbingsu, injeolmi bingsu, and strawberry bingsu on their menu, but my favorite is the 별다방 냄비빙수. This specialty one includes a hodgepodge of toppings: watermelon, kiwi, bananas, chocolate frosted flakes, almonds, granola, rice cake, red beans and vanilla ice cream. With so many toppings, it’s sure to please even the pickiest of your friends. The fruit is sliced into small pieces for maximum mix-ability, and every spoonful is delightful. Most of the sweetness in this bingsu comes from the ice cream, and when it melts, the vanilla flavor permeates the entire dish. No condensed milk needed. Their Seoul locations include Insadong, Samcheong-dong, and Kyeonghui University.

Website: http://www.missleecafe.com/

3. Meet Fresh 미트프레쉬
Address: 서울 강복구 도봉로 62
62, Dobong-ro, Gangbuk-gu, Seoul
Nearest Station: Miasageori Station (Line 4), Exit 1
Hours: Everyday 11:00am to 11:00pm
Price: 14,000 won ($$)

This Taiwanese-style dessert chain had a ton of cafes around Seoul, but many have closed. I can’t figure out why because even with the crowded bingsu market here, Meet Fresh stands out from the crowd. They have large (meant for 3) beautifully presented bingsu with fruit so ripe it’s 30 seconds away from rotting. My favorite one on their menu is the pineapple bingsu, which–get ready for this–is in a frickin’ pineapple!
Do I need to say more? The ice is perfectly soft and almost slushy-like, as if they made the ice from fruit juice. Fresh scoops of pineapple, maraschino cherries, fantastic chewy jellies, cranberries, and coconut milk come together to create the most blissful, refreshing bingsu experience I’ve ever had. There’s only one branch left in Seoul, so hurry there before it closes!

4. Osulloc Teahouse 오설록
Address: Multiple locations
See a list of locations here
Hours: Everyday, 10:00am – 11:00pm
Price: 14,000 won ($$)

Tea lovers rejoice! Osulloc has the most legit green tea bingsu in Korea because the ice is made from their signature tea. It’s expensive for the size, but you won’t find any green tea bingsu like it at your standard dessert cafe. This bingsu has a very deep and bitter flavor, the polar opposite of the green tea bingsu from Okrumong that I mentioned last week. That bitterness is well-balanced by the sweetness of the rice cakes and the secret layer of red bean halfway through the dish. If you casually like green tea kitkats or lattes, this is definitely not the one for you. If you’re a hardcore green tea lover, don’t miss this!

Website: http://www.osulloc.com/kr/

5. 동빙고
Address: 서울특별시 용산구 이촌로 319
Seoul, Yongsan-gu, Ichon-dong, 301-162
Nearest Station: Ichon Station, Exit 3-1
Hours: 10:30am – 11:00pm
Price: 6,500 won ~ 7,000 won ($)

I’m mentioning this place because it is a clear local favorite. The first time my Korean host family took me here, we had to wait in line for 30 minutes just to get a seat, and that wasn’t even their busiest day. Their menu features patbingsu, strawberry bingsu, royal milk tea bingsu, green tea, coffee, and yuzu bingsu. With finely shaved ice and in-house red beans, you can’t go wrong with the classic but the strawberry and coffee flavors seemed to be the most popular. The royal milk tea bingsu I tried had so many toppings that it resembled an ice cream sundae more than bingsu and subtracted from the milk tea flavor. So if you go, do what the locals do and go for the patbingsu, the strawberry, or the coffee. This cafe can even pack your bingsu to go!

6. Cafe Ogada 오가다
Address: Multiple locations
See a list of locations here
Hours: Mon-Fri, 7:30am – 10:00pm
Price: 14,000 won ($$)

It’s technically a modern tea house, but when Cafe 오가다 rolls out its bingsu summer menu, people line up! Most of their bingsu flavors are common (matcha, injeolmi, blueberry, mango, strawberry, milk) but their 한라봉 (hallabong) bingsu is a slice of Jeju in a bowl. Hallabong is a really sweet citrus fruit (similar to oranges and tangerines) famously grown on Jeju Island. Upon first bite, that hallabong flavor punched me in the gut and took all my money. It is STRONG. The ice is a little chunky and kind of crunchy, but surprisingly, I think the clear, chunkier ice works quite well with the citrus; the milk ice (which was also an option) would have dulled it into a creamsicle flavor. It was HELLA good. They should call it hella-bong bingsu haha… (I’ll see myself out now.)

*Note: the pineapple bingsu and hallabong bingsu were seasonal and there’s no guarantee they’re available every summer of every year. Actual bingsu offerings may vary.


 

There you have it: six bingsu cafes to diversify your food itinerary while you’re in Korea. Most of the ones I’ve mentioned here have locations all over the country, so even if you don’t live in Seoul or aren’t visiting Seoul, you should be able to enjoy most of these in a mid-sized Korean city near you. I’m sure there are a ton of small, hole-in-the-wall cafes in Seoul (not to mention specialty bingsu places in other cities) that I haven’t explored yet. If you’ve encountered something particularly interesting that you’d like to recommend, share it down in the comments. Would love to hear about your bingsu adventures!

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10 thoughts on “6 MUST TRY Bingsu Cafes (other than Sulbing)”

  1. I’d never heard about bingsu before, but now I definitely want to try it some day! Hope I will get the chance to visit Korea, or maybe I can find it in some Korean restaurants in Europe… Thanks a lot for sharing!! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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