Dessert is often the most delicious part of the dinner course, so much so that some, like my wife, are unwilling to leave this final meal to last, preferring instead to gobble it up at the start.
We all have our favourites, and we’ll probably swear by the unique secret recipes of our nearest and dearest over most other places that sell their edible wares. In my case, my mother’s lime cheesecake usually tops the list, though my wife’s penchant for baking has made her lemon and blueberry cake a household favourite that threatens to eclipse even my mother’s finest efforts. Then there’s grandma (in-law) Ev’s delectable peach cobbler which always goes down well after chasing the deer for an afternoon.
But, alas, these family treats will largely be obscure to much of the outside world.
That’s not the case with my top five international desserts that have satisfied my sweet tooth during my years of travelling and living abroad. No doubt this might cause some controversy, but I’ll present them nonetheless. Feel free to engage with my top 5 desserts!
Bingsu (South Korea): Without doubt, this has grown to become my favourite (in some respects I had no choice as my wife encouraged that we ‘should’ go to eat bingsu once a week, just about).
As strange as it might sound, frozen milk is ‘shaved’ into a ceramic bowl which is the essential base of all varieties of topping.
And there are a great many. Our favourite is almost certainly the opulent Choco-brownie. This joyous offering has cheesecake and brownie chunks the size of Greco-Roman alter stones; coco-powder daubed upon the mound like settled sawdust, post industry; rich chocolate sauce interwoven so delicately that the seams resemble veins of silver in a great mountain. There’s whip, too: It reaches so high that it becomes godlike in its apotheosis from earthly dessert to divine ambrosia.
Drool. It’s OK.
The alternatives to this pyramid of wow, are perfuse (no one person should limit themselves when it comes to bingsu). There’s the super fresh apple-mango, which has dozens of fleshy mango cubes dangling off the edge of the bowl and drizzled apple sauce that serve to obscure the frozen yogurt that nestles inside this fruity exoskeleton: It’s an all-year round favourite.
Additionally, there are also the more ‘Asian’ or ‘Korean’ types replete with soya beans, rice cakes, or powdered flavourings.
Not content with even these modifications to the more calorific choices, Sulbing’s culinary geniuses conjure new bowls of sublime eating pleasure as the seasons come and go. We rather enjoy summery melon bingsu that’s served within its own husk and is perhaps the best antidote to Korea’s humid summers. The watermelon version also hits the (parched) spot, too. A recent new discovery is the macaroon edition (pictured), which is simply an extraordinary addition to the panoply of bingsu (it’s a candidate for a new favourite).
All varieties are served with a small portion of sweet condensed milk to smother over the shavings and the topping that make your selection unique. Whatever you choose, it’s sure to be an extravaganza: I’ve never had one I’ve disliked. If, however, it’s not quite your thing and your with a group, traditional favourites like tteokbokki is available, along with quick bites like corndogs.
One might also get the impression it’s for kids, given the milk base and as The Great British Bake Off’s Mary Berry might say, it’s wow factor, but it’s widely enjoyed by people from all walks of life here in Korea from the first romantic date of a new match, to the average family, and that cackle of older married women (ajummas) that dive into the bowl with the same gusto as most children. It’s quite the sociable experience that offers an alternative option to meeting in coffee shops or bars.
In our city of Daegu, Sulbing Korean Dessert Cafe, have expanded from one location a few years ago to at least four that we know of (and tried). This is not a monopoly, nor original in itself: There are lots of other providers, and one can get very basic, low quality versions from most local stores’ freezers. But it certainly is our favourite and the one that we’d endorse.
I think there is a certain cool about Sulbing, and my wife for one finds any excuse to go there. We’ve had many dates there ourselves during our relationship—whether frequented before early dinners, or after an evening movie; my wife, has also appointed herself the role of Sulbing liaison officer, the sole role of which involves taking new teachers to experience this delight soon after they arrive in Daegu.
Perhaps, oddly, the dessert works in all of these settings anytime of the year, whether it be the height of Korea’s sweaty Julys, or the biting cold of its chilly Januarys.
Tiramisu (Italy): This creamy, rich, coffee and liquor based dessert was my absolute favourite before my wife helped me to discover bingsu. As such a big lover of coffee, for me, this was always the perfect after-dinner sweet, or as a wonderful companion to a cup of Joe. It’s quintessentially Italian, and while one can find this gem in many fine cafes and restaurants around the world, none are as wonderful as those in old Italia.
Turkish Delight (Turkey): I love Turkish delight for a couple of reasons: 1) (as mentioned above) I love coffee, and 2) I loved living in Istanbul (perhaps my favourite place). Turkish Delight, at least, the authentic kind, is divine, particularly when it’s partnered with a strong Turkish coffee as it always is. Coming in a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavours, it’s hard to find an authentic cafe that shares a powdery treat with another.
But there is a some controversy with this little side. Most Syrians will contest the origin (and, I suppose, the name), given that they say what we now enjoy as Turkish Delight came from the Syrian city of Aleppo, which was once part of the (Turkish) Ottoman Empire. The truth matters little to one’s palette, of course, but there are a few different varieties that make discovering these sweets even more enjoyable, and to be fair, interesting, when a layer of history and debate are woven into the devouring.
Mango Sticky Rice (Thailand): No trip to Thailand is complete without a nibble of some mango sticky rice from a restaurant, or, my preference, a side-alley stand (I would have recommended something down Koh San Ro, but given recent efforts by the Thai authorities to ‘clean up’ the stalls on this famous street, that’s currently not a possibility). Anyway: Light, refreshing, and unmistakably Thai, diced mango flesh is partnered with sweet dessert rice and divine coconut milk, ready to be gobbled up with by a pair of chopsticks. This is my wife’s favourite dessert after bingsu. This is also a very simple dish with few ingredients that mean it’s easily recreated at home whereby every bite recreates a joyous memory. Yum!
Baklava (Turkey): Another delight from Turkey. For me, the range and favours really speak to my senses—arranged in various ranks and files like the Turkish army behind glass, glistening away—and yes, again, a great accompaniment to coffee. The only downside is that too many are not just bad for the waistline, but also the tummy: They can be rather sickly.
Editorial: Thomas Dowling has worked in the ESL industry for over 7 years, having lived and worked in South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Myanmar, Kuwait, and the UK. Currently, Thomas is a full-time Ph.D Student studying Environmental Security (mainly Myanmar and Southeast Asia) at the University of Leicester. He has previously studied degrees in Ancient History (BA; MA: Bristol), and International Security Studies (MA: Leicester). In 2014, he earned his CELTA qualification (ITI: Istanbul, Turkey). Thomas is also the Co-Founder of The Digital Traveller, focusing upon content and content management. Thomas presently lives in Daegu, South Korea, with his wife, Mandy, a rambuncious Jack Russell Terrier, and his newborn baby, Zeno.