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The Sweetest Thing about South Korea…

- Hye Sung

South Korea is a nation I hold dear to my heart. Having been there four times for various reasons (to visit my brother who went to boarding school there in Seoul, for a spiritual retreat in the Seorak mountains, and to volunteer at the Interreligious Peace Sports Festival in Asan, and vacation), I have come to fall in love with the country. I could go on and on about their incredibly satisfying spas, the Seoul subways flooded with venders with a great amount of cheap knock-off clothing, the abundance of ramyon (commonly called “ramen” in America) restaurants, and the beautiful people of South Korea, but what I am most passionate about is what lies in the freezers of South Koreans.

In each kage (convenience store) you will see kids surrounding the freezers reaching to get the best ice cream popsicles first. The kages frequently refill their freezers throughout the day because of the high demand on ice cream pops, especially in the city and tourist attractions where visitors from other countries are surprised by the cheap prices and the unique Korean flavors offered. Most popsicles are 500 won, which would be about 50 cents.

When on a spiritual retreat in Cheongpyeong, I’d spend my breaks at the kage with some friends and it was not uncommon to fight over who got the last melon pop. The melon pop, which is a honeydew flavor, is undoubtedly the sweetest and the most popular flavor. At times you’d have to dig in freezer to find a single melon pop. To avoid jealousy and conflict I’d run after towards the kage once the break began and sneakily buy a melon pop and enjoy the sweet taste in solitude.

Well, that’s what I would do before I found out about B.B. Big.

B.B. Big is a strange concept for many non-Koreans. It’s an ice cream bar.. filled with beans. Azuki beans, an Asian bean with a sweet taste, is a common dessert in Korea. It is put in cakes and pastries and is a popular flavor. And it makes the best ice cream. But in Cheongpyeong, where most of the youth were either American or European, this “bean ice cream” was a very foreign and strange concept. This resulted in a large pile of B.B. Big ice cream pops begging me to eat them everyday for only 750 won. I mercifully listened to their pleading and did not let a day slip by without enjoying the light, creamy taste of the Azuki beans.

If you want get fancy, there is Bingsu (빙수), which is shaved ice with ice cream, red beans, and fruits. Common variations are made throughout Asia, called Kakigori in Japan, Halo Halo in the Philippines, and Baobing in Taiwan. This may cost up to 3,000 won in Korea and is worth it. There are commonly ice flavors, such as melon and apple, and you can ask to not have the fruit or bean toppings.

A local “H-Mart” or Korean store will have these ice creams and other popular Korean ice creams such as green tea, milk ice, corn (I never really enjoyed corn flavor to be honest), as well as others. Even in a local Korean market, though, a single bar costs up to $1.50. For the full experience I suggest taking a trip to the “Land of the Morning Calm” and to go to a local kage and put a few dollars aside to get a taste of all South Korea has to offer.




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