This Hole-in-the-Wall Life
Weird, this Korean delight called patbingsu, which will cool your summer like little else. It's usually served in Styrofoam cups, so the first thought that crosses your mind when you see it is: "Why did the pincheclerk mess up and give me a salad?" Fruit makes up the top third, but once you start digging through the mound, you'll find a big glop of what looks like crimson-tinted refried beans—not very appetizing to look at. What's worse, when you finally get to the cold part of the meal, the ostensible reason why you ordered patbingsu in the first place, you'll discover a big ball of pebbled, flavorless ice. What gives?
Snap out of it—you're not seeing the water for the cubes. The fruit is all fresh, and those little white chunks you think are flavorless jicama are actually ddeog, sweet rice cakes many times better than marshmallows. The unattractive bean smush is actually red-bean paste, made from the flavorful legume that's similar in taste to custard. And while the ice at the bottom doesn't do much, that's where the power of mestizaje comes in: You smash everything together until each ingredient bleeds into spoonfuls of summery hooray.
The best thing about patbingsu? You've probably never had it. I say this with confidence since Korean cuisine remains (outside of Filipino) the most criminally unappreciated dining tradition in Orange County. Oh, many of ustedes have tried Korean food—barbecue for sure, and perhaps a couple of more adventurous eaters know the joys of the crispy-rice salad with the hip name bibimbap. But out of all the county's ethnic districts—I'm even counting the whole of Santa Ana—I see the fewest gabacho faces in Garden Grove's Little Seoul district.
But I digress. The best patbingsu in Orange County is at A.R. Supermarket's food court, sold by a small bakery that's seen better days. It's not on the menu, unless you know Hangul (Korean script). A.R.'s patbingsu is excessive, and that's okay, as the $6 dish is meant for 10. Kiwi, banana, strawberries and ddeog are on top, slightly melted red-bean paste is in the middle, and cinnamon powder blesses everything with a slight toastiness. Heaven.
A.R. SUPERMARKET, 9580 GARDEN GROVE BLVD., STE. 300, GARDEN GROVE, (714) 539-2702.
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