It’s 6 o’clock on a sunny weekend evening, and the line in front of Snowy Village Dessert Café is already snaking from the door toward the parking lot.
In a strip mall on “Food Street” – Richmond’s Alexandra Road – sandwiched between a Chinese restaurant and a laundromat, this Korean dessert destination has been attracting nightly line-ups since it opened in January.
Snowy Village specializes in two photogenic sweet treats that have been decorating locals’ Instagram feeds and fueling their sugar cravings: bingsoo, a Korean shaved ice dessert, and taiyaki, which are waffle-like pastries.
Richmond’s Snowy Village is part of an Asia-based chain (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
So What Exactly is Bingsoo?
Did you ever eat snow when you were a kid? Bingsoo is similar to that – except far more delicious. At Snowy Village, when you order a bingsoo, staff pile a metal bowl with a tower of creamy shaved ice that has the texture of fluffy snow. Your snowdrift-in-a-bowl is crowned with your choice of topping.
Snowy Village owner Jeff Song explained that, in Korea, bingsoo – or patbingsu, as it’s usually known – is a simple summertime dessert: a bowl of shaved ice topped with sweet red beans and condensed milk.
Injeolmi bingsoo is topped with sweet rice cakes (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
Snowy Village’s innovations, Song said, are to add milk to the ice to make it creamier and to offer a wider variety of toppings.
Their process of shaving the ice makes it extra fluffy, he said, although when asked to describe the method in more detail, Song declined, saying it was their secret competitive advantage.
The Richmond shop is the first Canadian location of the Snowy Village chain. Launched in Korea about five years ago, the Snowy Village concept has taken off in China, which now has more than 75 locations. There are several branches in metropolitan Los Angeles and two in New York City.
In addition to the Richmond location, Song’s team recently opened a second branch on Vancouver’s Robson Street. They expect to expand to Coquitlam and Burnaby later this year.
The bingsoo menu at Snowy Village is divided into two categories: “Snow Ice Bingsoo” and “Fruit Bingsoo.” In the first category, the most popular flavors, according to Song, are injeolmi and green tea.
The shaved ice has the texture of fluffy snow (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
Injeolmi are sweet chewy rice cakes, similar to Japanese mochi, that are scattered over the snow. Soft red beans are piled on top and the whole thing is dusted with a sweetened soybean powder, which adds an almost nutty flavor.
Green tea bingsoo at Snowy Village (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
The green tea bingsoo is sprinkled with green tea powder and topped with the same sweet red beans and a few squares of cake.
Less traditionally Korean flavors are also available, including Oreo, chocolate, and cheesecake (pictured below).
Sample bingsoo help you order (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
Among the fruit varieties – sweetened fruit that cascades down the snow – mango is the current favorite, Song said, with strawberry and blueberry running close behind.
Taiyaki are crispy fish-shaped waffles (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
Picture a waffle shaped like a fish, and you’ve got the general idea of taiyaki, known in Korea as bungeoppang. Snowy Village uses the Japanese term, “taiyaki,” according to Song, because the Korean name, which translates roughly as “fish bread,” was too complicated for non-Koreans to pronounce.
The taiyaki at Snowy Village are a cross between a waffle and a croissant. Unlike traditional taiyaki that start with a liquid batter poured into a waffle maker, the Snowy Village version begins with croissant dough.
The taiyaki maker at Snowy Village (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
Staff add fillings, sprinkle with a large crystal sugar that the company imports from Japan, and fold the dough into a rectangular pocket. They press the dough into a waffle iron with frames that take the outline of a fish. The result? A hot, crispy fish-shaped pastry with a smooth filling inside.
Choose your taiyaki filling, too (Photo: Carolyn B. Heller)
In Asia, red beans typically fill taiyaki and bungeoppang. That traditional filling is available at Snowy Village, as is an injeolmi red bean, where the rice cakes melt into the bean mixture, making it deliciously sweet and gooey. Other filling options include a creamy sweet potato, nutella, and custard (which tastes more like packaged vanilla pudding).
How to Order at Snowy Village
Go inside the lime green storefront and put your name on the waiting list. There’s no place to wait inside, so come on a clear-weather day or prepare to huddle under your umbrella.
Once you get a table, step up to the counter to order. Choose your bingsoo flavor and size (regular $7-10, large $10-12). Two people could share one bingsoo, particularly if you also order taiyaki ($3.50 each, or three for $10), but no one would fault you for eating one yourself. You also choose the filling for your taiyaki.
They’ve got hot and iced coffee and tea drinks, too, but really, you’re here for the sweets.
Sit down, wait a few minutes, and the chipper, fast-moving servers, clad in aprons of the same vibrant green as the walls, will bring your order to your table. Dig in!
Tip: If the line-ups are too long, you can order your bingsoo to go ($10-14). Staff will pack it in an insulated bag that will keep it cool for about a half hour.