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What Is Patbingsu?

By Rebecca Cartwright
Updated May 16, 2024
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Patbingsu is a South Korean dessert made with shaved ice and a variety of other ingredients. The name means "red bean rice" and is sometimes rendered as "pat bing su" in English. Originally the recipe was fairly simple, containing just shaved ice and sweetened red beans with small rice cakes and, often, ground nuts. That version can still be found, but some recipes have become much more elaborate. Patbingsu is served as a composed dish, where each ingredient is displayed in a distinct layer, while custom dictates that it be stirred together just before eating.

The original dish was sold as street food, appearing sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Both patbingsu and ice pops appeared during that time. South Korea has very hot, humid, summers and ice was not readily available on the residential level until the mid-1960s, so these new, cooling treats were very popular.

From its beginnings as a simple street treat, patbingsu has grown into a national favorite. Modern versions are sold by restaurants ranging from fast food places to gourmet establishments, though they continue to be sold at street stalls. Soon after it first appeared, the ingredients list started to grow. The standard presentation now includes shaved ice, sweetened red beans or bean paste. Sweetened condensed milk, ice cake nuggets, canned fruit cocktail, and corn flakes are also commonly used.

Possible other ingredients now include ice cream and frozen yogurt. Vanilla, or fruit flavors, such as strawberry, are popular, as are coffee or green tea flavors. Some recipes include fresh fruit such as bananas or strawberries. Chocolate chips or small jelly candies are another popular addition.

Two ingredients not familiar to many in North America or Europe are sweetened red beans and rice cakes. The red beans are red azuki beans, a very small bean with a slightly sweet natural flavor. They are commonly cooked with sugar and used in sweets throughout east Asia. Some patbingsu recipes use whole beans in sweet syrup, while others use sweet red bean paste.

Korean rice cakes are made from glutinous rice which has been pounded into a sticky paste and formed into various shapes. Those used in patbingsu are small and plump and have a neutral rice flavor. The rice cakes are prized for their texture, and the way they pick up other flavors as they mix with the many ingredients of patbingsu.

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