After a heavy meal of burgers, truffle fries, and crispy onion rings at Umami Burger (read my review here), my friends and I decided to walk around the Grove to free up some space in our stomachs. A brief 10 minute walk later, we realized exercising was a lost cause and decided to call an Uber and head to Koreatown for some bingsu. In Korea, a popular summertime snack is a finely shaved ice dessert called patbingsu (팥빙수) or bingsu (빙수) for short. It may not be sunny in most parts of the U.S. (have you seen the blizzard pictures recently? It’s actually insane. Climate change is real, everyone. read more here), but it’s warm and perfect here in Los Angeles– the best weather for bingsu.
Traditionally, patbingsu is made with a sweetened red bean paste (the pat part of patbingsu), shaved ice, condensed milk, and a few pieces of tteok (sticky rice cakes) and is dated back to the Joseon Dynasty. However, as younger generations prefered the treat without the red beans, more places began offering flavors without the paste, the most popular being strawberry bingsu made only with shaved ice, condensed milk, and a heapful of strawberries.
You hear the melody of a popular K-Pop song and overlapping conversations spoken in a mixture of Korean and English before even entering Sul & Beans. There is a sweet bean scent throughout the store, reminding me of the times I followed my grandma to nearby mills to grind up dried soybeans. She often used it to make injeolmi, sticky rice cake covered in sweetened soybean powder, and other healthy snacks. I reminisce about the times she handed me freshly made injeolmi and how I refused to eat it, thinking it was too healthy and preferring gummy bears.
The strawberry bingsu and injeolmi toast are two of the most popular items; there’s even a mural on the back wall to present their importance. The bingsu is big to some people but looks about average size to me. The small mountain of ice and strawberries needs to be incorporated together, not too well or else it’ll melt too quickly, and then eaten in proportion to each other. The ice is not regular ice but, instead, frozen milk that has been very, very finely shaved. Chunky American shaved ice drizzled with chemicals does not even compare.
The toast is an original creation of Sul & Beans. With a texture similar to grilled cheese except stickier and thicker, the toast is a sweet complement to the bingsu. It has a sticky rice cake spread and a layer of honey in the middle holding the two slices of wonder bread together; on top, they generously sprinkled sweetened soybean powder. Soybean, in general, is not tantalizing, and seeing it in powder form may be an even bigger deterrent, but trust me when I say this, it makes for a great sweet and savory dessert.
The Korean chain is bustling. I am surrounded by my two close high school friends and people who, for once, look similar to me. Living in a place that is now deemed as “Trump’s America,” it’s often easy to question my place as an immigrant. Seeing other fellow Koreans proudly speaking our language instead of in hushed tones, I am reminded that there is a Korean community wherever I go. If I am ever in a place I don’t feel welcome in, I only need to head over to the nearest Koreatown and enclose myself in a bubble of comforting heritage and familiarity.