We came for the best shaved ice my guest has ever had. This is high praise considering she is so well travelled, and has spent a big chunk of her time in Asia, including Korea. Korea where such desserts are common and where this style of ice preparation originated. She found that they had perfected the craft at “Snowy Village, in multi cultural Canada. A fact she thought pretty amazing.
Walking up and looking at the line, I was discouraged and wanted to walk away. But my guest’s knew the value of the 30 minute plus wait and urged me to stay. We arrived after 10pm, and they had already cut the line, stating they couldn’t seat and make more icy desserts before midnight when they closed. But my guest had called in earlier and even though they don’t do reservations, she held the clerk to her word. Over the phone they stated that if she came now she would make the last seating. We were the last ones sat while others walked back to their car, in disappointment.
It was cold, it was late, yet people were still coming. It’s later hours of operation made them a great after dinner spot to linger at, and everyone seemed to know this already. It was busy close to 10pm on a weekday. There were bodies standing around the tables inside, and more groups loitering in wait outside. With all the people and all the bright lights, this one was hard to miss. You came close just to see what all the hub-bub was about. The logo was pretty telling: a round dome in a cup, with a cherry on top.
This wasn’t just your beach side shaved ice or a packed ice, snow cone. They called their desserts “bingsoo”, which is “milk + snow flakes”. The flavour was in the ice and not just an add on, squeezed in flavour. Frozen condense milk-like cream is frozen, then saved from a block, and served for a fluffy powder-like texture. Regular shaved ice is more coarse, it has no taste, and are essentially just chunks of ice. This was so fluffy that it was like eating a fist full of freshly fallen snow. There is nothing else like it in the city. It was easy and enjoyable to eat, as it just melts as soon as it hits the warmth of your tongue. Finishing a cup, it left you feeling full without that guilty dessert weight in your belly. Especially if you got one with fresh fruit on it, instead of cookies or cake.
There were so many choices to go through, narrowing it down would be tough. Though it did helped that they had visuals to make it easier. Behind their glass showcase were display versions of all their offerings in their largest size. They were impressive plastic.
Their “bingsoo”menu was divided between “snow ice” and “fruit”. Some came in both regular and large sizes, and other just one of the two. The “snow ice” flavours were basically everything they offered that wasn’t fruit. Oreo, milk, cheesecake, green tea, chocolate; and Injeolmi, a type of Korean rice cake. For fruit they had mango, blueberry, strawberry, and a large shareable option with a whole bunch of assorted fruits.
My guest had been several time and have tried several of them. So for my sake we decided to order their best sellers. There is no easy way to eat these while standing or taking one to go. The cup it is in, is often stick-to-your- skin cold and coated with sticky syrup. So therefore you can only order once you have a table. You do this at the counter, paying before. We were warned that there would be a 15 minute plus wait after ordering. We had come this far, we would be able to wait some more, but this time sitting down at a table. For those who couldn’t wait, they do offer a take out version of their treats. A pouch filled with ice keeps it from melting, until you reach your intended location. My guest has done this a few times. She testifies that they travel well, and are worth the effort. The ice pack does well to keep the dessert cold, and other that the top layer not being as fluffy, you get the taste you expect.
We were able to move seats from the window bar to a table against the wall, once they began to clear. I wouldn’t have liked the one by the open door with the cold breeze nipping at you as you ate ice, and the other that had waiting patrons standing around you like a wall of crotches and bottom at the height of your head. In comparison the table we got were set very close to other, but in retrospect not so bad.
There was not much in terms of decor. A couple snowflake shaped light fixtures graced the ceiling, to keep the theme. A string of photos zig zagged along the otherwise empty wall, to advertise their product. Each frame was filled with a photo of one of their different “bingsoo”. Matcha Green tables and matching upholstered chairs.
The counter you ordered at was built with bleached wooden planks. On it was their name in Korean characters, and above it laminated sheets explaining their concept. What was “bing-su”? Why should you be having it at “snowy village”? What did they have on their menu? And even an explanation of their brand identity. If this and the visual showcase wasn’t enough menu for you, they also had everything written with its pricing hanging above.
The “mango bingsoo” was cubes of mango, glued onto a mountain of ice with condense milk as an adhesive, then topped with fresh whipped cream. This and all the other bingsoo were prepared in the back, possibly hiding their method for proprietary reasons? Even with the amount of sweetened milk used, it could not balance out the tartness of the mango. Great for those without a sweet tooth, bad for me because I was expecting super sweet tender chunks of mango.
The “Injeolmi bingsoo” was their original flavour. Once again, “Injeolmi” is a type of Korean rice cake. It is typically shaped into small pieces and then covered with steamed dried beans, grounded into a fine powder. These chewy rice cakes went great with the gritty red bean paste, the crunchy almond slivers, and the airy snow. This was more of an encompassing texture profile, you got a little of everything. As for taste it was still on the sweeter side, but more modestly so.
They also did other desserts like parfaits with fresh fruit and creams, rectangular cakes, and fish shaped pastry filled with red bean. All this was also demonstrated in plastic behind glass. So in order to kill some time waiting for our main, we decided on some warm dessert appetizers.
These were their “croissant taiyaki”. Given their name for the nature of their flaky pastry, similar to a croissant; and the image of a fish used. “Taiyaki” literally means sea bream. The original version of this is simply called “Taiyaki”, it is a Japanese fish-shaped cake, with a spongy texture and often a red bean filling.
These crunchy, sugar coated pastries were made to order, and done so right in front of your very eyes. The chef places the dough within his cast iron moulds, depending on your desired flavour. Each press can churn out five fish cakes at a time, they had three presses. He squishes the dough and allows it to bake between the two sides of the greased up press. It is cooked to a golden brown.
The first and only other time I have had these was in Japan. Though they looked and tasted the same here, with similar fillings and some different ones. There was no corn and tuna, big Nutella was an option. We went for sweet potato, custard, and Korean rice cake with red bean filling. 3 for $10.
The flavour of the sweet potato one was muted, you basically identified it through its pasty filling.
I liked the custard one the most. A luscious filling that reminded me of a boston cream doughnut, but with the shell of a crispy strudel. Absolutely delicious. I could go for three of them right now as I write this.
The korean rice cake and red bean filling one tasted like the sweetness of red bean with the chewy gum-like texture of rice cake,
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
This is a popular dessert in Korea, and the only place you can have it in the lower mainland. Therefore, it is no wonder why they are always so busy and you often walk up to a line. But if you have the time, don’t be scared by the wait, it is worth it for a one of a kind experience. Fluffy powder-like ice, flavoured with fruit, condense milk, and whatever you have chosen to customize your ice mountain with. And while you are waiting, stave your hunger by snacking on a few of their fish shaped pastries, which are as unique as their sweet snow. Don’t deny your cravings.
8571 Alexandra Drive, Richmond BC, V6X 1C3