The Great Patbingsu Roundup of 2011
Posted June 15, 2011 by Aaron Namba
Summer in Korea brings three things: heat, rain, and my personal favorite, 팥빙수! Every cafe and restaurant offers their own version, which varies from year to year, so we've taken up the challenge of trying as many as possible, and presenting a roundup of the best 팥빙수 of the season.
In addition to being a 자장면 connoiseur, my other claim to fame is being a seasoned 팥빙수 critic. Maybe it's because I grew up on Waiola's shave ice in Hawaii, but 팥빙수 really hits the spot for me. From my first taste in the summer of 2006, I have been a huge fan, and have tried dozens of varieties from all over Seoul (and even a couple in Hawaii).
In my opinion, 팥빙수 is the best part of summer in Korea. (Actually, though, I wish they'd offer it year-round. I'd still order it in the dead of winter!)
Some 팥빙수 facts:
- The basics: shaved ice, topped with regular milk and condensed milk, 팥 (sweetened red beans, a.k.a. azuki beans) and small bits of 떡 (rice cake), and a light dusting of 미숫가루 (powdered grains, e.g. barley, rice)
- The two most common modern variations are 과일팥빙수 (fruit patbingsu) and 녹차팥빙수 (green tea patbingsu)
- Offerings start to appear as soon as summer weather makes an appearance (May)
- By early June, it's hard to find places that don't offer some kind of 팥빙수 (including Burger King, Lotteria, Mister Donut, food courts, etc.)
- Some chains actually have different offerings depending on the individual location
- These offerings often change from year to year
- 팥빙수 is typically served in a single size, which is rather large (feeds 2-3)
All of these factors conspire to make it tough to stay on top of the offerings from year to year. Last year's best could be this year's bomb. And as 팥빙수 is, shall we say, not the healthiest of foods, trying them all is something your doctor would probably frown on.
Well, just for you, despite the risks to our own health, we have resolved to try as many 팥빙수 as possible to find the best 팥빙수 of the Summer 2011 season!
Because offerings can differ depending on location, and unfortunately, sometimes on who is on shift at the time, we can't guarantee that you'll have the same experience we did, but we have done our best to make sure that our experience was typical.
Paris Baguette - 팥빙수 (7500원) - 떡, 미숫가루
Paris Baguette's 팥빙수 doesn't change much from year to year, but in this case, that's a good thing! Their version is elegant in its simplicity: just the basics, simple presentation, perfect in flavor and texture. Nothing fancy, nothing new, yet consistently one of the best every year. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
I have chosen to list this one first because it is sort of the Starbucks of 팥빙수: ubiquitous, consistent, reasonably priced. If you are a newcomer, it's a good introduction to the wide world of 팥빙수.
Last year, we noticed that the Paris Baguette by 가로수길 had different offerings, so I suggest checking out different locations to see what's on offer.
태극당 - The original 팥빙수 (7000원) - Raisins, cornflakes, canned fruit, fruit jellies, strawberry syrup
The next most important (for many, the most important) 팥빙수 is the original, from 태극당. And by original, I mean this one dates back to 1958 (if I'm reading it correctly).
And when you visit, you know instantly that you're in the right place. 태극당 opened in 1946, and from the moment you step into the original shop (동대입구역, exit #2), it feels like you've stepped into a wormhole and traveled back in time. Waaay back...
In any case, their 팥빙수 may be a bit sweet for modern tastes (for adults, anyway), due mostly to the sugary fruit jellies. I still enjoyed it, but Annie isn't a fan of raisins and jellies in her 팥빙수. (She also doesn't care for the canned pineapple, but that features prominently in many modern incarnations as well, so that's not specific to 태극당.)
They take great care to preserve their 팥빙수 as it has always been, and strive to maintain the highest quality, from the toppings down to the ice itself. Give it a try, if for no other reason than to see where the 팥빙수 craze originated.
