One of the best ways to experience a culture, I think, is through its food. Food tells you a lot about people, and it's a language everyone speaks. The base flavors, the types of elements that go into traditional dishes, and the way the meal is served - all of these elements give you a glimpse into how people from a particular ethnic background experience daily life.
And of course, for little ones, reading about food is the gateway to trying a new cuisine. It's worked for us with Indian food (cue Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji) and Japanese (see Dumpling Soup). Now, thanks to Sprout's recent library find, we even have an introduction to Korean food -- bee-bim bop!
The picture book Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park is just about the perfect way to get kids intrigued enough to try an unfamiliar dish. The story's pretty straightforward: a young girl helps her mother make bee-bim bop for family dinner, first shopping for ingredients together, then rushing home to assemble the various components just in time for everyone to arrive and pull up a chair.
Our heroine is more than a little excited about this delicious meal, urging her mother to "hurry, Mama, hurry" at nearly every juncture. But she's helping, too, by peeling onions, setting the table, and pouring the water for the veggies (and cleaning up when that last task goes a bit awry!). Each part of the process is narrated with a bouncy, rollicking rhyme that ends with the name of the dish. Sprout loves to shout this part out -- "BEE-BIM BOP!" -- and why wouldn't he, it's loads of fun to say!
Ho Baek Lee's illustrations match perfectly with Park's text. Here's an illustrator who knows how to capture the exuberance and vivacity of toddlerhood, and does so as adeptly as he depicts the simple pleasures of family life. Lee's pictures tell us that this meal is an event, but it is so precisely because of its familiarity and the rhythm that the family knows so well. Lee also adds some humor with the family dog, who's right along with the heroine sniffing at the rice pot and begging for just a bite.
Possibly the best part of the book for parents comes at the end, when Park shares her recipe for bee-bim bop. She also includes a description of how the dish is eaten ("mix everything together like crazy") as well as a picture of herself and her niece and nephew cooking together. Of course by the time you get to the author's notes, you're probably already salivating at the thought of this delicious dish. We haven't tried making bee-bim bop yet, but it's on our list of things to try this summer for sure. And when we do, I can almost guarantee that we'll be shouting out "BEE-BIM BOP!" all through the meal!
Bee-bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park, published by Clarion Books
Sample: "Hurry, Mama, hurry / Gotta shop shop shop! / Hungry hungry hungry / for some BEE-BIM BOP!"
Bonus: watch this interview with Linda Sue Park from Reading Rockets