Ice Cream in Korea

January 16, 2014

Living in this country for a sufficient amount of time makes the most banal imported food seem like a scrumptious feast. Americans know all too well when Taco Bell first opened its doors outside of military bases. I don’t believe a decent purveyor of New York style pizza can yet be found in Itaewon, but they are getting closer. Salted meats, aged cheeses, soft cookies with real sugar, pies with butter… these are things we simply must learn to live without during our years teaching abroad.

Ice cream is no exception. Though each Asian country has its own take on the delicious dessert to help those suffering in the humid summer heat, Korea, in my opinion, is sorely lacking soft, creamy, sweet, flavorful, makes-you-want-to-run-back-to-the-store-and-wolf-it-down-immediately ice cream like those to which I’m accustomed. Let me give you examples of the major brands:

Häagen-Dazs (하겐다즈)

This Danish-sounding ice cream is often the only choice for anything remotely western-like amongst expats in small towns, away from the scoop shops in Seoul or Busan. Though clearly overpriced at convenience stores (about 3900 won for an 8-ounce container), I’d still recommend Häagen-Dazs as a tasty alternative to Korean ice cream bars, containing a variety of flavors, but little substance.

Natuur (나뚜루)

As a Lotte brand, Natuur was one of the first ice creams to really permeate the market in the late 90s. I can’t recommend it as anything other than a chalky, watered-down version of Häagen-Dazs, but then again, I’m a snob when it comes to food.

Baskin Robbins (배스킨라빈스)

Baskin Robbins is the premiere scoop shop across Korea. Not only does it enjoy success for its ice cream, but mainly for its cake. Of course we all enjoy ice cream cake, and the flavors are consistent with BR outlets worldwide, but it’s become so much a part of Korean culture to hop in a Paris Baguette or Baskin Robbins to get a cake for special occasions. There is some competition in the bigger cities, but by and large, if you want an ice cream cake in Korea, Baskin Robbins is where you go.

This covers the major brand names and most of the options to foreigners and Koreans alike, without doing much digging. However, after enough time living in the country, I want to offer you, my dear readers and expats, the opportunity to get the tasty ice cream you deserve. Why settle for eight ounces of convenience store tripe when you could amaze your friends with one of these?

Three Twins (쓰리 트윈스)

Hop on over to the import section (usually on the lowest level) of Shinsegae department store in Seoul or Busan and you’ll probably discover many familiar foods: pickles, pretzels, pasta, olives. I was about ready to call it a day when I noticed that one ice cream brand had its own display freezer: Three Twins, an organic ice cream out of California, touting itself as “inconceivably delicious”. And it truly was. For less than the price of Häagen-Dazs, I enjoyed nine different flavors, each one unheard of in the Korean market (save plain vanilla and chocolate, naturally).

Fell & Cole (펠앤드콜)

Though only useful to residents of Seoul, I would be remiss if I didn’t review this recently-opened scoop shop in Hongdae. Fell + Cole fills a need where Baskin Robbins and Häagen-Dazs locations fall far, far short. Namely, it’s good. It’s really good. I’m biased as a regular resident of San Francisco (origin of Fell + Cole), but the fact remains that if I can’t have Bi-Rite in Dolores Park on a warm Sunday, Fell + Cole in a Seoul cat cafe is the next best thing.

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One Response to Ice Cream in Korea

  1. Earl Goodson on January 17, 2014 at 2:11 am

    Yeah Haagen-Dazs is pretty overpriced and all but impossible to find except in the biggest cities but when I do it’s a regular hang-out. Soooo tastyyyyy!..

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