The Great Bingsu Review [August]

It is with a very heavy heart that I post my last bingsu review (for this year at least). I had a lot of fantastic bingsu this month, because I know how to pick ’em now! Here’s the final round, Round 3!

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6.5/10

This is a Royal Milk Tea Bingsu from a famous bingsu place in Ichon. Famous as in, we had to wait in line for 20 minutes just to get a seat, and that wasn’t even their busiest day. In my opinion this should be called Sundae bingsu because it features bananas, chocolate syrup, coconut flakes, walnuts and almonds, and ice cream. Where is this supposed milk tea flavor, you might ask. Well, I was asking that too. BECAUSE IT’S NOT THERE. Hahaha, I’m kidding. Kind of. It’s waaaaay down at the bottom under the mountain of useless toppings that do nothing but keep me waiting in needless anticipation for the advertised milk tea flavor. And it’s not even that great by the time you get there. I spent so much time waiting to get to the flavored ice that I didn’t even pay attention to how finely the ice was shaved and the overall mix-ability of the entire dish. My advice if you go to this shop? Don’t get this one. The strawberry looked fabulous though.

7.5/10

Mango coconut bingsu from Meet Fresh. This huge mountain of fluffy coconutty goodness is best shared among 3 people. There’s mango syrup layered throughout the ice, but largely the dominating flavor is coconut. The sad dollop of mango sherbet and the actual mango (which was really fresh by the way) just felt like another attempt to balance out the coconut. It didn’t work. I had to search for the mango sherbet hiding behind the mountain of ice, and since you have to carve the mango pieces out to eat them, you end up losing a lot of it. I really enjoyed the coconut flavor of this one, but the lack of balance (of mango/coconut flavor and of ice and toppings) isn’t going to get it on my favorites list.

7.5/10

Isn’t this cherry blossom bingsu just darling? The ice is pretty standard and plain on the outside, but the middle is softer and sweeter like milk had been poured over it. There are two layers of cherry blossom paste: on the top and another halfway through. (Not sure if those flowers on top are supposed to be edible or not….) The crumbly-looking flower pieces have a more intense flavor than the paste. It’s hard to describe the cherry blossom flavor to someone who’s never had it, but it’s kind of like rose + strawberry, maybe? I dunno. Floral flavors are hard to describe. Anyway, this bingsu is light, delicate and refreshing. It’s the kind of bingsu you eat while writing poetry. Makes you stop and appreciate the little things. It’s definitely cute and charming, but more of a novelty. I don’t think I’ll crave this one, but the time we spent together was nice (read: romantic and confusing) while it lasted.

8/10

This injeolmi bingsu is from a cafe near Sungshin Women’s University. With real milk ice, two layers of injeolmi goodness, and plenty of red bean to go around, you don’t even need condensed milk to power through this bingsu. The milk ice and sprinkle of soybean powder strike the perfect balance between earthy and sweet, and the red beans keep things mildly interesting. Plus, no danger of choking on a spoonful of powder! Yay! In a nutshell, this bingsu has it together. It’s professional. Solid. Dependable. It’s the bingsu in a well-tailored black or navy blue suit. The kind of bingsu that could do your taxes.

8/10

This is a mango cup bingsu from Meet Fresh, and may I say that it is the most attractive and impressive of their cup bingsu selection, judging by the display at their store. This is the only one that comes with sorbet and other non-fruity goodness on top. The quality of the ice is the same as any regular Meet Fresh bingsu, so texture does not disappoint. However, the flavor at the top is very weak, and I had to rely on the actual mangoes for most of the flavor. They were so sweet…too sweet….and a little mushy. As in, 5 seconds away from being rotten. Some were even turning brown. About halfway through the bingsu, however, is another layer of sorbet (I’m guessing) which is flavorful enough to revive the body of the whole dish. Basically, this one started off a little shaky, but definitely gets better as you eat it. And the improvement happens fast enough so that you don’t throw in the towel early. Maybe just go to a store with fresh mangoes. Because this Meet Fresh was not so fresh.

8.5/10

This is an Earl Grey bingsu from a cafe called Goddess near Ewha. The ice is beautifully shaved into fancy layers; though the ice may look a little brittle, the layers fall away under the spoon smoothly like over-priced Urban Outfitters curtains. Don’t mistake thin ice for weakness of flavor. This was truely like eating a (sweet) London Fog, and the blueberries on top are a nice touch. It looks bare because all the toppings came on the side: crunchy rice granola, red beans, and frozen cranberries (read: they were more like pebbles.) Usually, I love toppings but these conflicted greatly with the smooth, light texture of the bingsu, so I did without them. Even the condensed milk (which I love) seemed to overpower the Earl Grey flavor. It’s hard not to feel elegant when eating this bingsu. So classy y’all.

