Throughout my Asian travels I often find a food or drink in a certain country that I absolutely cannot get enough of. In Thailand I ate enough spicy green papaya salad and young coconuts to feed the US military for a month. In Singapore I drank so much kopi (coffee sweetened with condensed milk) that I often returned home so caffeinated that I could barely read a sentence. In Cambodia I ate so many mini grilled bananas on a stick that I most likely kept the SE Asian banana business afloat while visiting. And, of course, in Vietnam I sometimes begged my travel partners to eat pho with me three times a day.
And then came Korea. Before moving to Kathmandu I toured South Korea, from Seoul to Busan. I had eaten Korea food several times before, but it was when I visited the country that I truly began to understand the glory, the textures, the freshness and the flavors that is Korean food. Within 24 hours of my arrival I re-discovered bibimbap (perhaps one of the most popular foods in Korea) and that’s when my obsessive tendencies kicked in. Over the course of the next few weeks bibimbap became my go-to food. Korea is bursting with delicious and fresh food, so of course I tried countless other dishes, but bibimbap was always there to save me when I wanted a dish that was guaranteed to be scrumptious.
The word “bibimbap” means “mixed rice” in Korea. The dish consists of a bed of white rice topped with a variety of vegetables, a fried egg, sometimes meat and always the ubiquitous spicy red hot sauce found everywhere in Korea. The dish is served in a large bowl with the toppings neatly placed in separate piles on top of the rice. After being served, the diner adds hot sauce to taste and mixes the bowl’s contents with a spoon until everything is uniformly incorporated.
An alternative to regular bibimbap is “dolsot bibimbap.” Dolsot bibimbap contains the same ingredients as the normal dish, it is simply served in a hot clay pot instead of a regular bowl. I was slightly more fond of dolsot bibimbap, mostly because of the novelty factor of the sizzling hot bowl that makes everything a bit crisper during the mixing process and keeps the whole thing warm for longer.
Popular bibimbap toppings include a fried egg (with the yolk still runny), shredded carrot, shitake mushroom, cooked spinach, sesame seeds, a drizzling of sesame oil, zucchini, kosari and other pickled vegetables. The hot pepper paste is sometimes served already on the rice, but usually there is a large squeeze bottle handy with extra. Each unique flavor blends perfectly with the others, creating a spicy, satisfying and healthy bowl of sustenance. As I found true almost everywhere in Korea, along with the main dish is served a smattering of small side dishes, which include kimchi (fermented cabbage), marinated tofu, seaweed, daikon radish and other pickled delights.
For those lucky enough to have a well-stocked kitchen and a Asian market nearby, here is a recipe and instructional video I found for bibimbap.
Some bibimbap pictures for your viewing pleasure.
Above: My Korean travel partner and best friend Jane spices up her bibimbap with extra hot sauce in Seoraksan National Park.
Above: One of the pleasures of eating Korean food are the numerous little side dishes served with the main course.
Above: This is dolsot bibimbap, which is basically the same as regular bibimbap, but is served in a hot clay pot.
Above: This bibimbap is served with a side of kimchi and broth. (Photo by: avlxyz)