Snapshots from South Korea: Patbingsu, a Popular Shaved Ice Dessert

Last month I visited Seoul, South Korea, for the first time. Here's a look at something I ate from my one-week trip. For more, check out the rest of my Snapshots from South Korea.


20090604-patbingsu-exterior.jpgPatbingsu, a shaved ice-based dessert loaded with sweet toppings such as chopped fruit, condensed milk, fruit syrup, and red beans, is so popular in South Korea that you can find it at most fast food restaurants in addition to cafes and bakeries. One of my friends even highly recommended the version from KFC ("My family went there all the time during our trip to Seoul!"). Although I wouldn't have been opposed to breaking my patbingsu virgnity at KFC, it was probably for the best that Dan Gray brought us to Ongdalsaem, a cafe in a traditional Korean house, instead.

Our bowl of patbingsu (₩6000, about $4.80) consisted of a pile of roughly shaved ice neatly topped with sliced banana, strawberries, kiwi, a canned fruit mix, red beans, fruit syrup, condensed milk, corn flakes, rice cake nubs, toasted soybean powder, and a scoop of vanilla ice cream (green tea, coffee, and frozen yogurt are other popular flavors). On my own I would have just stuck in my spoon and started to eat it, but Dan said we should mix it first.


Dan took the honors as I watched the pile of ingredients deflate.


The result was a bowl of chunky, fruity, icy soup. It's refreshing on a hot day and because of the fruit content I can almost pretend it's healthy (you know, while ignoring the ice cream and the condensed milk). While I would probably prefer an unmixed version where I could pick at the ingredients I want in each spoon, it's more fun to get random toppings in each bite.


Another fun part of eating a mixed patbingsu is to go tteok (rice cake) hunting, that is, poke through the opaque slush to find those coveted nubs of chewy rice cake deep within your bowl.

As much as I love eating ice cream in the summer heat, sometimes it's too much of a good, dairy-rich thing. Patbingsu is a cool and satisfying dessert that's substantial without being rich, and with all its different components it won't bore your taste buds.


Snapshots from Asia: Will the Real Shaved Ice Please Stand Up?
Snapshots from Asia: Ice Kacang
Sugar Rush: Patbingsu from Koryodang
Photo of the Day: Shave Ice at Ward Farmers' Market