Korean cuisine is spicy, salty and flavoursome- that’s why we love it so much! But hot stews and chili marinates often leave us craving something sugary and refreshing. It’s just as well that there’s a variety of tantalising Korean sweet treats to choose from…
10. Sujeonggwa (수정과)
Don’t be fooled by its reddish-brown colour: sujeonggwa is far tastier, healthier and more satisfying that cola! This fragrant, syrupy soft beverage is often served at the end of a meal as an alternative to a full-blown dessert. Sometimes called a “cold tea” and sometimes a “punch”, sujeonggwa’s main ingredient is persimmon, which is mixed with sugar, cinnamon, ginger and other spices for a revitalising sensation.
9. Jeju cactus / mandarin / hallabong chocolate (제주 선인장/귤/한라봉 초콜렛)
The water on Jeju Island is said to have healing qualities. Is it any wonder, then, that its mandarins, hallabong (large citrus fruits) and cacti have proved popular ingredients for treats? All of these fruits blend perfectly with chocco: the citruses are tangy, and the cactus has a full berry taste. These make wonderful gifts from a Jeju visit, but are increasingly available in mainland Korean stores as well. One of my Korean friends keeps a bowl of them in her apartment as a memorable snack offering for visitors.
8. Sikhye (식혜)
Sikhye is another deliciously cooling beverage to cleanse and sweeten the palette after a savoury meal. Lighter than sujeonggwa in colour and in consistency, sikhye introduces the quintessential Korean ingredient of rice to our list of sweet delights. If I’ve over-indulged at dinner, there’s nothing more soothing or purifying than sikhye!
7. Hotteok (호떡)
Picture the scene: it’s a freezing, snowy, winter’s evening, you’ve been shopping all day, and despite being wrapped head to toe in your woollies, are beginning to feel rather numb. Then, all of a sudden, you smell something sweet and delicious, and spy something steaming and warming. Cue hotteok: the ideal winter street food snack. This brown-sugar-filled pancake is doughy, sticky and satisfying- just what you need to thaw you out!
6. Yaksik (약식)
Yaksik is Korea’s answer to the rice pudding, although it also resembles a flapjack in many ways. Honey, nuts and fruits (often jujube, raisins, chestnuts, pine nuts and/or sesame seeds) are steamed with sweet rice for a sticky, nutritious and wholesome result. Yaksik is a real energy booster and a comfort food. Although Korean people eat it all year round, I think of it as an autumnal treat- it just seems so suited to this season.
5. Injeolmi (인절미)
Injeolmi are no-fuss glutinous rice cakes suitable for any occasion. Their variation in taste and appearance will depend on which (always scrummy) powder they are coated in (this will usually be a classic Korean flavour such as sesame or soy.) The dusting also creates an enjoyable contrast to the chewiness of the rice cake. To me, injeolmi are versatile and subtle enough to be everyday snacks.
4. Bungeoppang (붕어빵)
Rather confusingly, bungeoppang is a fish-shaped snack, but those seeking a sweeter treat shouldn’t be deterred- this is purely decorative (and rather cute!) Bungeoppang is, in fact, an indulgent waffle filled with sweet red bean paste. Freshly-roasted, warm and hearty, you’ll be able to pick one up from a Korean street vendor during the colder months, or in the evening throughout the year.
3. Songpyeon (송편)
Of all the variations of tteok (Korean rice cake), songpyeon are my favourite. They are aesthetically gorgeous, in delicate half-moon shape and beautifully coloured (usually green, pink and white); they are silky smooth with a lovely syrup, honey or sweet paste filling; they are steeped in tradition and are always eaten at Chuseok (harvest festival); they are associated with nature and natural ingredients. For all of these reasons, I feel that they are an apt culinary Korean symbol, as well as an extremely special treat.
2. Green tea (nokcha) ice cream / green tea (nokcha) latte (녹차아이스크림 / 녹차라떼)
Until I’d been to Korea, chocolate was my favourite sweet flavour. Now, it’s nokcha! Standing alone, green tea is a tasty if somewhat bitter antitoxin. When combined with sweetness, it becomes sumptuously yummy. Simple ice-creams, hot frothy lattes and ice-cold milkshakes are all perfect nokcha treats. You’ll find them just sweet enough, and never too sickly!
1. Patbingsu (팥빙수)
Patbingsu is perfect as a summer cooler, but I love it just as much at any time of year. It is often translated into English as “ice cream sundae”, causing a high level of surprise for westerners who order it with no inkling that its main ingredients are shaved ice and red bean paste. These will be teamed with anything from a fresh fruit salad to lashings of honey and milk, sprinkles of chocolate, scoops of yoghurt, or mounds of ice cream. Not only is it a taste sensation, it’s also incredibly fun (the first time I ordered patbingsu was from a bar in Chuncheon- it came topped with candies and cream, and was crowned with a lit sparkler!) This is my favourite of all the Korean sweet treats, so make sure you try it!
Korean sweet treats come in many forms to suit different people, occasions and tastes, and this is just a small selection of the unique and delicious dessert delicacies that Korea has to offer. Let us know which your favourite is- we can’t wait to try some more!