21 (Sun) March 2021
Bibim Naeng Myeon
-Changgok, Sujeong, Seongnam, Gyeonggi, Republic of Korea-
with the Family
Newbery 100 Medals, 100 Meals (41) (see 100 NEWBERY M&Ms)
While reading the 100 books that have been awarded the annual Newbery Medal since 1922, I will also attempt to create one dish for every book, a dish that is directly referenced in or indirectly inspired by the events of the book. The 100th Medal was recently announced: When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller – a Korean-themed book by a Korean-American author! Food plays a strong role in many of the stories; not surprising as the characters in most of the books are faced with adversity of some sort, including poverty, so they’re often very hungry and thus grateful whenever they get a bite to eat – as we all should be at every meal, give us this day our daily bread. The dishes will be featured as posts on Give Me This Day.
When You Trap a Tiger (2021) by Tae Keller. The book is about 5th-grader Lily, a 3rd generation Korean-American who grew up listening to Korean folktales from her grandmother and now must protect her from a tiger that appears to reclaim the stories that she had long ago plucked from the sky (stories = stars), captured in jars, and hidden away.
I loved the book. It’s a story about stories, about preserving stories and conveying stories, about how stories enrich the listeners and empower the tellers, how stories embody culture and history. With elements of fantasy woven throughout, the story is ultimately grounded in reality, dealing with difficult coming-of-age and end-of-life issues, as well as race and gender, not only for Lily but also for her ailing grandmother, her widowed mother, and her teenage sister (who suddenly turns out to be dating the chick that works in the library – where did that come from?). As Tae Keller describes her own style – in response to one of the interview questions that I posed to her (see below) – the writing is honest, heartfelt, and hopeful. A proud addition to the Newbery tradition.
With so much anticipation at our company about the award’s centennial, how perfect that the 100th Newbery Medal was awarded to a Korean-themed book by a Korean-American author.
Even better for GMTD, food plays a small but important role in the original folktale that inspired the book, and is recounted in the book. Long story short: a tiger confronts a woman carrying rice cakes, eats all the rice cakes and eats the woman and tries to eat the woman’s children, who flee into the heavens and become the sun and the moon – doesn’t make any sense, but Koreans seem to get very offended when I try to make the point – “What, Goldilocks makes sense!?” (actually, it does).
Rice cakes would be the obvious choice of dish to represent When You Trap a Tiger for this GMTD project, both because rice cakes are featured in the folktale and because Lily and her friend Rick try to make rice cakes, like the one that Halmoni (grandmother) used to make, as bait for the tiger.
[paraphrased in part]
I Google a recipe on my phone, and we start throwing stuff together – mochi flour and brown sugar and coconut milk. Only somehow, the batter looks wrong. And it doesn’t smell like Halmoni’s. On top of that, Ricky doesn’t have adzuki bean paste for the filling, so we improvise with grape jelly, and by the time the rice cakes are ready to go into the oven, they look completely and totally wrong.
Ricky says, “Even if they aren’t perfect, they can still be good.”
So we wait and see. And they’re different. They aren’t Halmoni’s.
But they’re still good.
Good enough, I hope, for a tiger.
The references to mochi and adzuki paste suggest that the rice cakes are more Japanese than Korean.
Anyway, I wasn’t confident in baking rice cakes myself – frankly, not a big fan, especially the sweet kind. So I was considering some kind of ddeokbokki – one initial thought was a presentation in alternating stripes of gochujang sauce (orange) and tonkatsu sauce (black), like a tiger, which I still might try someday.
As part of a broader Newbery marketing campaign at work, I had reached out to Tae Keller with a few proposals for promotional collaborations, including a set of written interview questions. A few days ago, I was overwhelmed with joy to receive her responses, which will be edited and published across our various platforms. Among the more serious questions, I couldn’t resist asking her a “bonus” question: “What is your favorite Korean food (aside from midnight kimchi and rice cakes)?” Her response: “Bibim naengmyeon! I love it” (see promotional materials for When You Trap a Tiger at Tongbang Books).
And so, in honor of Tae Keller, I made bibim naeng myeon, even if she will (probably) never know.
As GMTD readers know all too well, mul naeng myeon is my all-time favorite dish.
However, I rarely eat bibim naeng myeon, can’t recall if I’ve ever in my life ordered it for myself, never featured the dish on GMTD.
Thanks for the inspiration, Tae, on so many things.
(See also FOODS)
(See also PLACES)