I've found the perfect way to make my insides delightfully and childishly cold this summer: by eating patbingsu. Robyn neatly summed it up as a Korean "shaved ice-based dessert loaded with sweet toppings such as chopped fruit, condensed milk, fruit syrup, and red beans." (The "pat" in patbingsu refers to the sweetened adzuki beans. "Bingsu" refers to the shaved ice component.) The huge pile of light-as-air shaved ice, studded with various morsels and nubbins make for an extremely satisfying mouthful of sweet, creamy, crunchy, and chewy that still manages to be ultra light and refreshing.
There are some prepackaged varieties available, but I don't know how it could be as good as the real thing. With my cousin's recent purchase of an electric shaved ice machine from her local Asian market, an H-Mart ($40), we've been on a patbingsu rampage.
The beauty of patbingsu lies in the freedom to tailor each bowl to your tastes. Love tteok? Dump it on! Hate fruit cocktail? Don't need it! Fresh fruit? Hell yeah! So take the ingredients I've suggested as a jumping off point for your slushy fantasies and let us know what successful combinations you come up with!
Ice Mountain Construction
While I used an electric shaved ice machine here, there are also many hand-cranked versions available online and in certain Asian markets. When those fluffy ice shavings start to pour out of the machine, let it go for a while as a nice peak will start forming on its own. Towards the end you'll have to rotate the bowl a bit to correct any lopsidedness.
First stop, sweetened condensed milk. This way, the creamy sweet river of milk can fully infiltrate the ice.
The dollops of red bean paste aren't very pretty, so feel free to pipe it on if you want a supermodel patbingsu.
Liberally sprinkle matcha powder over the bowl. Don't be afraid—the flavor isn't very strong and it just adds another layer of green tea to the forthcoming ice cream.
Fruit cocktail is subject to great variation in quantity and type here. I only like the peach bits with some of the syrup, hence the scanty fruit topping, while my cousin only likes the cherries (they're on the other side of the mountain). Again, omit it if you'd like or dump the whole can on if you're a fruit cocktail fiend.
The tteok is one of the vital components to any patbingsu. I pile it on and often add more while I'm eating. When they're fresh from the package, it just feels like I'm eating clouds. Who can resist these heavenly soft pillows of chewy, glutinous rice? Anyone?
Ice cream makes the growing ice mountain even colder and creamier. I go for a scoop per person as I remind myself that this is supposed to be an ice-based dessert.
All set? Get ready to mix! While traditionalists may prescribe a complete mix blitz so that every ingredient is incorporated, you can try a less extreme approach if you don't find digging into a grayish slushy stew all that appetizing. I've heard some people don't mix it at all, but that may just be a myth.
As you get further into devouring the freezing treat, the ice starts to melt and the whole dish becomes soupier and soupier while your insides get all tingly and cold. It almost feels like a brain freeze...but in your stomach.
According to the Korea Tourism Organization, Koreans eat patbingsu with "friends, families, coworkers, and lovers," a recommendation that I wholeheartedly support. It's not a solitary dessert like an ice cream cone, but a big bowl meant as an arena for spoons to go "tteok hunting." A piece of advice: The ideal number of eaters per patbingsu bowl is two. As you invite more and more people to partake of your slushy mix, it increasingly becomes a free-for-all—I find that in the end I'm left with a seriously skewed ratio of ice to delicious add-ins.
Keep patbingsu in mind the next time you're melting from the heat, or if you're one of those people that loves ice cream in the winter, this can be a year-round dessert. The ice mountain landscape dotted with tteok, red beans, and other tiny morsels is a kind of dessert bibimbap, one that any lover of halo-halo or shaved ice can relate to.