Palazzo - Green Tea Italian Ice (7000원) - Green tea ice cream, sliced almonds, 찹쌀떡
Last summer, the Palazzo at Rodeo Drive in Apgujeong (and possibly other locations) offered a phenomenal 과일팥빙수 that even included fresh tomatoes. Perhaps it proved a bit too expensive to produce, or perhaps it supplanted their bread and butter gelato and they didn't like that, but for whatever reason, it's MIA this year. The new edition isn't bad, but we just can't forget how great last year's was. It features 찹쌀떡, sliced in half (I liked it, Annie didn't), and is topped with sliced almonds (excellent!). Palazzo also offers personal-sized versions in addition to the "made-to-share" size, a good choice when you're flying solo.
Espresso Public - 팥빙수 (8500원) - Vanilla ice Cream, 떡, 미숫가루, sliced almonds, chocolate syrup
Espresso Public is a place I had seen many times (being both related to, and across the street from one of our favorite restaurants, Tanuki Donburi), yet never been to. But when it popped up on a Google search for "가장 맛있는 팥빙수" ("the most delicious patbingsu"... yes, that's how I found some of these places), we figured we'd give it a try.
Espresso Public - 녹차빙수 (9500원) - Green Tea Ice Cream, 떡, 미숫가루, Sliced Almonds
Sure enough, they serve two varieties, and they are the best we've ever had! One is a fairly standard example with vanilla ice cream, and the other is a green tea version with green tea ice cream. Both are excellent, and we highly recommend them. But bring a friend, or preferably two: they are extra large, and accordingly, do cost a bit more than usual (8500원, 9500원).
ABC 뉴욕제과 - 팥빙수 (7000원) - Watermelon, canned pineapple, banana, kiwi, 떡
Fresh off that excellent Google recommendation, we decided to try another. However, the next turned out to be less than great. The venerable ABC 뉴욕제과 (ABC New York Bakery), a decades-old landmark near 강남역 exit 6, disappointed with a forgettable 과일팥빙수. Not recommended.
Baskin Robbins - Original 팥빙수 (6800원) - Vanilla ice cream, canned mandarin orange, cornflakes, chocolate syrup
Baskin Robbins' edition included excellent vanilla ice cream, as you might expect, but otherwise fell flat. I did like the crunchy cereal topping (Annie wasn't as thrilled). If I found myself craving 팥빙수 and spotted a Baskin Robbins, I would order it again. Unless, of course, there was a Paris Baguette nearby (which, quite often, there is).
Krispy Kreme - Berry Sunset Combo (5500원) - Preserved strawberries, strawberry sryup, wafer & Milky Beach Combo (5500원) - 떡, wafer
At Krispy Kreme, you can get a doughnut plus 팥빙수 for just 5500원, what a deal! The downside is that their 팥빙수 is just okay. But I do applaud them for taking a bold first step into the wide world of 팥빙수!
Haagen Dazs - Classic 팥빙수 (11000원) - Fresh watermelon, fresh kiwi, banana, Haagen Dazs strawberry ice cream, 떡
On the other end of the scale, at 11000원, the Haagen Dazs Classic was the most expensive 팥빙수 we tried, and despite that, the portion size was relatively small. (It's hard to judge the size by looking at the photo, but that's because the scoop of ice cream is really, really small compared to any other 팥빙수.) It was good, but we'd rather save a few bucks (er, "chunners"?) and go back to Espresso Public instead. Annie liked every fruit in this one, all of which were fresh (not frozen or canned). (강남역 exit 6, turn left at Cafe Bene, then take the next right. Haagen Dasz is across the street from Starbucks, near Saboten.)
That's all for now, folks! We need to take a little break – we ate well over a dozen 팥빙수 in the past week or so. But we're not done yet! We still have a few more left on our list, and if you know of any notable examples that we should try, please let us know in the comments! We'll include them in a follow-up post in about another week.