Patbingsu: Korea’s Summer Ambrosia

When I grew up, in Canada, there were two main cold treats in the summer: ice cream and those long freezies that cut the sides of your mouth when you ate them. And maybe popsicles.

Like sucking on a cherry flavored dagger

Like sucking on a fruit flavored dagger

It wasn’t until I came to Korea that I discovered something better than all of that. You heard me. Even better than ice cream, and not just because this thing sometimes includes ice cream. It’s called patbingsu (팥빙수) which translates as “red bean ice water”.

Okay, I admit that’s not a very delicious-sounding name. Bear with me.

The main ingredient of any patbingsu is shaved ice, which makes up most of it. This guarantees it’s about the most refreshing you could eat on a hot summer day. After that, there are sweetened red beans. Some people don’t like them, but I really do. Beyond that, it’s whatever you want to put on it. The most common toppings are ice cream, condensed milk, fruit cocktail, fresh fruit, small candies, strawberry syrup, small little rice cakes that look like marshmallows, sprinkles, etc.

This has long been a summer mainstay. Everywhere serves it over here, even fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and KFC. Here is what I think of a traditional patbingsu looks like. This is what I ate today at a hole-in-the-wall food stand near my school.

Yum...

Yum…

Of course, this is how it comes but you can’t eat it like this. First you have to mix it up really good until it doesn’t look as pretty.

patbingsu 2

These days, patbingsu has become a more high-class treat and so has generally become much more expensive and made with higher-quality ingredients (not better though, in my opinion). The above patbingsu cost me about $2.50.

Here is one I had a week or so ago at a coffee shop:

patbingsu 3This one is much fancier and has sliced almonds, pieces of ddeok (rice cake) and things that look like brownies but aren’t (I ate it and I still don’t know what they were). It was good, but almost twice the price as the one above and not quite as good.

These days, there are other kinds of bingsu, for people who don’t want red beans. I have see fruit bingsu (very good), yogurt bingsu, coffee bingsu, green tea bingsu, rice cake bingsu, berry bingsu, etc. Here is the selection at a national bakery chain, Paris Baguette:

Paris Baguette bingsuThese are all quite delicious (except maybe the green tea bingsu) although they are quite expensive. The most expensive bingsu I ever bought was a 2-person strawberry frozen yogurt bingsu for about $12.00.

Whenever I finally go back to North America, this will be one of the hardest things about Korea to leave behind. One solution is to live near a large Korean population. Another idea is for all of you who live in North America to start popularizing this dessert and really make it catch on in a big way (you can start by sharing this post). That way, when I get back, it will be there waiting for me.

It’s win-win, trust me.

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About David Stewart

I am a writer of anything quirky and weird. I love most genres of fiction and in each there are stories that I would consider "my kind of story". View all posts by David Stewart

30 responses to “Patbingsu: Korea’s Summer Ambrosia

  • Morgan

    VERY interesting….You may have to open a franchise on this side of the planet 🙂

  • 夏萌萌

    看来你真的是非常喜欢팥빙수啊!有机会给你介绍一下中国的刨冰(shaved ice)哈,呵呵!

  • misskzebra

    I ever get into R&D for a major food manufacturer, I promise to whisper in some ears. Unfortunately, even if I was successful, it would be in Europe rather than North America.

  • Penelope

    Don’t fret, David. You don’t have to live close to a Korean population to get this stuff. Many other asian countries serve something similar. In the Philippines we call this “halo-halo” which means mix-mix…it helps solve the problem of how to eat it, I guess. When I went to Vietnam, I found street vendors selling this stuff too…you pick and choose your topping and walk away. So, all you need is to live close to an asian grocery store and you could probably find sweet mung beans, along with the other jelly-like toppings. Condensed milk and ice are easy to come by.

  • Melissa

    I love red bean buns so I’m sure I’d love the traditional version. It looks delicious. And never fear on trends becoming popular…when I was in China in 2001 there was mango everywhere, even in the Starbucks. Come home, mango products are hard to find. Now, they are everywhere (and rightfully so). There’s some great Korean food trucks and restaurants around here…I’ll have to see if they have this.

  • Matrone Bell

    Where is mine? How can you have sweets with out giving me a treat? It looks yummy, but the name makes it sound gross lol

  • Joyce

    They do look kind of good, David. Especially the more expensive one with the pint ice cream topping and imitation brownies, or whatever they are. The others look pretty good too. If I even find it here, I will try it. But, I don’t think I will start a franchise of it. 🙂 I will just support it like the local frozen yogurt or ice cream shop here which we love. I love frozen yogurt and they are popular places here in the U.S. with all flavors, kinds and toppings, too.

    • David Stewart

      that is one problem with starting something new: there is already so much variety of other kinds. Here, you can buy ice cream bars at convenience stores but the only ice cream restaurant here is Baskin Robbins.

  • Eric Alagan

    You are bad, David – really bad! Now, I must have some of all of that 🙂

    Cheers,
    Eric
    P/s You are trained in psychological torture, I see.

  • sunnydelay

    Reblogged this on Maverick Mom and commented:
    Perfect treat on a hot summer day! It has a more subtle sweetness, different from the hit you over the head sugary desserts and ice creams we enjoy in the States. If you leave out the candies and syrups, and just keep it to fresh fruit and red beans, it can even be considered a healthy treat. When I first tried this, I was twelve years old, visiting Korea over the summer. The first couple of times, I just ate it because it was so weird and novel to anything I’d ever eaten, not because I loved the taste and textures. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with it and I truly miss it now. I’ve enjoyed it in the States here and there, but it’s never been as good as the ones in Korea, and they always overcharge. My hubby and I found a Korean bakery in town and they make Patbingsu during the summer months. We had a little outing and shared one. It satisfied a long time craving for both of us. My husband loves it too, especially because it isn’t too sweet. The kids thought it was strange, but at least they tried it. It will probably grow on them and they’ll end up loving it as much as we do. I do think that it could become the next big thing or fad, like tofu, coconut water, and bubble teas. If you come across a K town or Korean bakery or cafe, don’t pass up the chance to try this delectable summer treat!!

  • sunnydelay

    Hi! I reblogged this post! I love patbingsu, but I’ve never tried any of the new fangled ones. The first time I ever tried it was as a twelve year old, when I went back to Korea for a visit. They don’t make it as well in the States. It would be terrific if it caught on as an alternative to all the cold desserts we commonly enjoy. Thanks for bringing back memories!

    • David Stewart

      Thanks for commenting and reblogging! I was thinking, if they made it in the States, they would probably change it quite a bit to suit the culture: maybe have Snickers bingsu or such things. I haven’t decided in my mind if that would be good or not. 🙂

  • sharmishtha basu

    they look mouthwatering! I love these posts about Korea- I did not know anything about Korea before reading your blog, now I can say I know quite a bit!

  • oegukeen

    I am a complete icecream junkey, but for the first time I found something better than icecream. Patbingsu!

    It’s amazing, and I’m sure it’s much healthier. My poor boyfriend has to send me cans of red beans half-way across the world 🙂

  • Kim

    Looks refreshing……..especially since the summer’s heat s on……;)

  • Fall Streets in Korea | The Green-Walled Tower

    […] they are hot food, a lot of them close down during the summer (when people would rather eat patbingsu anyway). They are often surrounded by a sheet of clear plastic to keep in some heat for the poor […]

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