Korean food can be found all around the world, for good reason. Korean barbeque is immensely popular in the United States, and the entire world is enthralled by the high-quality Hanwoo beef. One category of food that Korea is less well-known for? Desserts.
Today, let's dive into some of the most delicious, unique desserts that the peninsula has to offer.
Songpyeon is a classic Korean dessert. They are a type of rice cake, or tteok, typically formed in the shape of a half-moon. Songpyeon usually has sweet fillings made from a variety of ingredients: chestnuts, dates, red beans, jujubes, or soybeans.
One thing that differentiates songpyeon from other types and styles of rice cakes is a particular step in their preparation. Songpyeon is steamed over a bed of pine needles. This process adds an earthy and piney flavor as well as the rich aroma of pine needles.
Some may recognize a particular kind of songpyeon - osaek songpyeon - from Seoul. These desserts are typically served in five colors - brown, white, pink, green, and yellow - which represent the harmony of nature.
Many people may not think of rice as a dessert-style dish, but yaksik would beg to differ. This sweet dish is made by mixing together glutinous rice, pine nuts, jujubes, and chestnuts. Depending on the region, it is then typically seasoned with ingredients ranging from sweet to savory. Common additions include soy sauce, brown sugar, cinnamon, sesame oil, or honey.
Typically, the rice is steamed first, then the rest of the ingredients are added. Once they are added, the entire mixture is steamed again. At this point, the yaksik is formed into the desired shape (often flat squares) and allowed to cool. Yaksik is usually served at room temperature.
Bukkumi is somewhat similar to another type of rice cake, songpyeon. The major distinction between them is that bukkumi is pan-fried, songpyeon is not. Similar to other Korean sweet rice cakes, this dessert has a sweet filling. Bukkuki in particular typically has a filling made from white adzuki bean paste. The outside of the rice cakes is often coated with some other sweet addition - often syrup or honey.
With the notable exception of Seoul’s extremely rainy summers, the climates of New York City and Seoul are very similar. This means that when winter comes around, Seoul is cold! Hotteok is a classic Korean street food that one is likely to find during the blustery winter months.
The easiest way to understand hotteok is to think of it like a sweeter pancake. The outside is crispy and the inside is filled with delicious sweetness: cinnamon, dark brown sugar, and ground nuts. Hotteok will typically go for anywhere from 50 cents to a few dollars - so they make a fantastic snack when you’re on the go. But, watch out for long lines at the most popular vendors!
Akin to tteok as a category, hogwa is a term for some types of Korean desserts, specifically confections. Dasik is a small, bite-sized hagwa. While the exact ingredients and base used are variable, the common connection amongst most dasik is that they are pressed cookies.
There are a few different varieties of dasik to look out for; they are delicious!
- Ssal dasik is classic - made from steamed, dried, toasted, and pounded glutinous rice flower
- Bam dasik has a very unique flavor and is made from steamed and mashed chestnut
- Kong dasik typically has a vibrant color and is made from steamed and pounded yellow soybean
Bingsu is a broad category of Korean shaved ice desserts. While many, many varieties of bingsu are delicious, we’d like to key you into one in particular: patbingsu. The dessert looks like a mound of snow, topped with delicious fresh fruit - and that’s pretty accurate!
The base of patbingsu is traditional shaved ice. It usually has a consistency of similar shaved (or Italian) ice. On top of the mound of ice, there are sweet red beans, fresh fruit, and rice cake bits. The entire dish is brought together with a helping of sweetened and condensed milk. Different varieties will have different fruits or other toppings, but the hallmark of patbingsu are the delicious sweet red beans.