9.5/10

This is the specialty bingsu from 별다방 미스리!  I had this bingsu for the first time in early June, before the bingsu diary existed. It’s only fitting to close my last bingsu review with this one. This one includes a hodgepodge of toppings: watermelon, kiwi, bananas, Chocolate frosted flakes (??), almonds, granola, rice cake (떡), red beans and (I think) vanilla ice cream. Basically, it’s a whole lot of EVERYTHING and is sure to please even the pickiest of your friends. Eat it section by section, mix it together….the possibilities are endless. The fruit is sliced into small pieces for maximum mix-ability. Every spoonful is delightful. With so many toppings, it’s hard for me to comment on the quality of the ice in detail, but I can say it’s not crunchy. It kind of stays in the background. Most of the sweetness in this bingsu comes from the ice cream, so when it melts, the vanilla flavor permeates the entire dish and it’s just sooooooo great. No condensed milk needed. No complaints here. Nope. None. This felt like eating a big bowl of cereal, actually….I like extravagant breakfasts okay? Don’t judge me. That’s rude.

There were a lot of fantastic bingsu recommended to me, and several shops I saw myself that I didn’t have the opportunity to visit; I’m positive there are billions of bingsu treasures hiding somewhere in Seoul and all over Korea. (I’m looking at you, Jeju.) My bingsu review days were cut short by my departure from Korea, but be rest assured, my bingsu mania still lives on! I shall return!

The Great Bingsu Review [July]

Welcome to The Great Bingsu Review (Round 2) in which I rate the bingsu I had in July from worst to best.


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5.5/10

When I saw the advertisement for this marshmallow bingsu at Cafe Blog near Ewha, I knew I had to try it. I’ve grown from the mischievous child who ate marshmallow fluff straight from the container (much to my parents’ dismay) into a respectable (?) young adult (???) who now feeds her marshmallow addiction safely through Rice Krispies treats or s’mores. This bingsu took me right back to my childhood though because this is straight up marshmallow. As lovely as the milk ice is, it has no other flavor than syrupy sweetness, and the whipped cream was shockingly plain. This one got real boring, real quick. I spent most of my time just eating the marshmallows. Guess what’s on top though? Korea’s answer to pop-rocks. And they ROCK. But they don’t rock hard enough to land this bingsu a high score on the charts. Though innovative, this was like eating a bowl of pure sugar. No flavor. None. Zip. Nada. I mean, could they at least hook a sista up with some vanilla or somethin’?! You know what’d be awesome? A S’mores bingsu.

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7.5/10

This green tea bingsu is from a cafe in 북촌. The ice is very crunchy, but gets softer towards the middle of the dish. It’s very off-putting. You practically break your teeth as soon as you start eating and then practice extreme caution when eating the rest of the bingsu. It’s hard to enjoy the nice flavor with your guard up. The bottom layers of ice also carry most of the green tea flavor which is not at all bitter like the O’sulloc bingsu (reviewed below) but not as sweet as a matcha kit-kat. The texture of the 떡 is much closer to what I’d expect from Japanese mochi: soft and delicate. And SWEET. They were almost like….marshmallows? The red beans don’t taste like they’re from a can. Though bananas don’t fit in with the rest of the traditional ingredients, I quite enjoyed them. They enhance the presentation and prevent the ice from breaking all your teeth.

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8/10

This mango cheesecake bingsu from Sulbing reminds me of something you get at a carnival or a fair: colorful, syrupy and overly sweet. It features mango pieces covered in yuzu syrup, cheesecake bites, and ice cream with some almonds thrown in to make it look a little less like a heart attack. The almonds don’t suit the mango flavor in my opinion, but they were a brief reprieve from all the sugar. The milk ice is typical Sulbing quality, which never disappoints; this bingsu mixes rather well, since the mango pieces aren’t gigantic. Halfway through the bingsu there is yet another layer of syrup (as if we needed more…) so it never gets boring. This bingsu screams FUN and if you gave this to a kid they’d be bouncing all over the walls also screaming FUN. This is like the dessert of the dessert bingsu. Though I wasn’t that excited about it at the time, I’m giving it an 8 because it would’ve hit the spot if I wanted something extremely sweet.

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8.5/10
This is 한라봉 (hallabong) bingsu from Cafe 오가.다 in 북촌. Hallabong is a really sweet orange/tangerine type of thing famously grown on Jeju Island. They’re supposed to be hella good. I’m not a big fan of citrus fruit, so I had my doubts but this is HELLA GOOD. Upon first bite, that hallabong flavor punched me in the gut and took all my money. It packs a WALLOP. Do you hear me?! The flavor is pretty consistent throughout the whole bingsu, which (almost) makes up for the fact that it’s made with just plain ice. As you can see from the picture, the ice is a little chunky and kind of crunchy, but surprisingly, I think the clear ice works quite well with such a strong citrus flavor. I might actually prefer the clear ice to the milk ice on this one. (At this particular place, you could choose what kind of ice you wanted.) This bingsu continued to surprise me: after you get through that mountain of ice, there’s some very mild coconut milk to refresh you after that hallabong flavor assault.

