Sunday, February 17, 2019

[Food] Boribap (보리밥, Barley Rice)


[Food] Boribap (보리밥, Barley Rice)

I was a 19-year-old young man who really liked to travel around my homeland, Korea. It was an extremely hot summer's day in the mid-2000s. I was walking along a small rural road in Chungnam province. As blazing sunrays grilled my body on the asphalt, I panted with thirst for some water that couldn't be quenched by an empty bottle in my hand.

I thought I might die on the road from the summer heat so I decided to take a rest at some house nearby that I could see in the distance because I knew that I was walking through the middle of a town that I couldn't remember. Soon I found a grandma who was sitting under the shade from the eaves of her house, hiding from the sunlight. I quickly walked to her as she cooled herself with a traditional hand fan.

"Excuse me, ma'am. May I sit here and take a rest for a while please? I'm a lone traveler, and I think I will collapse on the road soon..."

She looked at me and tapped on the floor where she was sitting with a kind smile as if to say to me 'you can sit here'.

"Thirsty? Want some drink, son?"

"Oh, thanks ma'am. Yes, please. Hallelujah."

She stood up and soon brought a cool brownish drink in a glass. I received it with a big Korean bow, and drank it as soon as I grabbed it.

"You saved my life ma'am."

"No problem, one more?"

"Yes, yes. I've never tasted anything as wonderful as this. What is this?"

"Barley tea. Made with barley that I harvested some weeks ago."

" fresh."

"Yes...barley is harvested in summer, one season earlier than rice."

Barley tea, a typical drink in Korea.

A soft drink that made of barley in Korea.

Have you had lunch, son? I cooked some barley rice this morning...and there is still a lot in it."

"Barley rice? Oh, okay. May I have some barley rice then?"

"Wait here...I will get it soon.."

Steamed barley rice
I was young so I often ate barley rice, so it was not my favorite Korean dish but I accepted her suggestion because I was hungry and a poor little young man. So whatever she gave me, I would have eaten anyway.

A typical Korean dish with barley rice and vegetable dishes
After 20 minutes, while cooling myself under the eaves with a hand fan that she gave me, she brought many herbs and vegetable dishes, doenjangjjigae (Korean bean paste stew) and a big bowl of barley rice on a small wooden table with short legs. That was extraordinary kindness for a total stranger like me. Well, I had heard that the grandmas in the countryside were very kind and hospitable to any unexpected guests...but that was way over my expectations.

"Thanks a million, ma'am. I  really appreciate this."

"'s just a small meal, I'm sorry that I can't treat you better."

"No, not at all! It is more than 'a small meal'."

Then I started to mix all the vegetable dishes into a bowl with chili paste and sesame oil. Yes...this is what Koreans call boribap (보리밥, Barley Rice). We eat it the same way as bibimbap. You mix the ingredients you want with chili paste and sesame oil :) 

The only difference is that boribap uses only barley or barley and rice, and boribap usually uses vegetable ingredients only while bibimbap has minced beef and fried egg in it.

How can anyone dislike boribap? Healthy and spicy, just like bibimbap.
"You know...a long time ago, we Koreans broke through many hard times of poverty, hunger and even death with this boribap, like in the Korean War, Japanese invasion etc...Barley is harvested in summer, just after winter and spring, before the season of harvesting rice...if the previous year was a lean year, many people waited for the summer to come to harvest barley so that they could survive. Some people went six feet under in winter and spring because of starvation. So people said 'we have to go over the hill of barley' which means 'we have to go through this season to get barley in summer'..."

"Ah...that's why we say 'the hill of barley' to mean hard times...I didn't know that ma'am."

", we don't worry about 'the hill of barley' anymore, but about high unemployment rate and low-income instead...which is very similar in the sense that we still have to worry about maintaining our lives...haha..."

"Hahaha....that's right, ma'am. This is such a good meal, thank you for treating me so well." 

A luxurious boribap in present-day Seoul. It is still one of Koreans' favorite dishes.

I felt that I was 'healed' and re-filled with energy to continue walking my journey in Korea. I stood up again to hit the road and she grinned at me.

"Where are you heading now, son? Take this barley tea with you," she said, as she passed me a bottle of cool barley tea.

"Thanks again. I'm going to Seosan and Boryeong where my friends live."

"Yeah? Then walk to the outskirts of this town. There is a bus stop. You can catch the next bus downtown. Don't waste your energy on a road, son...if your journey has a long way to go.."

"Okay, ma'am."

A barley
Now a decade has since passed in my life. I've had to go through many hardships in my life, and I know that more will come...

Sometimes I really miss the taste of boribap that the kind grandma of Chungnam province had given me, which allowed me a little rest time for my long journey.

Yeah, I think that this is why I miss her boribap...because I'm still going on a life-long journey :)

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