Due to Korean dramas, most people are chasing Korean cuisine. It is not necessarily known for its sweets, and that’s a shame. These delicious desserts will hopefully change the way you feel about the vast ‘pastry’ heritage that fills the Land of the Morning Calm.
This delicate pastry is a true work of art and proves that Japanese treats have nothing on their Korean peers.
Literally meaning ‘flower cake’, hwagwajas are slightly bigger than a mochi and traditionally sold as a set, with each cake unique in presentation, color, and flavors and different from the other – the ultimate Korean equivalent of a chocolate box.
Hand-made and a dessert that was originally prepared for the enjoyment of the royal family, hwagwaja has a variety of ingredients and fillings, including sweet rice flour, rice powder, honey, red bean, black sesame, sweet potato, chestnuts, and agar agar for consistency.
Each shape may represent a flower, a leaf, fruits, such as persimmon or a mini pumpkin, seashells, and anything the creative mastermind sees fit.
A great way to enjoy them is with green tea (the best choice being Korean oujeon!): it brings out the sweetness of hwagwaja.
One last thing: Korean desserts are truly guilt-free. One hwagwaja, for instance, is only about 110 calories: quite possibly the healthiest option!
To try it is to love it. Yagkwa, a fried doughy dessert flavored with sesame oil and ginger and drenched in honey, are Korean kids favorite treat.
Slightly sticky, a bit granulous and very sweet, it is perhaps Korea’s richest traditional dessert – and it is worth every bite.
In good Korean fashion, yakkwa epitomize the country’s preference for delicate, innovative foods that are both appealing to the tummy and the eyes. There is no single shape for yakkwa, although a daisy wheel or mini pillowcases sprinkled with sesame seeds is the most commonly found. And it’s easy to make, too!
3. Tteok (Rice cakes)
Tteok is arguably Korea’s most famous treat – and the reason why foreigners believe that Koreans don’t eat sweets, too.
Although not as sweet as Western or Middle Eastern desserts (but it’s hard to beat the Middle East when it comes to sugar content), tteok is very much of an acquired taste: the more exposed to it you are, the more able you will become to distinguish its precise, well-balanced sweetness.
As a matter of fact, there is not one but an endless variety of tteok, Korea’s rice cakes. The most common (and let’s admit it, boring) kind of rice cake is seongpyeon, the ‘pine tree’ half-moon-shaped tteok that is customarily enjoyed during Chuseok, the automn harvest festival in the lunar calendar.
Colored with hues of green, pink, and white, it consists of a thick, glutinous, mildly plain layer covering a smooth, sweet filling, traditionally bean, sesame or chestnut pureed.
However, you might want to try other varieties before forming an opinion about them. Competitions are even held every year to determine the best tteok confectioner: all rival in creativity, shapes, colors, and even sizes.
4. Patbingsu (Shaved Ice Dessert)
Shaved ice desserts are commonly found throughout Asia, and given their yummy taste, exotic presentation and poor caloric content, it’s easy to understand why they have gained such popularity.
And if you’re thinking Hawaiian shaved ice, you’ve got it all wrong: Korean patbingsu is bigger, more colorful, and filled with toppings.
Versatile, there are endless combinations possible, but a traditional way to enjoy them is to keep it simple and local, with red adzuki bean, white, diced-shaped injeomi tteok, ground nut powder, as well as jujube and pine nuts.
Otherwise, feel free to add fruits, a scoop of ice cream and sugar syrup – and mix it all!
A hybrid between hwagwaja and hwangnampang, manjoo is a flour-based pastry with various fillings, shapes, and presentations.
Similar to China’s moon cake although not as dense and with more texture, manjoo is a treat that is often gifted and reserved for special occasions, including national holidays or birthdays.
Like hwagwaja (although significantly less pricey), there are many different varieties and flavors of manjoo, but all typically include a brown flour base, a filling, such as sweet potato, red bean, or sesame, and are topped with pieces of dry fruits or nuts, including jujube, pine nuts or sugarcoated chestnuts. Yum!
6. Danpatjuk (Sweet red bean porridge)
Porridge is Korean’s favorite energizing food to fight a cold, the flu, or tiredness, but it is also increasingly becoming a gourmet food, particularly because it is so tasty – and good for you.
There are numerous varieties of porridge in Korea , and the sweetest are arguably sweet potato and red bean based. However, it is only the latter that is enjoyed as a treat.
Made from red beans paste, sweet sticky rice flour, cinnamon and nuts, this hot dessert is eaten like a soup, a spoonful at a time.
Incredibly sweet and velvety smooth, the sticky rice flour adds a dense, slightly granular consistency that makes it a pleasant experience on your palate – picture a pudding with what it lacks most: texture.