The recipe for bingsu, Korea’s beloved shaved ice dessert, used to be simple.
A little bowl of shaved ice, red beans boiled in sugar water, a little bit of condensed milk and maybe some fruit or ice cream heaped on top.
That was before the Park Hyatt Seoul debuted the first so-called luxury bingsu three years ago, to spectacular sales and a frenzied following.
Competing Seoul hotels promptly entered the fray with spoons blazing.
With bingsu now at the top of every hotel restaurant’s summer agenda, the battle to come up with the most luxurious, inventive, delicious variation of the dessert has gotten more intense this year.
Here are the hotels that are currently winning the war.
Park Hyatt Seoul
This Gangnam luxury hotel started it all.
In 2010, the hotel dreamed up a sweet pumpkin bingsu, made with a base of dunggulle tea made from the dried root of Solomon’s seal, and an omija bingsu using shaved frozen berries.
Seoul’s bingsu fanatics promptly fell in love with the new menu.
The hotel’s berry bingsu in particular came as a shock.
The combination of blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, black currant compote with handmade dark chocolate, whipped cream, pistachios and mint created a completely new taste.
Intercontinental Seoul Coex
The effort that the Intercontinental Seoul Coex has put into its bingsu menu has been extreme.
The Mango Rosa Sparkling bingsu is dubbed the “19-plus” bingsu, for its alcoholic content (19 is the legal drinking age in Korea).
The sweet Rosso Degli Anjelli Rose Sparkling Wine is frozen, shaved, then blended with frozen mango shavings and fresh mangoes.
In order to make the perfect red bean paste, which can be ordered separately with each bingsu, a designated red bean chef has the arduous job of boiling the red bean until wrinkles form, then pouring cold water until the wrinkles are stretched out again, and repeating the process over and over until the perfect moist texture is reached.
The Westin Chosun Seoul
The green tea bingsu at the Westin Chosun’s The Circle uses the top-shelf ingredients: matcha (fine green tea powder) from Shizuoka, Japan, and red beans from Ganghwado, South Korea.
The lounge takes its bingsu ice seriously — in order to recreate ice most similar to natural ice, a “maturing process” is used to make the ice “smoother.”
Upon returning to South Korea, he created green tea syrup using a maturing method at low temperatures, and also came up with the perfect red bean recipe by soaking the beans in water for a day, then boiling them for eight hours and adding three kinds of sugar at varying intervals. The result is the chewiest and shiniest red bean paste imaginable.
The Shilla Seoul
While The Shilla Seoul has been under renovation since the beginning of the year, it still receives calls asking when its apple mango bingsu will be available again.
Explosively popular since its 2011 debut, the apple mango bingsu has had customers literally lining up for bowls — an unusual sight in the austere luxury hotel.
“We use the highest quality apple mangoes from Jeju Island and have opted to use a minimum amount of ingredients to keep the taste very clean and healthy,” says hotel a representative.
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