Every year, Korean temperatures steadily rise during the summer months. This rise in mercury coincides with the rise of a popular icy dessert that Koreans use to battle the summer heat: Bingsu. All across the Korean peninsula cafes, coffee shops, and restaurants start putting out advertisements for this popular dish on storefronts, sidewalks, billboards, and even music videos. If you haven’t caught on yet after watching that Paris Baguette sponsored video, bingsu is kind of a big deal.
So what is this summer desert? This dessert dates back to the days of long gone Korean dynasties when ice was first being used. To fight the summer heat, royal courts would make a dish of shaved ice flakes and top it with sweet red beans. Over the years, this frozen treat has come in and out of favor among Koreans, but lately its popularity is thriving. Back with a vengeance, bingsu now frequently includes coconut milk, ice cream, gummy snacks, cereals, berries, and countless other toppings. Regardless of the variety you choose, there will always be a bed of quickly melting snow at the bottom of your bowl and 90% of the time you’ll find sweet red beans included. While we were initially apprehensive about Korea’s fondness for sweet red beans and bean paste, it’s surprisingly good in both texture and flavor.
Our first year in Korea only saw bingsu a few times. We hadn’t quite warmed to the smorgasbord of flavors and textures that almost guarantee a brain freeze, but now we seek out this popular Korean dessert any time we find ourselves just too uncomfortable from the summer’s heat. The popular bakery/coffee chains all carry some variety of bingsu and many restaurants offer it as an option for desert, so it’s never too difficult to find when the craving starts. Although Korean traditions typically include eating hot food to match your body’s state to its environment, this dessert certainly goes the opposite direction with a blast of icy relief on a hot and humid day.