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6 best bingsu to beat the heat
Seoul's six best bingsu cafes serving Korea’s favorite shaved ice dessert will turn sweats into shivers
No offense to Tony the Tiger, but these are the real frosted flakes –- ice flakes, that is. As Korea’s favorite summertime treat, an icy bowl of red bean-heaped bingsu is available just about anywhere.
But as bingsu prices rise -- a curious phenomenon, as the main ingredient is shaved ice -- make sure that when you shell out, it’s worth every won.
If you’re the type who likes the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of bingsu (Cornflakes? Strawberry syrup? Raisins?) this is not the list for you. (For ornate shaved ice, check out Taegeukdang.)
Instead, we do our best to keep it simple with classic toppings like sweet red bean, doughy rice cakes and rich drizzles of milk by checking out the best bingsu in Seoul.
6. General Doctor: The hipster favorite
Chill out in more ways than one at Drs. Jeong Hye-jin and Kim Seung-beom’s clinic-cum-café in Hongdae. The patbingsu (₩8,500) here is similarly low-key: a milky-white mountain of freshly fallen snow, dusted with misutgaru.
From the first spoonful, the nutty flavor of the roasted rice powder stands out, but as portions are large, bring a friend to share the strong sweetness.
3/F, 362-1 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 서교동 362-1 번지 3층); +82 2 322 5951; www.generaldoctor.co.kr
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5. Espresso Public: Big and bold
No skimping here.
Espresso Public gives you a big scoop of ice cream -- vanilla for the regular patbingsu (₩8,500) and green tea for the green tea bingsu (₩9,500) -- and loads on the flavor.
And bring on the toppings: there’s red bean and bites of spongy tteok, all sprinkled with misutgaru and chopped nuts. The only downside? The shaved ice at Espresso Public is a bit on the chunky side for our taste.
618-16 Yeoksam-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 역삼동 618-16); +82 2 556 9317
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4. Artisee: The sleeper hit
Ignore the rest of the lackluster menu at this Shilla Hotel-operated franchise and head straight for the “Artisee Neige Sorbet” (₩13,000), which, despite its pretentious name, boasts a simple yet wonderful flavor.
Before your eyes bug out at the price, bear in mind that this bowl is enough to feed at least four.
Then there are the great textures: tender, 100 percent domestic red bean, finely ground ice and glistening tteok pleasantly firm to the bite. Subtly sweetened milk also means less of a toothache compared to competitors.
Center1 Building, 67 Suha-dong, Jung-gu (중구 수하동 67번지 센터원빌딩); +82 2 6030 8930 (other branches across city); www.cafeartisee.com
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3. Café At Home: Deconstructed
Yes, you have to assemble your own bingsu here, but it’s a labor of love. The absence of tteok could raise flags for many a traditionalist, but we lapped up the last drops of the milk bingsu (₩8,000). The generous helping of pour-it-yourself condensed milk goes a long way, and the novel addition of whole, salted mixed nuts tingles the taste buds.
Bonus points: Café owner Ryu Dong-suk really does make you feel at home with his charming antique furniture, soothing jams and shelves stocked with design and travel books.
401-4 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu (마포구 서교동 401-4); +82 2 337 7273
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2. O’Sulloc: Version 2.0
You might suffer from sticker shock when you open O’Sulloc’s notoriously overpriced menu: ₩17,000 is a lot for patbingsu. But here, this classic dessert is reimagined. Red bean comes in the form of a frozen puree, and the ice is actual ground-up frozen tea.
Eating it is like a treasure hunt. Every spoonful contains a surprise, whether it be the crunch of a macadamia nut or the chewiness of dried apricot. And it only seems fitting that a teahouse operated by the cosmetics company AmorePacific would pay such attention to presentation, making it definitely one of the best bingsus.
Cheonghui Building, 33-1 Myeong-dong-2-ga, Jung-gu (중구 명동2가 33-1 청휘빌딩);+82 2 774 5460; www.osulloc.com
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1. Meal Top: Best in the city
And the best bingsu to beat the heat? This little bowl of frosty simplicity might not look like much, but why add more to perfection? Meal Top takes a minimalist approach to patbingsu, but gets every element so, so right. The milky ice gets shaved down to fine, frosty fluff, the red bean is boiled fresh daily and the glossy cubes of tteok make for an excellent mix of flavors that will leave you scraping the bottom of your bowl.
The best part? If you’re a rice cake fan (and why wouldn’t you be, since it’s the best part of patbingsu?) you can ask for extra -- and it comes for free.
Hyundai Department Store, Apgujeong branch, 5/F, 429 Apgujeong-dong, Gangnam-gu (강남구 압구정동 429 현대백화점본점 5층); +82 2 547 6800 (other branches across city)
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