For All Your Cravings: Popular Desserts from the Streets of Korea

What do we love? Desserts and Korean snacks! And what is the perfect combination? Korean desserts! In this series, we want to introduce you to a multitude of Korean desserts that you should definitely give a try when you’re traveling to Korea or even try to make on your own. So, buckle up and stay tuned for a sweet delight!

Chapssaltteok

Chewy texture, sweet, and on top of that, a popular treat in winter
—chapssaltteok (찹쌀떡)! Chapssaltteok (찹쌀 = glutinous rice, 떡 = rice cake) is a Korean rice cake with a sweet red bean paste center. It is similar to the Japanese mochi. Both chapssaltteok and mochi are made by steaming glutinous rice flour and then pounding it until it reaches a soft but chewy texture. It is a common gift for exam-takers “to express the wish that a candidate will pass the exam.” This belief stems from the verb butda (붙다), which has two meanings: to stick to something or to pass an exam. Legend has it that eating something sticky will help the previously-studied material to stick to your mind. Thereby, it helps you to pass your exam.

Can you make chapssaltteok at home? Most definitely! There are several methods to make chapssaltteok, either steaming it over a stovetop or, by far the most popular and faster method, heating it up in the microwave. Then you can easily knead and fill it with sweetened red bean paste. The filling, however, is not limited to red bean, but can be whatever you want it to be. Whether it be peanut butter or chocolate, the possibilities are endless!

Kkultarae

Most of us know the infamous Chinese dragon’s beard candy; kkultarae (꿀타래; 꿀 = honey, 타래 = skein) is the Korean variant of this dessert. Sold mainly in Insadong and Myeongdong, Kkultarae is advertised as a dessert that Korean kings have eaten back in the days. This story actually stems from a misleading assumption in which a TV show discussed where the dessert originated from, stating that it was a snack that kings enjoyed; it was never actually said which king. People assumed that it must have been Korean kings and so it was advertised as that from then on. In fact, kkultarae is only around thirty years old, having emerged in Insadong in the nineties. The name itself was trademarked in 2000. Legend has it that the dragon’s beard candy originates from the Chinese royal court although there are no credible sources that actually document its origin there. In fact, the origin has said to be in the Ottoman Empire.

What is the difference between the Chinese and the Korean variant of this dessert? Dragon’s beard candy is made out of sugar and maltose syrup while kkultarae’s main ingredients honey and maltose powder. Both are filled with ground up nuts, like almonds, peanuts, or walnuts. To get the right consistency, the mixture is left to age until it has a hard exterior, but a soft center. The mass is then kneaded, twisted and stretched until it has around 16,000 fine strands. The amount of strands is suggested to bring "[a] prayer for longevity, health, good fortune, and wish-fulfillment," though it is unclear where this attributed meaning originated from. Kkultarae can definitely be made at home, but could land you in a sweet and sticky situation. It takes some trial and error to master the art of candy-pulling, and if you’re up for a challenge, try to make more than 16,000 strands!

Bingsu

A mountain of shaved ice with various sweet toppings, ranging from fruits to chocolate to cereal—everyone knows and loves bingsu (빙수 = shaved ice)! It is a highly customizable and popular treat, especially in summer. The cold dessert dates back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), when the shaved ice topped with fruit was served and shared between the officials responsible for the royal icebox. Presumably, the royal court enjoyed this dessert as well.

The classic form of the dessert, patbingsu (팥빙수), was invented in the early 20th century, consisting of sweetened red bean paste (팥), tteok (떡), and nut powder. The addition of the red bean paste made it uniquely Korean. Modern additions that we see nowadays come from Western influence, and don’t necessarily include red bean paste; but rather chocolate, green tea, coffee or yogurt.

Admittedly, bingsu is a little hard to make at home as the process of shaving ice can actually melt it. The good news: shaved ice machines are reasonably cheap and a good investment if you’re planning to make bingsu all summer, even all year long! You can make red bean paste yourselves, but if you’re impatient, Asian supermarkets often sell it premade. Top it with whatever your heart desires—there are no limits! (Although, I would suggest not to gobble away too fast to avoid a brain freeze. Even if it is heavenly delicious.)

Will you try to make these desserts? Or have you tried them already? Let us know in the comments!

If you want to read more, these articles might interest you:

Written by Tran Trieu

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