Bingsu -- finely shaved ice mixed with red bean, sweet milky sauce and various garnishes -- is an iconic summer dessert for South Koreans.
Every year, experimental chefs come up with creative new renditions, and at the vanguard of the traditional treat’s evolution are luxury hotels.
Seoul’s Hotel Shilla’s signature apple mango bingsu, introduced in 2011 and now costing 54,000 won ($46), still has fans lining up. Other establishments are trying to duplicate this success, taking inspiration from classic French desserts, time-honored traditional Korean recipes and even from the galaxy.
Creme Brulee Bingsu (Park Hyatt Seoul)
At Park Hyatt Seoul, chefs build an intricate interplay of textures and flavors for their Creme Brulee Bingsu.
As the name suggests, rich creamy custard with a brittle top of melted sugar sits on top of a dome of superfine ice and hazelnut-flavored ice cream, decorated with thin, crispy orange slices. It is accompanied by rum syrup, berries and hazelnuts served in small bowls. To dig in, one has to first gently crack the torched sugar crust on top.
The bingsu is available at 38,000 won at The Lounge on the hotel’s 24th floor until the end of August.
Meanwhile, chefs and patisseries here have been playing around with mugwort for some time, with some even saying that the herb could be the next green tea of the dessert world.
Chefs at Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas spent three months creating mugwort bingsu -- the hotel’s headline dessert this summer.
Retro Mugwort Bingsu (Grand InterContinental Seoul Parnas)
Retro Mugwort Bingsu features mugwort ice cream, mugwort jelly, mugwort chocolate and mugwort-flavored milk sauce over a bed of shaved ice, topped with a smattering of injeolmi rice cakes, red beans and granola.
Sounds like too much mugwort? Fans of mugwort desserts would know that when mugwort is done right, there is no such thing as “too much mugwort.”
Served in an exquisite Royal Copenhagen bowl, the bingsu is available for 38,000 won until the end of August at Lobby Lounge.
Galaxy Bingsu (JW Marriot Dongdaemun Square Seoul)
Perhaps one of the most over-the-top creations -- at least visually -- is JW Marriott Dongdaemun Square Seoul’s Galaxy Bingsu, which the hotel describes as “a cosmic celebration of space-age visuals.”
The way this bingsu is served is a feast for the eyes; when syrup with layers of colors from purple, white, light blue to dark navy is poured over the dark chocolate-coated sphere of ice flakes, it creates a mirror glaze that befits the name and description.
For this special bingsu, one needs to use a hammer to break the chocolate coating and drizzle salted caramel syrup.
37 Bingsu (Conrad Seoul)
Another visually impressive rendition comes from Conrad Seoul.
In essence, its 37 Bingsu is a choice between mango bingsu and caramel bingsu, but the plating makes it unique.
It is served with a translucent dome lid, and dry ice creates a mystic fog effect, which first impresses customers and then keeps the bingsu chilled until the very last bite.
JW Marriott’s Galaxy Bingsu is priced at 49,000 won, and Conrad’s 37 Bingsu, the mango one, costs 42,000 won.
Tomato Bingsu (Banyan Tree Club & Spa)
Banyan Tree Club & Spa takes a minimalistic approach with its bingsu. One of the three renditions of the icy goodness this season is Tomato Bingsu, priced at 33,000 won and served at the Granum Dining Lounge.
It looks like just a peeled, red tomato on top of milky ice flakes. The taste, however, isn’t what you would expect. That tomato, which has to be cut into bite-sized pieces, is filled with cream cheese, and underneath the mountain of ice flakes is vanilla ice cream.
It is a “new recipe made with unique ingredients,” the hotel said in a press release.
By Lee Sun-young (email@example.com)