By Andrea Galvez
In the land of four distinct seasons, it is finally summer. Along with samgyetang (삼계탕), “summer blankets” and sun umbrellas, one of the most anticipated summer-time treats can now be seen everywhere: patbingsu (팥빙수).
For anyone living under a rock, or simply not in Korea, patbingsu is a trifling of shaved ice, sweet beans, tteok (ricecake) and a combination of other deliciously sweet ingredients such as sweeten condensed milk, fruit, and cereal.
Not quite as creamy as a DQ Blizzard, these go-to heat-busters are highly anticipated in every sweltering Korean city and post stop. And when the calendar page is flipped and summer is officially underway, they start to pop up everywhere from local cafes and chain fast food restaurants to ministops.
Long undisputed patbingsu hotspots include MealTop (Apgujeong) and Miss Lee Café (Insa-dong), both in Seoul, but along with a couple of self-claimed experts, I went about finding the best in my neighborhood, a southern dong in the city of Gwangju.
While pretty much all versions had the standard ice and beans, the fun part of this search was that each restaurant tried to put their own signature twist on the 600 year old dessert.
I tried it with coffee and with cream. I tried it with every imaginable fruit, with green tea yogurt, with different kinds of cereal on top, and with and without the tteok.
While there are some inventive takes on the traditional treat this year at Paris Baguette, and the popular western food eatery Lemon Table has a surprisingly traditional but solid (as always) version, the winner was from an unknown second floor pub called “Fine Thank You.” It certainly didn’t hurt that our giant bowlful was actually “service” and thus free, but the fruit here was amazing, and the real leveler was the addition of whipped cream. I’m such a sucker for whipped cream.
Those not on a dong-wide search can enjoy a good quality version at your local Lotteria, and Starbucks even has a Frappacino inspired by the treat.
If you’re anywhere in Korea this summer, and haven’t yet scooped up a icy spoonful, now’s the time. Like so many other aspects of seasonal Korean life, they’ll only be around till Fall.