March 24, 2016
We’ve already been swept away by the rush of K-pop, K-dramas, and the ombré lips and cushion compacts of K-beauty, but hallyu, or the Korean wave, just refuses to halt its crazy momentum. So, take South Korea’s best culinary exports – homegrown cafes and restaurants who’ve since sprung up here, or their traditional, authentic flavours – and combine that with our foodie nation; what you’ll get is a whole array of exciting options, such as churros, chicken wings, shaved ice and ice cream, all with an innovative Korean twist. Here’s a list of the most hyped ones in town, and rest assured, we won’t be waving goodbye to any of these soon.
By Amelia Tan and Amanda Chai
You might say that these are, technically, a Spanish delicacy, but there must be a good reason for the long queues outside these made-in-Korea specialty stores. Why the hype for a simple fried dough snack? Well, the humble churro, crispy on the outside, fluffy and warm on the inside, now gets a sweet makeover – with inventive dips, and occasionally stuffed with chocolate or cream cheese, so you’ll feel mighty chuffed after.
Take a trip to South Korea, and you might spot the entire Girls Generation troop down to a similar outlet in Seoul – that’s how popular the chain outlet is, and food-crazy Singaporeans got the privilege of Churro101’s first overseas outlet last October. By all accounts, their churros passed the bite test, especially delightful when served warm. All the ingredients are imported from Korea, while the dough’s made fresh on-site daily, piped and fried upon order, so you get that gleaming golden exterior.
The Filled Churros deserve a mention – the Dark Chocolate ones ($5.40), both filled with and coated in luscious dark chocolate, are wildly popular here, while the Cream Cheese churros ($4.50) are a hit in Korea. You can also spring for a churro set that comes with soft-serve ice-cream and coffee.
Location: Bugis+, #04-01; 313@Somerset, #B3-49
Opening Hours: 10am – 10pm, Mon – Sun
More information at churro101.com or facebook.com/churro101sg.
Sometimes, size does matter, and if so, this should do: 50cm-long churros that will add the “wow” factor to your Instagram feed. You’ll find that at Mr. Churro, another Korean import that serves the bite-sized snacks long and curled. The original ones are dusted with sugar and cinnamon, just the right amount, while other over-the-top versions include churros paired with ice-cream, happily arranged like a jubilant stick figure.
The Original Churro ($4.50) for its showmanship, to which you can add milk chocolate or milk custard dips. Go for the ice cream ones ($6.50) as well, as the smooth, milky texture of the cold dessert perfectly complements the crispy dough – there’s even banana milk-flavoured ice-cream to appease the same people who go on crazy shopping sprees at Korean minimarts.
Location: ION Orchard, #B4-61
Opening Hours: 10am – 10pm, Mon – Sun
More information at facebook.com/MrChurroSG.
These desserts may be served ice-cold, but their popularity’s like wildfire – just witness how many bingsu cafes have popped up recently all over sunny Singapore. What makes this different from the typical kopitiam ice kachang is that the ice shavings are super fine, kinda how a snowflake feels on your tongue, while they’re topped with condensed milk and all sorts of interesting ingredients, everything from ice-cream and fruits to mochi and brownies. Oh, and they only come in XL portions, great for sharing!
Oh my! That’s the reaction that the trendy cafe wishes you’d exclaim after dipping your spoon into one of their finely-shaved, fluffy milk flakes. It’s also how you pronounce their catchy name. While affiliated with Korean dessert brand Wicked Snow, we’d say that the store has had its own success, judging from the patrons in line, and that’s because their bingsu bases are created purely from premium milk – it’s not ice, but fresh milk ice that you can’t stop scooping up.
You can’t go wrong with Oreos, so the Choco Brownie Bingsu ($18.90) is a safe choice for those who like their shaved ice with chocolate ice-cream, generous cookie crumbles, and actual brownie squares, which makes for a towering sight. For a more Asian palette, try the Green Tea Bingsu ($13.90) that combines matcha powder and red bean, along with matcha ice-cream and nuts to up the crunch factor.
