Archive for the ‘Patbingsoo’ Category

Bada-bing

June 22, 2012

I go to Seoul, Korea, at least once a year, and each time I go, I try to figure out what’s going on. Not with real issues like South Korean attitudes toward North Korea, or who is likely to win the next presidential election. I’m on vacation —  I’m only interested in things like, what is the latest trend in patbingsoo, or Korean shaved ice?

In Korea, patbingsoo, or shaved ice with sweet red beans, is so popular that it’s on the menu at KFC. When I was growing up, patbingsoo was colorful and bounteous — shaved ice with milk, then a big pile of sweet red beans, a scoop of some terrible low-grade ice cream, mass-produced little mochi cakes, and lots of little fruit jellies and/or fruit cocktail. I always pushed my ice cream to the side. It was delicious but tacky.

But patbingsoo now seems to be trending minimalist and classy. My sister Mona and I were in Seoul for over a week before we finally sat down to our first shared patbingsoo (and patbingsoo is always shared, another example of how communal Korean food is), but when we did, we were wowed.

The first was at a cafe chain I’d never seen before called Mango Six, which sells fruit shakes, tapioca drinks, and baked goods, as well as a tremendous shaved ice. My sister’s been obsessed with a new Korean drama called 신사의 품격, (something like “A Gentleman’s Dignity”), and Mango Six clearly has a product placement deal with the show. One of the main characters, who has a haircut that is so bad it’s awesome, runs a Mango Six franchise.

Their version is very simple and beautiful. First, the ice flakes are very fine, barely flakes at all. There’s a good sprinkling of my favorite traditional ingredient, toasted soybean flour. The sticky rice cakes are very high quality, and the round ones that look like hard-boiled eggs cut in half actually have a mango-flavored center. Best of all, what is normally crappy ice cream has been replaced with a scoop of tangy frozen yogurt.

The second patbingsoo we shared was very different but equally inspired. Our cousin Ron told us that the best patbingsoo in Seoul was at Deux Cremes on trendy Garosu-gil. It did not disappoint. I have no idea if their tarts are any good, but if I’m going to judge them by their patbingsoo, this is a cafe that thinks carefully about the small but important things.

It looks almost like a modernist sculpture, no? We ordered the green tea bingsoo, and when we saw other tables getting their patbingsoo, my sister and I panicked, thinking maybe it didn’t come with any red beans. Silly us.

It’s buried in the middle! How brilliant is that? It means you don’t end up eating too much pat with your first bites; the ratio of red beans to ice stays more constant as you dig deeper and deeper into the bowl. The flakes were not nearly as fine as at Mango Six — they were actually a little coarse and the only thing I didn’t like — but the green tea flavor was real and the scoop of ice cream high-quality. Plus, they add salty honey-roasted peanuts. So brilliant, I didn’t even miss not having little rice cakes.

Both versions are a little pricey, about 12,000 or 14,000 won, but as I mentioned before, they’re supposed to be shared. Two is a good number, but really, three or four friends could be pretty happy sharing one as well.

And it’s not just the fancy cafes that are doing these stripped-down bings. Paris Baguette, the ubiquitous bakery chain, was advertising an “old-fashioned” bingsoo with just ice, beans, and injeolmi, the soft squares of rice cakes dusted with soybean flour.

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How many dinner guests does it take to make patbingsoo?

August 3, 2011

After a very long hiatus, I did a test-drive Korean Sunday Dinner this weekend. I made cold soybean noodles and braised pork belly, and we all laughed and drank a lot of baekseju and bourbon. And then I decided to present dessert, shaved ice with red beans and berries and condensed milk: patbingsoo!

Except my ice shaver wasn’t cooperating. And we decided we had to get up to see what was wrong. The only one smart enough to realize bending over and staring at it was not going to help was the friend who, laughing in the corner, took this picture.

We did manage to get it to work well enough in the end, and all of us ate a small but precious mound of shaved ice. I’m facing a month of work for travel, but so excited to start cooking again in the fall.

