[HOT ITEM]For devotees of gimbap, life has become a love triangle

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[HOT ITEM]For devotees of gimbap, life has become a love triangle

The breakneck pace of life in the big city doesn't always afford ample time to sit down to a square meal in a nice restaurant with a close friend. Sometimes you have to grab something quick. Luckily, convenience shops here in Seoul have plenty of food options to quiet rumbling stomachs; one of the quirkiest is samgak gimbap. Samgak means triangle-shaped, and gimbap refers to rice rolls, with various fillings, wrapped in dried seaweed.

Usually gimbap comes tube-shaped, making it easy to slice into bite-sized pieces. The handy food originated in Japan, but Korea co-opted it decades ago. It is now one of Korea's favorite foods, especially among children and for taking on picnics. A roll costs approximately 1,500 won (about $1) in convenience stores and 3,000 won at restaurants that specialize in it.

Gimbap that come in the shape of a more or less equilateral triangle, however, are sold only at convenient stores, and always at the same price: 700 won. Though gourmets may turn their noses up at them, three-sided gimbap are cheaper and more nutritious than other snack foods like hamburgers. Triangular gimbap have become quite popular, and sell out quickly to teenagers and busy office workers. "You have to be quick to get the tuna and kimchi flavor," said Ha Jin-yong, an owner of a convenience store near City Hall. He added that triangular gimbap goes really well with ramen or fish-cake soup.

Though triangular gimbap is a convenience food, assembly is required. The rice part is wrapped in plastic, with the seaweed separated from it by another layer of clear wrap. Open the package by pulling the red string from the top, then pull the left and right sides apart, cross your fingers, and the seaweed should wind up tidily wrapped around the rice. If not, wrap the seaweed any which way around the rice, hope no one's looking, and gobble it down.

Triangular gimbap were introduced to Korea in the '90s. An official at Samyoung Foodech, a major supplier of the newfangled gimbap, said, "Now, with a wider variety of original flavors, they are getting more and more popular; we make about 30,000 a day."

The flavors, or fillings, include tuna with kimchi, marinated beef, spicy chicken, grilled beef, and broiled octopus. The newest flavor on shelves is bibimbap, or vegetables with hot pepper paste. A Western-style omelet flavor is also out, which uses a fried egg cover instead of seaweed and has ketchup inside.

Devotees of triangular gimbap have even formed an online club called "A Group That Loves Triangular Gimbap." To join, you must eat three triangular gimbap a day and be able to discern in a blindfold test which gimbap is made by which company.

Members debate the origins of triangular gimbap ?in addition to the Japan theory, some posit that it is derived from jumeokbap, or rice balls that were popular with the needy in Korea's post-war period. The site tells you which convenience stores to go for specific flavors. It also gives advice on how best to warm up the gimbab - if you have the time.

And it's not only the natives who are gobbling up the triangles, according to Mr. Ha: "I have many foreign customers who buy this gimbap. They like the marinated beef flavor."

Paris has its baguettes and Philadelphia has its cheese steaks. Look out, world, here comes Seoul and its geometric bites of rice.

by Chun Su-jin

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