Location: 313@Somerset, #04-20/32; Marina Square, #04-102
Opening Hours: 11.30am – 10pm, Mon – Sun; 11.30am – 12am, Fri & Sat at 313@Somerset
More information at omaspoon.com or facebook.com/omaspoonkoreandessert.
Avid K-drama lovers would know that famous “milk foam” kiss scene in Secret Garden, and yep, they’d know that it was filmed under a now-iconic clock in one of the Caffebene outlets in Korea. Well, every outlet has one, including its first outlet here. The cafe opened to much fanfare, especially since the brand’s such a household name, kind of like the Starbucks of South Korea. They’re all about the authentic experience too – every part of the cafe, from the European styling to the menu made from ingredients directly imported from Korea reflect a consistent image: a family-friendly hangout that serves good, quality food and drinks.
C’mon, bingsu can’t really be healthy, can it? We beg to differ. Caffebene offers a Pat Bingsu ($13.90), with mizugaru, a healthy multi-grain Korean drink that’s high in protein – this one contains barley, black soya bean, brown rice, black rice and black sesame, and is sweet and tasty without being cloying. Other favourites include the Strawberry Bingsu ($15.90) and Green Tea Tower Bingsu ($15.90). Though not in this category, we’d recommend the Garlic & Cheese Bread ($13.90) too, for a crispy honey-drenched toast with rich savoury cheese.
Location: VivoCity, #02-150
Opening Hours: 8am – 10pm, Mon – Sun
More information at caffebene.com.sg.
If you like all things dainty and quaint, then don’t ever go here – we’re not sure you’ll want to leave once you step into this pretty cafe. Originally from Seoul, the cafe has made a name for itself thanks to a range of too-gorgeous-to-eat desserts that you’d want rather show off on a windowsill. That’s because they come in flower pots, how cute is that, and there’s even a latte topped with cotton candy like a rainbow unicorn’s daydream.
We bet you’ll take about a 100 pictures of this before settling your spoon into the snowy shaved ice. The Red Bean Pot Bing Su ($14.50) looks stunning in a huge flower pot, and comes topped with sea salt malt ice-cream, almonds and red bean paste, basically a mix of traditional Korean flavours. Other than that, the best-selling Flower Pot Pudding ($6.50), fresh cream covered with Oreo “soil”, is a good option too. Go ahead, share it with a couple of your friends, though please don’t fight over who gets first dibs on Instagram.
Location: 26 Keong Saik Road
Opening Hours: 11am – 9pm, Tues – Sat; 12pm – 7pm, Sun; closed on Mon
More information at facebook.com/bananatreesg.
While more a Korean BBQ joint, known for their offering of galmaegisal, or premium pork skirt meat, since its first establishment in South Korea in 2007, we think their desserts are worth talking about too. The meat cuts are said to be reserved only for the royal family in the past, and yep, we do feel a bit more royal when we were served these larger-than-life desserts – they’re as piled-on and crazy-fabulous as they look in the pictures. Truth be told, we were spoilt for choice, and stuck at the menu for more than a while.
The Bibim Patbingsoo ($12.90) is a pretty choice and looks just like the savoury main course, just that the elements are made with fruits, jelly, and peach and whipped cream to simulate an egg. The Gangnam Patbingsoo ($9.90) will delight those who like crunchy, sweet popcorn, great especially with the soft ice shavings. At the same time, the Sinsa Patbingsoo ($14.90) tops the table for presentation – the traditional red beans and condensed milk come atop an actual honeydew bowl.
Location: Plaza Singapura, #02-01
Opening Hours: 11.30am – 10pm, Sun – Thurs; 11.30am – 11pm, Fri – Sat
More information at seorae.com.sg or facebook.com/seoraesg.
It’s not the newest kid on the block, but it consistently tops foodie lists – now, there’s a 24-hour outlet, so you can have your sweet fix any time of. The cafe was first set up by Miss Eun Jin, a Korean #girlboss who arguably brought the first offerings of bingsu here, and this third outlet is housed in an impressive three-storey shophouse, complete with authentic touches of the hip Hongdae streets in Seoul; think wood furnishings, K-pop blasting at every floor, and a majestic installation that has shaved ice falling like snow from the ceiling – way to let their “USP” shine.
