Drawings and writing by Hannah Bae and Adam Oelsner
On a hot summer night, there's nothing better than an ice-cold patbingsu (팥빙수). This dessert comes in many forms, with various toppings arranged over snowy-soft shaved ice made of milk. Most popular is the traditional stewed sweet red bean (pat / 팥), usually sprinkled with misutgaru (미숫가루), a roasted multigrain powder. At Meal Top, one of Hannah’s favorite bingsu places in Seoul, the dessert is served with two glistening, chewy pieces of tteok (rice cake / 떡) on top.
On our last trip to Seoul, we tried out a small chain called Okrumong, which serves up a phenomenally delicious persimmon bingsu topped with both dried and fresh persimmon slices and a sprinkling of crunchy dried jujube (daechu / 대추) and pumpkin seeds.
You can make it at home, too. One of Hannah’s most treasured possessions during her childhood was an adorable panda ice shaver. Even on a sweltering summer day, patbingsu will cool you off and make you feel happy.
Oimuchim & Oisobagi
Summer is cucumber season. Two of our favorite cooling side dishes put cucumber's crisp, water-filled flesh to good use. Oimuchim (오이무침) and oisobagi (오이소박이) are easy to make and have a crunchy texture. The refreshing, spicy flavor pairs well with standard Korean fare as well as burgers, hot dogs and anything else you might eat with a dill pickle spear.
We made oimuchim as a side dish when we went on our friends Duncan and Liz’s YouTube cooking show, “So You’re Dating a Vegan.” Yes, it's possible to make vegan versions of many Korean dishes.
Naengmyeon (냉면) is an icy noodle dish that hails from North Korea. The noodles are often made from a mix of buckwheat flour and arrowroot and sweet potato starches. They're thin, and they're slightly chewier than Japanese soba. You’ll see them most commonly served in two dishes: Mulnaengmyeon (물냉면), which translates to “water cold noodles” for the chilled broth it’s served in, and brothless bibimnaengmyeon (비빔냉면), which means “mixed cold noodles.” Mulnaengmyeon’s delicious beef broth is light, almost like a consommé, and it's served with little chunks of ice floating at the top. A good mulnaengmyeon broth is a chilling balancing act of beefy goodness, tartness from white kimchi water, and almost imperceptible sweetness.
Served without broth, bibimnaengmyeon noodles are mixed by diners with a spicy, gochujang-based sauce, kind of like a noodle version of bibimbap. Some of the best naengmyeon in Seoul is found in Ojang-dong, an old-school neighborhood off the beaten path for most tourists.
Both versions of naengmyeon are traditionally topped with a cold slice of beef brisket, a slice of Asian pear, julienned cucumber and short strips of daikon radish. It’s often served as a second course after Korean BBQ, but it's definitely a satisfying meal on its own. If you're sensitive to spice, order bibimnaengmyeon with the sauce on the side, because it can get downright fiery.
Recently we tried the mulnaengmyeon at chef Hooni Kim’s restaurant Hanjan in Manhattan. You have to order it in advance, but Hanjan's perfect execution of the dish makes it worth the effort.
Koreans are tough, and they love to fight heat with heat. Samgyetang (삼계탕), a steamy ginseng chicken soup, is one of the traditional dishes eaten on the three hottest Lunar Calendar days of the year. Each stone bowl of samgyetang comes with a whole young chicken stuffed with glutinous rice, jujubes, ginkgo nuts, chestnuts and other goodies. The fortifying ginseng and sustaining chicken broth will help you muster up the energy to power through those dreaded dog days of summer. Whew!
The first time Hannah had samgyetang was at Jangan Samgyetang, a humble, no-nonsense restaurant in downtown Seoul. Another famous samgyetang restaurant in Seoul is Tosokchon, which Hannah visited with YouTuber Noe Alonzo.
Diners season samgyetang's subtle broth to taste with crunchy salt crystals that are served on the side, then tear open the chicken to hunt for the treats stuffed inside.
If you want to make a great, traditional version of samgyetang, check out this recipe by our friends Sonja and Seoyoung at Bburi Kitchen, one of our favorite resources for in-depth information on Korean ingredients and recipes.
East Asia has a convenience store culture. These corner stores sell everything from underwear to wine, and they always have a well stocked ice-cream cooler. In Korea, one of the cheapest nights out is sitting at the picnic tables in front of your neighborhood pyeonijeom (편의점), drinking beers and eating snacks from inside.
Korean popsicles are delicious, beautiful and creative. We love the Subak (watermelon / 수박) bar, which is shaped like a wedge of sliced watermelon. The green “rind” and pink “flesh” are different flavors, and there are little “seeds” made of chocolate-covered peanut pieces sprinkled throughout.
Adam's favorite is Melona (메로나), a light-green, honeydew-flavored ice cream pop. This classic ice-pop is smooth, creamy and sweet. Bonus: Melona can be found in Asian grocery stores across the U.S. Adam used to buy them at a convenience store in downtown Olympia, WA.
A few months ago, a new popsicle debuted in Seoul: The hangover-fighting Gyeondyeo Bar. The name translates to “hang in there” or “tough it out.” That’s an ethos that many a hard-drinking Korean lives by. The Gyeondyeo Bar is grapefruit-flavored and contains a small amount of juice from the fruit of the Hovenia dulcis, also known as the “oriental raisin tree” (heotgae namu / 헛개나무). The fruit's juice is a hangover remedy that has been used since the 17th century, according to Reuters. A 2012 study found that the heotgae namu's juice and vinegar has beneficial effects in reducing the adverse effects of alcohol on mice.