Hi there! Diana here. You might remember that I indulge indulge in chicken gizzards, pork feet, and boiled octopus, but I also enjoy something sweet. Summer is just around the bend and on especially sweltering days, noshing on something cold can feel like a godsend. While many Americans may reach for a syrupy snow cone or scoop of ice cream, I’ve been loyal to a refreshing (and dare I say healthy) shaved ice dessert called patbingsu.
I remember pretty clearly the day my mom came home with a hand-crank ice shaving contraption. My sister and I would stick our tongues out to catch the falling “snow” while my mom labored to make us homemade patbingsu. I haven’t made it at home since, but with just three ingredients, it’s simple and satisfying.
Traditional bingsu is made up of a simple shaved ice and milk base topped with a sweet adzuki red beans called pat. It’s usually served in a brass bowl to keep the dessert from melting too quickly. This simple recipe has been a summertime staple for nearly 700 years – dating way back to the Joseon Dynasty, but these days, it’s common to see sliced fruit like bananas, kiwi, strawberries or blueberries and a dusting of roasted nut powder on top to add acidity and depth.
When I tell my first-timer bingsu friends that they’ll be chowing down on beans for dessert, I see a flash of uncertainty. Don’t worry: The adzuki beans are boiled down so that they are soft and creamy, and sweetened lightly with honey. There’s no traditional savory bean flavor you might be familiar with. Instead you’ve got something as smooth as custard to offset the crunchy ice.
There are modernized versions of patbingsu that include not-so-healthy flavored ice creams and a host of other add-ons, like cereal, cookies and condensed milk, but the traditional version is not only exceedingly tasty in it’s own right, but significantly better for you than its snow cone and ice cream cousins.
You read that right: This traditional version of this dessert is guilt-free, meaning summer just got a whole lot better.
If you want to give it a try at home, you’ll need a food processor or ice shaving machine of some sort. Here’s a recipe from a blog on Korean home cooking you can try.
If you happen to live in an area with lots of Korean cafes and restaurants, you might try one of these.
I live in Los Angeles and have three trusted bingsu spots. Check them out if you get the chance:
Hwa Sun Ji – This is a beautiful old-school tea house where you sit on the floor. They serve the patbingsu that my grandmother remembers eating as a child.
Okrumong – The emphasis here is on quality. There are only three ingredients: Ice, milk, and pat, yet somehow it tastes like nothing I’ve had before.
Sul & Beans – A modern take on traditional patbingsu, they sprinkle crispy dried dates and cover the ice with injeolmi powder made from dried and ground soybeans. I hated this flavor as a child, but am so appreciative of it’s rich and nutty flavor now as an adult.
I don’t live in New York, so I don’t have any personal recs there. Charlotte says she’s waiting for one to absolutely wow her there but popular cafes like Paris Baguette and Tous les Jours offer it. If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s always Yelp!
Until next time,
Diana is a Los Angeles-based writer whose work has been featured in Refinery29, Lucky Magazine, TimeOut, The Huffington Post and The Zoe Report. She most recently ghostwrote a book and (happily) spends most of her time and money on Korean beauty products and food.