Naturally, the cafe takes pride in their traditional picks, which include the Injeolmi Bingsu ($14.90), made with sweet rice cakes and soybean powder, Pat Bingsu ($12.90) and Black Sesame Bingsu ($18.90), all perfectly balanced treats. Still, we went for the most photogenic Choco-Banana Bingsu ($13.90), a can’t-go-wrong marriage of banana slices and chocolate powder. Despite the punchy flavours, we’re glad that the star of the dish, the fluffy shaved milk, is still the part we’re raving about the most – and the one that will have us coming back for more.
Location: 534 North Bridge Road
Opening Hours: 24 hours, Mon – Sun
More information at facebook.com/nunsongyeebugis.
Chick And Ken
Get ready to whip out your phones, and this time, you’re looking to Snapchat, not Instagram, everything. Opened by the same people who run Stateland Cafe and Honey Comb, they offer fried chicken alongside shaved iced desserts, and while not really from Korea, they’ve imported the whole novelty aspect of Korean food – that’s right, your favourite dessert now comes armed with syringes, a sight so unique that it’s bound to be your main squeeze sooner or later.
For a fresh take on the famed watermelon soju, try the Watermelon and Strawberry Bingsu ($13.90), with fresh watermelon cubes, watermelon glace,strawberry slices and mint jelly. Or, for a truly innovative choice, go for the Thai-inspired Cha Yen Bingsu ($12.90) with homemade red rubies, Thai tea jelly, honeyed cornflakes, and the distinct taste of Thai milk tea with every mouthful.
Location: 21 Lorong Telok
Opening Hours: 12pm – 10pm, Mon – Sat; Closed on Sun
More information at facebook.com/chickandken.
Ice Lab Cafe
It’s a sight you won’t miss while walking from Somerset MRT towards Orchard Road’s main stretch, as the cafe’s brilliantly-lit interior stands out like polar bears on a tropical island. Those snow-white bears seem to be a trademark here, a first overseas venture for Korean comedian Shin Jung-Hwan, and they promote the cafe’s signature bingsus made from machines that are able to create six different flavours, each with its own proportion of flavours so you only get the best. Who needs to travel when your Winter Wonderland’s right around the corner?
Like snowflakes, claims the brand of their shaved ice, and true enough, their bingsu live up to the title. The Brownie Bingsoo ($18.30 for Small) will be wiped out in seconds, only because the luxurious dessert is topped with Ghiradelli chocolate, brownie squares and chocolate ice-cream. It’s a little on the pricey side, but hey, brownie points for presentation.
Location: 321 Orchard Road
Opening Hours: 10am – 1am, Mon – Sun
More information at facebook.com/icelabcafe.
Soft serve might seem like quite the peasant’s dessert fare, but trust the Koreans to elevate it to an exciting novelty sweet – that sits great both on the taste buds, and your Instagram feed. Milky without being sour, it’s a treat for the heat that’s quickly becoming a staple in Singaporean snacking. Particularly, the trend seems to be to go big on unconventional savoury toppings, which go surprisingly well with the variety of sweet sauces. Dare we say it; it’s like froyo, but better.
The mecca of all soft serve ice creams, that’s who. Boasting an impressive 14-flavour menu, it’s been a good two years since Milkcow first arrived on our shores, and the slew of new additions to the menu says that they’re not going anywhere. So named for their organically milky taste, Milkcow’s soft serve dairy contents are sourced straight from Italian farms, for that smooth and creamy gelato texture that’s sure to leave you craving more for a long time after.
Rejoice! The folks over at Milkcow have combined two of Korea’s top snacks to bring you the Milky Churros ($6.90), the latest addition to their ever-expanding menu. A sumptuously coated dark chocolate churro adds doughy depth to the signature Original Milky Way ($4.90) ice cream, and is by far our favourite of all the toppings. Well, for now.