Patbingsoo happiness at home

August 18, 2009

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I wish I knew the origin of 팥빙수, patbingsoo.  For something I love so much, I know very little about it.  It’s clearly an invention of modern refrigeration, since it requires shaved ice, the “bingsoo.”  The idea also clearly spread throughout Asia, as you’ll find some variation of shaved ice with sweet beans, or “pat” (pronounced “paht”), in the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Japan.  I’d love to know where it started, who was the first to come up with that brilliant idea.

In other ways, though, the dish is very self-evident.  You can look at it and know what goes into it.  In Korea, at least, the original classic was shaved ice topped with a sauce of cooked and sweetened azuki beans, the same beans you find in sweet bean desserts all over Asia.  It was a street food, and I like to imagine men pushing giant blocks of ice around.

These days, patbingsoo is served everywhere from your hip and expensive Apgujeong cafe to McDonald’s.  Starbucks has apparently come out with a red bean frappucino based on the idea and is selling it all over Asia.  Menus will proudly recite the different versions you can have—green tea, coffee, ice cream, tiny balls of tteok or mochi and more.  Ten or so years ago, the fruit on patbingsoo was decidedly canned, little diced cubes of gelatinous sugar.  Fresh fruit is now more popular, though it still tends toward the colorful and tropical, like bananas and kiwis.

Patbingsoo is such a staple of summer life in Korea, but it’s not something that’s often made at home.  My family had a hand-cranked ice shaver when I was young.  I think we used it once.  Restaurants and cafes will charge you $5, $10, even $15 for something that is essentially ice chips, but all those exorbitant prices come with large, broad glass bowls prettily decorated, as well as multiple spoons.  It’s a social dish.  You eat it with friends when you’re out.

Unless you’re me, languishing in the heat in Brooklyn.  Then you order an ice shaver off of Amazon and wait anxiously for it to arrive.

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The hardest part was choosing the ice shaver.  I bought the Hamilton Beach Icy Treats machine at the local Target, but brought it home to find it made chunky ice chips, like the kind you find in Slurpees and crap margaritas.  I even went to Assi Plaza in Flushing, but only saw a hand-cranked model and one that looked just like the Icy Treats machine.  I am happy to inform you, though, that the Hamilton Beach Snowman Ice Shaver really does make fine, flaky, snowy ice, at least as close as you’ll ever get on a non-commercial machine.

And then I got to work making the different ingredients that go into my favorite kind of patbingsoo.  I soaked, cooked, and pureed azuki beans.  I made up some glutinous rice dough and rolled it into little balls to make the tteok that I love (it’s the same mochi balls they have at Red Mango and Pinkberry).  I mixed sweetened condensed milk with whole milk for a smoother consistency, and chopped up the fruit I had in the house, blueberries and nectarines.

It took all morning getting everything together, but right around 4 pm, when I could not take the oppressive heat any longer, I assembled my big bowl of patbingsoo, for me and me alone, in just a few minutes.

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My pat, or sweet bean sauce, wasn’t as slick and sweet as what you find when you’re eating out, and my tteok was a little too hard, not to mention large and ungainly.  But it tasted just enough like my memories.  I was going to let Ursa, my dog houseguest, lick the bowl, but I couldn’t stop myself.  I slurped up the last bits of icy condensed milk.

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I think she forgives me, though.  And with a little work, the recipe will definitely end up in the cookbook.

There are places in NY where you can find shaved ice.  There’s a Korean bakery called Koryodang on 32nd Street that sells it, which I never order because they charge you a lot and the freakin’ thing gets served in a styrofoam bowl with plastic spoons.  There’s a Taiwanese shaved ice joint in the Flushing Mall that really does satisfy my patbingsoo cravings, except it’s in Flushing and that’s a two-hour round-trip from my place.  A wonderful Hawaiian shaved ice place called Eton opened a year or two ago in Carroll Gardens, and I had one of my happiest solo lunches there ever, two orders of dumplings and tall order of shaved ice with red bean and condensed milk.

But it is still worth it to have your very own ice-shaving machine.