Stars of Korean Cuisine: Bingsu

Not all discoveries involve sunshine. This week I found one of my favorite South Korean surprises inside a basement cafe—Bingsu, Korea’s version of, well, everything dessert-related. Shaved ice. Ice cream sundae. Fruit Parfait. Breakfast cereal.

All in one bowl.

Bingsu: The mother of all deserts

I’d heard about bingsu from some friends, but I was a little hesitant. I had tried to imagine the combination of shaved ice and corn flakes, and I had instantly regretted the thought experiment. (Confession: I’ve never liked shaved ice.)

The ice cream element was tempting, however, as was the fruit. So it was that on Friday night I found myself in a downstairs coffee shop with three friends, four spoons, and one massive bowl of chaos.

The bingsu was mountainous. On our table was what looked like a salad bowl, piled with stripes of toppings—bananas, small tea cakes, grapes, watermelon, and the fabled corn flakes. On the very top, three scoops of ice cream balanced precariously.

Then someone turned the bowl to get a better picture, and I saw the topping on the other side. It was not chocolate. It was not candy. It was not sprinkles, or peaches, or nuts.

corn on bingsu
That’s right…corn.

It was corn.

I was up for trying the dessert with all toppings, but my friends were a little less adventurous. So, we removed the corn. My friend who had ordered bingsu warned us of other close calls—tomatoes, it seems, are another popular edition.

We started out by eating the ice cream from the very top. Then, my friend pointed us toward the cup of milk that had come with our order. She told me to pour it over the pile of fruit and ice. I did so, slowly, trying to cover every inch. I had the absurd feeling that I was performing some sort of dessert ritual as I tipped the last drops of milk onto a kiwi.

We stirred down to the bottom of the bowl to make sure all the ice was properly saturated, and then we started in on the real essence of the bingsu. The milk, or possibly the ice, was sweetened, and the combination of ice and milk was surprisingly delicious, even rivaling the ice cream. The fruit and corn flakes added some great variety to the concoction. We pushed through the moment when our mouths began to freeze. I even tried a few bites with bits of corn, and was surprised that I didn’t dislike the combination.

By the time we were done, there was very little left in the bowl. To an outsider it would just have looked like the remnants of a massive ice cream sundae, but we knew that it was so very much more.

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