Location: Bugis Junction, #B1-K3; The Cathay, #01-03; Velocity @ Novena Square, #01-19
Opening Hours: 11.30am – 10pm, Sun – Thurs; 11.30am – 10.30pm, Fri & Sat
More information at milkcow.sg or facebook.com/milkcow.sg
The newest player in the soft serve ice cream game, Sweet Monster is easily credited with being the original Korean creator of Popcorn Ice Cream. It’s a glorious rags-to-riches story; the 26 outlet-strong franchise across Asia is hardly telling of Sweet Monster’s early beginnings as just a presence amongst food trucks in Korea. We came for the signature gourmet popcorn – made with non-GMO corn and popped by air in Korea! – but stayed for the soft serve – 75% milk and so delectably creamy it easily outshines the popcorn.
The Cheese-Caramel Mix Popcorn Ice Cream ($6.80), duh. It’s the quickest and most enjoyable way to get a first taste of what Sweet Monster’s all about, and delivers a powerful savoury-sweet punch in just one bite. Otherwise, you can choose from the other Popcorn flavours – like Chocolate, Milk, and Strawberry – and soon to come, a new entry enticingly named “Jeju Tangerine”.
Location: Plaza Singapura, #B2-49; Bugis Junction, #M01-K1
Opening Hours: 10.30am – 10.30pm, Mon – Sun
More information at sweetmonster.com.sg
KOREAN FRIED CHICKEN
There are few things in life as pleasurable as a hearty fried chicken meal; Korean fried chicken, incredibly, tops that. “Korean style” here goes way past just flavourful sauces and marinades – the key difference is frying the chicken twice, and seasoning both before and after. The result? Extra crunchy chicken skin without the grease, laying perfect foundation for the sauce that’s then carefully painted on by hand. While we have frontrunners 4 Fingers and Kko Kko Nara to thank for first bringing us Korean fried chicken, new and original chicken restaurants are springing up everyday. 2016 marks the sixth year ‘KFC’ has been on the island, and frankly, we can’t imagine a better time to be alive.
A humble establishment that only opened last September, OPPA Chicken is a funky café-restaurant taking pride in their authentic recipes and eclectic brand image. It may have been started by a Singaporean, but OPPA’s dishes promise the same vivacious kick of flavour you’d get at any café in Korea. In fact, head chef and co-founder Debbie Wu personally went into the boiling kitchens of Korea to learn the recipes and bring them back to Singapore. It took blood, sweat, and tears – literally, getting scalded by 190-degree oil to deep-fry chicken the way the Koreans do it – but well worth the effort, to bring back a real piece of Korean culture for keeps. Now that’s dedication.
The Honey Garlic Chicken ($13.90 for 6pcs), lightly sautéed in garlic and honey caramel glaze, and unique entirely to OPPA. You’ll be pleased to know that all the sauces are done single-handedly by Debbie herself, to ensure consistent quality as she was the only one who learnt the recipes straight from the head chef in Korea. And if you love a good spicy dish, try the tangy-sweet Flaming Yangnyum Chicken ($13.90 for 6pcs), or the chewy OPPA-Topokki rice cakes ($6.90), which come in three levels of spiciness for you to test your tolerance – be warned, Level 3 is not for the faint-hearted.
Location: 274 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058823
Opening Hours: 11am – 10pm, Mon – Sat
More information at facebook.com/OPPAchicken
Twins Korean Restaurant
A down-to-earth Korean restaurant helmed by identical Korean twin chefs born three minutes apart – who happen to be quite the lookers too. Complete with the cosy industrial-themed woodwork of typical Korean cafes, it’s a welcome addition to the hip (and tasty) neighbourhood of Tanjong Pagar.
Definitely snag an order of the Soy and Garlic Chicken ($20 for Half/$35 for Full), which look daunting, but whose crispy marinated skin will leave you wondering incredulously how you finished it all so fast. And something a little less common at other Korean restaurants on the island – Woojae’s Spicy Seafood Crab Noodle Soup ($13.90 for Lunch/$16.90 for Dinner), an explosive red Korean-Chinese broth, named after Twin #1. Or was it Twin #2?
Location: 7 Craig Road, Singapore 089667
Opening Hours: 11.30am – 3pm, 5.30pm – 12mn, Mon – Sat; 5.30pm – 11pm (Sun)
More information at facebook.com/Twins.Korean.Restaurant