As I enter the Korean ice cream parlor, owner Kim Yong Jae, who looks like a movie star, welcomes me. “I was an actor back in Korea in movies, drama and theatre,” he admits. His presence alone is a reason to visit. In the background, Korean pop music is playing.
The interior is neatly designed, with a mix of the owner's different influences: Vietnamese, Korean and American. The decor features a clean, fresh colour palette, and sleek furniture. The checkered black-and-white floor is a take on the classic ice cream parlour, balanced by the American street flair of a graffiti mural. The third floor is getting a Korean-style makeover. Pow Pow also offers a chance for its customers to leave their mark on the walls, with Post-it notes and cute drawings.
It’s Bingsu, Baby
Pow Pow is about ice cream in every form. The menu ranges from the very American root beer float, to bingsu (Korean-style snow ice cream), traditional soft and hard ice cream as well as Korean and American-style waffles. But what is bingsu exactly? It’s the simplest of desserts: frozen milk shaved into snowflakes. Originally topped with red beans, contemporary versions feature treats like Oreos, and a variety of fresh fruits, like mangos and kiwis.
You can see the bingsu machine work its wonders. I watch Jae pour a litre of milk into the reservoir, and almost instantly it snows into a big bowl. He scoops the fluffy delight into a cup, layers it with condensed milk for the sweet tooth, and adds my choice of toppings.
Since happiness is better when shared, I've brought a good friend of mine. We carefully choose from the eclectic menu: a root beer float, chocolate Oreo bingsu, the supreme ‘make your own’ bingsu with matcha (green tea) ice cream, mango, blueberries, and raspberries, and a Korean-style waffle with chocolate ice cream and strawberries. The root beer float is essentially for my guest. I try it, but it’s definitely not for my French tastes. However, she is delighted by the sweet, creamy drink that packs a bitter punch. It makes her feel nostalgic for home, a real taste of her American childhood.
The Korean-style waffle is cooking, and the smell of buttery goodness envelops the whole first floor. The waffle is perfectly thick and doughy, topped with dark chocolate ice cream. I let it slowly melt, and it becomes a sweet chocolate sauce, balanced by the tartness of the strawberries. It’s the perfect comfort food for a late Sunday afternoon.
Bring on the Bingsu
The bingsus arrive and there is no time to waste. The fragility of the snowflake ice cream means it melts quickly. The texture is light and fluffy, like snow.
The sweetness from the condensed milk complements the fresh fruit toppings. I love that they use real fresh fruits, like kiwi, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries; it is much better than fake syrup flavouring. Though the chocolate Oreo bingsu could use a bit more chocolate, I enjoy every single bite of the creamy cookies soaked in snow. In the end, the experience is unique. With each bite, I can distinctively see the snowflakes. When you eat them, they melt into fresh creamy goodness in your mouth. It reminds me of my childhood winter holidays, when I used to eat actual snow during snowball fights.
It’s also a very healthy treat that doesn’t make me feel guilty a bit. Lucy, Jae’s partner, confirms my intuition: “Ice cream, especially in the summer, should leave you feeling light, it shouldn’t be heavy. So fresh fruits, only milk in our ice cream and snowflakes, everything about our ice cream is really light.”
The parlour is preparing for a change of season. Winter is coming. In addition to quality ice cream, Pow Pow will serve gimbap (bite-sized portions of steamed rice with a variety of fillings), and a traditional Korean snack food called topokki, made from soft rice cake, fish cake, and sweet red pepper sauce.
Lucy explains: “We are a Korean dessert shop, and that is our character. The reason why we have so many customers is because Vietnamese are really interested in Korean culture, Korean food, Korean drama, Korean guys," she adds as she looks sideways at Jae, "we are going in a new direction and expanding to be more like the ambassador of Korean culture and Korean cool.”
Pow Pow is showing me a new way to eat ice cream, with a dessert the likes of which I have never seen before; bingsu, the edible Korean snow. — Julie Vola
Pow Pow is at 166E Doi Can, Ba Dinh, Hanoi