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8.5/10

This is the infamous 인절미 (injeolmi) bingsu from 설빙. 인절미 is a type of Korean rice cake (not like Quakers…think mochi) covered with roasted soybean flour. It’s a very “traditional Korean flavor” and seems to be polarizing even among Koreans. It’s a best seller at Sulbing, but when I asked my host sister if we could try it, she adamantly said, “No! Not injeolmi!” Maybe she has some secret beef with injeolmi, I don’t know. Anyway, in Japanese, this is 黄粉 (きなこ). The whole bingsu is covered in a mountain of soybean flour so WARNING: you must mix this or you will choke and DIE. Okay, not really, but if you don’t mix it you’ll literally be eating spoonfuls of powder for the first few minutes. Even when I mixed it, it was still clumpy and stuck to the roof of my mouth like peanut butter. The rice cake was very good and there were a few slivers of almonds that added a little crunch. This one is a struggle to eat, but if you really like the nutty きなこ flavor, and want something a little earthy and not too sweet, this one is for you. I didn’t find this one particularly refreshing because it had too much powder, but I had it at a different Sulbing where the balance of powder and ice was just right, so I definitely see the appeal. I’m starting to crave this one now (sorry, host sister).

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9/10

This 녹차 (green tea) bingsu is from the O’sulloc Tea store in Myeongdong. I would advise you to only get this one if you LOVE green tea. Not green tea flavored stuff like green tea latte or matcha kit-kats. I mean 濃い抹茶. This bingsu has a very deep and bitter flavor; the sweetness comes from the 떡 and the secret layer of red bean in the middle. I thought I loved green tea, but this caught me off guard. I was so happy when those red beans showed up! I was going to give it a lower score because it was almost too bitter to enjoy, but I think that’s the charm. It’s getting a high score for being the most legit 녹차빙수 I’ve ever had.

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9.5/10

Caramel Coffee Bingsu from 설빙.  It’s a heartier bingsu featuring almonds, cashews, granola, roasted coffee beans and caramel ice cream on top. It would be really hard to eat after a big meal. This bingsu mixes very well and the balance of caramel and coffee is such that it’s hard to separate the two flavors. It’s like a caramel macchiato + bingsu. A little salty to balance out the sweet, your tastebuds will appreciate the harmony of this one. I didn’t even need the condensed milk. I would’ve given it a 10/10 BUT it has a huge glob of red beans in the middle, which threw off the balance of flavors for me. The red beans made it too busy. Of course, if you love red beans no matter what, it’s a 10/10 for you.

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10/10

Are your friends too busy getting haircuts (or doing something equally lame) to get bingsu with you? Fear not. 호밀밭 is here for you with their stellar fruit bingsu. Technically, I already reviewed this bingsu back in June. I previously gave a 9/10, but I had it again by itself, so it had my full attention this time around. Once again, this is the finest shaved milk ice I’ve had in Seoul; the fruit is sweet, abundant and super fresh (except the strawberries, which are frozen and kind of jank), but it doesn’t overpower the milk flavor of the ice, which is very very nice. The red beans and 떡 were also on point, as I’ve mentioned before. None of that mushy canned stuff. I didn’t really add the red beans because the fruit already keeps this bingsu bumpin’, but you certainly wouldn’t regret adding them in. Another thing I really like about this one is the size. It’s small enough for you to eat by yourself without feeling judged, but you could also share it with a friend. That’s rare in Korea, where it seems like you must be in a pair to do or eat anything.

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10/10

One of my favorite ones to date. It’s a Taiwanese-style pineapple bingsu from Meet Fresh near Gangnam Station. First of all, they put the whole bingsu in a frickin’ pineapple! Do I need to say more?! The ice is perfectly soft and almost slushy-like, as if they froze the fruit juice. Fresh scoops of pineapple, maraschino cherries, fantastic chewy jelly things, cranberries and (coconut?) milk come together to create the most blissful, refreshing bingsu experience I’ve had in a loooong time. This transported me straight to Hawaii (not that I’ve ever been to Hawaii….) Oh wait. I guess I should say Taiwan (not that I’ve been there either….) EITHER WAY I was walking on sunshine. Pineapple-yellow sunshine. This bingsu was so light and pleasing I thought I could eat two, and I would have! But I didn’t want to pay for another one. Or the Meet Fresh employees to judge me.