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`Bibimbap` and convergence

Posted November. 28, 2012 04:27,   


"My husband loved bibimbap. He used to say Korean bibimbap, which is a mix of everything, was similar to his art works." So said Shigeko Kubota July 20 in an exhibition commemorating the 80th birthday of her late husband, Korean video artist Paik Nam-june, at the Paik Nam-june Art Center. She apparently missed her husband in mentioning bibimbap, or rice with spicy mixed vegetables. A pioneer of video art, Paik loved bibimbap and went further to seek the identity of his works and Korean culture through this uniquely Korean food.

The former name of bibimbap is "goldongban," which debuted in a recipe book called "Siui Jeonseo" in the late 1800s. The word in Korean meant mixing in a whirl, originating from the tradition of mixing leftover food and eating it on New Year`s Eve. Bibimbap is a representative food of Korea. Korean Air began offering it as an in-flight meal in 1997, and the dish has grown popular with both Korean and international travelers. Non-Koreans often eat the vegetables and rice separately. The late pop singer Michael Jackson was a bibimbap fan, and Hollywood actresses Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow eat it as a low-calorie diet food.

In Korean dramas, female characters undergoing hard times mix leftover food in a large brass bowl and cram it into their mouths. In this sense, bibimbap is a medicine for curing both the body and mind. In a presidential candidate forum on TV Monday, ruling Saenuri Party runner Park Geun-hye called bibimbap her "special dish." Just as a number of ingredients are mixed to create a fine taste, Koreans from all regions of the country must unite to make a new leap forward. Park might have used bibimbap as a symbol of national integration.

In his essay "Electronics, Arts and Bibimbap," Paik defined bibimbap as neither bean sprouts, mushrooms, spinach nor herbs." If the vegetables in the dish try to stand out, the true taste cannot come out. Synergy is there when the ingredients are not left out but combined. Bibimbap is made of properly cooked rice mixed with remaining side dishes and red pepper paste, with a drop of sesame oil. The soul of communication and convergence that melt into bibimbap is part of Korea`s cultural heritage.

Editorial Writer Koh Mi-seok (mskoh119@donga.com)