Korean cuisine has become increasingly popular around the world in recent years. After a handful of trips to South Korea, Korean food has become one of our favorite cuisines. But for many, Korean desserts remain something of a mystery. In this post, we’ll look at nine must-try Korean desserts including traditional rice cake, cookies, and even shaved ice.
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Korean Sweets And Desserts To Eat In South Korea
In some respects, a Korean dessert menu isn’t all that different from one you might find in the US or Europe. Pastries are common, as are dishes based around fruit. What makes South Korean desserts so unique in the world is the ingredients used to create these dishes.
Rice, for instance, is an integral ingredient of many of the dishes that we’ll celebrate. The grain appears in everything from Korean traditional sweets called tteok, to yaksik cakes. Other ingredients you may not have come across before include red bean paste, which can be sweetened in a variety of ways.
In the past, dessert in Korean culture was reserved for religious ceremonies and the marking of important festival days. Even today, it’s not all that common to see sweet dishes served as part of a meal. Instead, they tend to be eaten as a snack during a break from work, or as an accompaniment to tea.
Thankfully though, it’s easy enough to find Korean cakes and other Korean desserts. There are plenty of dedicated cafes and bakeries in big cities, adding an important sweet note to the food scene in Seoul among other top destinations.
Korean Desserts That Are Not To Be Missed
Here you’ll find our top 9 must-try Korean desserts, although we could probably easily double that number! We hope you enjoy reading about them as much as we’ve enjoyed sampling them!
|Dessert Item||🇰🇷 Korean Name|
|🍚 Korean Glutinous Rice Balls||Chapssaltteok|
|🥞 Wheat Flour Pancake||Hotteok|
|🍪 Korean Biscuit/Cookie||Dasik|
|🍧 Shaved Ice||Bingsu|
|🍰 Traditional Korean Cake||Yaksik|
|🍚 Steamed Korean Rice Cake||Ggul Tteok|
|🍚 Scorched Rice||Nurungji|
|🍐 Poached Pears||Baesuk|
|🍩 Deep-fried Korean Pastry||Yakgwa|
A tteok, or Korean rice cake, chapssaltteok consist of small balls of glutinous rice dusted in ground sesame or beans to prevent them from sticking together.
Similar to the mochi of Japan, there are several different ways in which to prepare chapssaltteok. Most frequently, the rice is soaked before being made into rice flour. This is then cooked in a steamer.
As well as being served plain, they can be stuffed with fillings called ‘so’, with red bean paste one of the most common.
One of the most popular Korean desserts, hotteok is a wheat flour pancake often made fresh on street-side stalls.
Originating from Incheon, a port city to the west of Seoul, the flour is mixed with sugar and yeast before being moistened with water and milk to form a dough.
Not the quickest of traditional Korean desserts to prepare, the dough requires several hours of resting to rise correctly. Only then can the pancakes get their filling of chopped nuts, honey, and cinnamon before being cooked in a pan or on a griddle.
If you enjoy a biscuit or cookie with your tea, you are going to love dasik, or Korean tea cookies. Meaning ‘tea food’, they are traditionally served alongside tea and have become an indispensable part of the country’s culinary culture.
Shaped into intricate molds called dasikpan, they tend to be served as a mixed plate with dasik in creams, greens, browns, pinks, and blacks. These colors relate to the flavor of each individual dasik, which includes chestnut, soybean, and sesame.
Bingsu – Shaved Ice
Summer temperatures in South Korea can easily reach into the upper 80s and low 90s. One way to beat the heat is by eating a bingsu. Similar to a Malaysian “ice kacang” aka “ABC special”, bingsu is made from shavings of ice which are then topped with sliced fruit, condensed milk or cream, and syrups made from fruit. Pat-bingsu, or red bean shaved ice, is another popular choice.
But South Korea is a destination that is always happy to experiment, so don’t be surprised if you also find green tea, strawberry, or chocolate bingsu being served.
A Korean traditional cake that is sure to hit the right spot, yaksik (or yakbap) is doused in sticky honey, sugar, or cinnamon. Like chapssaltteok, they are made from glutinous rice which is steamed and colored a rich golden brown through the addition of soy sauce.
Chopped boiled chestnuts, pine nuts, and jujubes (Chinese dates) are added into the mix before it’s steamed for a second time. Small pieces are then shaped into squares or rectangles and left to cool.
Yaksik is commonly served at South Korean weddings. Some say it’s for good luck. You also find yaksik served during the jeongwol daeboreum festival which takes place annually on January 15.
Sharing the same heritage as the chapssaltteok, ggul tteok is another steamed Korean rice cake.
Most commonly served as shaped bite-sized pieces, they take their name of ‘honey cakes’ from the fact they are soaked or sprinkled with a honey-flavored syrup.
Available in dedicated Korean dessert cafes, and often a rainbow of different bright colors, other versions are filled with sesame paste.
Literally meaning ‘scorched rice’, nurungji is a Korean traditional dessert which developed out of the rice that gets caught on the bottom of a pan when cooking other dishes.
Loved for its crunchiness, it has existed since at least the seventeenth century. It’s believed that nurungji’s heritage dates back even further.
As well as being eaten as a rice cake, nurungji can be infused in hot water to make scorched rice tea called sungnyung, or made into a soup known as nureun bap.
One of the Korean sweet foods traditionally reserved for the country’s royals, baesuk only began to be consumed more widely in the last century. Not the most famous Korean desserts, baesuk are still worth seeking out.
Generally translated as ‘poached pears’, you can think of baesuk as a sweet broth flavored with ginger, honey, and peppercorns in which sliced pears are poached until soft. However, the dish is served chilled and linked to the mid-fall festival of Chuseok.
When it comes to Korean pastries, we can’t think of any better than yakgwa. As Korean desserts go, this deep-fried Korean pastry is second to none.
Using wheat flour, yakgwa is made with honey. Additional flavors come from rice wine, ginger, and sesame oil. Coming in small, medium, and large varieties, they have a soft and moist texture thanks to the liberal use of these ingredients.
FAQs – Korean Desserts
There a lot of great desserts in Korea. One of the most popular desserts in Korea is Tteok. Tteok are glutenous Korean rice cakes. They come in a variety of flavors and are usually enjoyed with Korean tea.
Regardless of whether you like sweet or fried desserts, Korean cuisine has got something for you. A few good Korean desserts include Dasik (Tea Cookies), Yaksik (Sweet Rice Dessert), and Songpyeon (Rice Cakes).