Patbingsu With A Twist
By Nina Choi Zaldivar, age 14, Illinois
“I am a fourteen year old high school freshman living in Chicago, Illinois. Half Korean and half Argentinian, I love connecting to the cuisines of both of my cultures. I wrote the attached piece, Patbingsu, inspired by my desire to explore my cultural identity through food, specifically, delicious desserts!”
During middle school, my cousin Audrey and I figure skated at a suburban North Shore camp where most of the coaches and skaters were white. We slept over at our Korean grandparents’ house for a shorter commute to camp, where our grandparents cherished every moment with us, their lovely granddaughters. My grandmother expressed her love through her Korean cooking: kalguksu (noodles with beef broth), bulgogi(sweetened beef), fishcakes, chapchae (sweet sesame glass noodles), chapssaltteok (rice cake with sweet red bean paste), and my favorite, patbingsu.
Patbingsu, pronounced pot-bing-soo, is a summertime red bean shaved ice dessert. “Pat” means red bean in Korean, and “bingsu” is the shaved ice part. Most bingsusare made with shaved ice, but my grandparents introduced an American touch of lemon-flavored Italian ice, which adds a light, citrusy note. On top of the ice, you layer a sweet, earthy, and creamy red bean paste and a variety of fruits—my favorite are grapes and strawberries, which add a crunchy texture. Finally, you sprinkle soft, chewy mini rainbow mochi among the fruit on top. The harmony of lemon ice melting with the red bean paste turns into a symphony with a bite of strawberry and mochi.
Every morning our grandparents fed us a Korean breakfast and our grandpa drove us to the skating rink, our Korean lunches wrapped securely in our rolling ice skating bags, where we were met by a chilly blast of air. During lunch, our friends pulled out peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a Capri Sun, while I opened my bulgogialong with rice and gim (dried seaweed).
The pungent smell traveled across the table, the conversation skipping a beat while my friends noticed the difference. I felt humiliated, and then guilty about my embarrassment because I was betraying my Korean-ness. Ashamed of feeling ashamed, I quietly ate my bulgogi and rejoined the conversation about Taylor Swift’s Reputation Tour.
At the end of each day of skating, I’d collapse at my grandparents’ kitchen counter where my grandmother greeted me in her floral blouse with faded pastel slippers, having lovingly prepared chopped fruit for patbingsu. “Muhguh chigoom!” she’d command—Eat now!—as she handed me a clear, square floral bowl full of freshly assembled patbingsu.Relieved to be home, I’d take the cold treat to the backyard where I’d devour the tangy and sweet patbingsu. My devoted grandmother never denied my request for a second serving, even though it was always smaller than the first.
My life consists of two worlds: the traditional Korean world, and the mainstream American one. Whenever I taste patbingsu, I am transported to the summers of my middle school, smelling the sweetness of the breeze in my grandparents’ backyard, enjoying the flavors of the lemon Italian ice melting into the red bean paste. Patbingsu is my place of comfort and security where I can be unconditionally accepted as both Korean and American.
Recipe for Patbingsu with Italian Ice (makes 1-2 servings)
This refreshing patbingsu recipe with lemon italian ice is courtesy of the Choi grandparents. For the fruit, I recommend fruits that are ripe and in season. I prefer using a variety: grapes, strawberries, watermelon, kiwi, and blueberries.
⅓ cup lemon Italian Ice ¼ cup sweetened red bean paste ¼ cup fresh fruit 1 ½ tablespoon mini mochi (sweet rice cake)
- Add the Italian Ice then red bean paste into a bowl.
- Cut up fresh fruit into bite size cubes then add to the bowl.
- Add the mochi and serve.