Actually, patbingsu (팥빙수) is really like ice kacang.
The origin of patbingsu is rather peculiar, and shrouded in geo-political issues. Although records show that officials during the Joseon Dynasty were enjoying some form of snow dessert, Koreans dispute this because the tradition came from China. Instead, they attribute the invention of the dish to the time during the Japanese colonization, and in particular, the kakigori (かき氷) which is where it all originated.
Ultimately, the proliferation – in most cases, the invention – of shaved ice desserts like halo-halo, cendol, ice kacang, baobing and patbingsu amongst the masses coincided with the rise of American industrialization in the late 1800s and early 1900s which led to the invention, trade and commerce of the machinery needed to store and shave ice.
The correct moniker, despite a lot of Singaporeans calling it “bingsu” or “bingsoo” and regardless of the variant, is patbingsu which literally means red beans with ice, or “팥氷水” in Hanja. Like ice kacang, patbingsu evolved, adding new ingredients with ever increasing globalization. Today, the red bean paste which gave the dessert its name is no longer necessarily used.
I don’t like shaved ice desserts in general. I’ve always seen them as something that might dillute a dessert’s original essence. You don’t add ice to Mango Sago Pomelo, you don’t add ice to Blackball Grass Jelly. It’s just..disgusting, to have to deal with all that melted water. In addition, I’ve always had a negative perception about ice being dirty and all. However, when Darren came back, and called Titus and Tom along, one voice suddenly feels very soft and insignificant, so I went with it.
Nunsongyee, which means snowflake in Korean, couldn’t be a more fitting name for a patbingsu parlor. It’s located quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. Yet, it still managed to attract quite a decent crowd, and that’s always a good sign, when people are willing to travel for food.
Because I wasn’t too big on shaved ice desserts, Darren and I shared the classic Injeolmi Bingsu (SGD 14.9) which in Singaporean terms, would be the equivalent of eating shaved ice with ice cream and muah chee. The soft, almost “Japaneseness” of the mochi with the fineness of the sandy granular nuts was a perfect complement to the smooth, powdery snow ice and overall, an impressive virgin shaved ice experience. The slightly more pricey specialty Black Sesame Bingsu (SGD 18.90) that Titus and Tom shared however, didn’t impress me too much. Sure, it had a lot more textures with the red bean, injeolmi, cashews and coarser sesame but I just didn’t enjoy it as much.
Would I go back for more? Actually, I’d go everyday for a week if the portions weren’t that large. As someone who stays near Ang Mo Kio, there’s a great shortcut instead of going via Serangoon.