What is that? It’s bibimbap. Pronounced “pi-bim-bop”
Is that a real word, Megan? Of course it is. I would never invent a word. Especially one that already sounds like a bad guy side kick from Ninja Turtles.
What is that then? It’s a famous Korean dish that is served in a single bowl and literally translates to “mixed meal”. It has rice and veggies and is super tasty when done right (which is often). There are tons of variations and that is what makes it my current (and very serious) addiction.
If it’s just vegetables, why are you all in love with it?Well because like I just said, there are eighty katrillion variations on bibimbap. Though there are a few standard ingredients that you can generally count on finding:
- rice (key ingredient)
- bean sprouts
- bracken fern stems (hahaha, I know, wtf)
- sesame oil
- dried seaweed strips
- red pepper paste
- egg (raw or fried)
Sometimes you might also encounter:
- fish roe
- and lots of other things that I have yet to experience
So it’s a bowl with some rice and different veggies? Big deal. Isn’t that the definition of Asian food? Alright the cool thing about bibimbap is that sometimes it comes in a hot stone bowl. This is called dolsot bibimbap and it does lovely, magical things to the contents of the bowl. First, lined with a little sesame oil, it crisps the outside layer of rice to a perfectly crunchy, chewy, tasty crisp that makes it downright depressing to return to boring old cold bowl bibimbap. Also, it allows you to crack a fresh egg over the entire bowl. The bowl will cook the egg a bit, but also allow for the creamy, runny egg yolkness to meld all the ingredients together (I’m a huge giant fan of runny yolk). I find that with regular bibimbap, the egg that comes with it is already fried and usually too cooked to achieve the proper yolk runniness that makes the egg worth it.
So you get your bowl with a pile of rice and veggies and chopsticks and just ‘dig in’? Nope. This is one of the only dishes in Korea, besides soup, that you always eat with a spoon. And if you are Korean, then you use your spoon to mix it like someone is holding a gun to your head demanding that there be a perfectly equal distribution of bean sprout to rice to beef to spinach and or you will be shot. Really though, the Korean take this mixing part very seriously and will spend minutes (I’ve counted) making sure their bibimbap is ENTIRELY homogenized and the original individuality of the ingredients is forgotten (there’s something symbolic there…). Me not so much. I like to mix most of the bibimbap all together (just to keep the concerns at bay), but I leave parts still in their ingredient clusters. I like variation, sometimes getting a bigger than usual taste of hot sauce or of egg yolk. It is pleasant. But shhh, don’t tell the Koreans k?
What is the worst bibimbap you have ever had? The worst bibimbap I ‘ve had was during my first week in Korea. We were in Jeonju, a city famous for its incredibly special bibimbap (it was a royal dish or some such thing so now there’s a reputation). We were told it would be amazingly delicious simply because it was from Jeonju. Wrong. It was not in a hot stone bowl and it had been sitting out for a really long time; it was cold and icky. The egg appeared undercooked but was completely hard and gross. Super disappointing. I’m sure it all had something to do with the fact that the restaurant was feeding like 90 of us at once, but I was so unimpressed that it set a bad sort of tone for my food expectations in Korea. Luckily, Korea is recovering.
What’s the best bibimbap you’ve had? Well, it’s hard to say. Last week I had bibimbap with fish roe and it was fascinating. It tasted good too. The fish roe came in two big piles, one pink and one yellowy-orange. I love fish roe and that shizz is ex.pen.sive. stateside. So when I see it in big old glops, I get pretty excited.
Because it was dolsot bibimbap, it came in a hot bowl. When I mixed the little eggs around, I was surprised to see that they cooked (ha). They changed colors from transparent orange and pink to opaque NEON ORANGE and NEON PINK. It looked kind of like Dippin’ Dots, which I thought was neat. It never occurred to me what might happen if fish roe was cooked, so I was tickled by the entire thing (I’m easily amused when there’s food involved).
So what other really amazing, super interesting stories do you have about bibimbap, Megan? Funny you should ask! Just last week I was invited to cap off English Camp by having lunch in the Principal’s office with him and some other teachers who were working over vacation. I arrived at about the same time as the food that was being delivered. Unfortunately I failed to photograph most of this meal (because they already think I’m a doofy dancing bear, I try to control my alien urges to document ordinary things). But it was crazy what unfolded! And it was there that I determined Korean food delivery is far superior to anything I’ve seen in the U.S.
For ten people there were two large ‘bundles’ of food. Upon opening these bundles, I realized there were ten hot stone bibimbap pots nestled in hefty wooden holders/burn-preventers, each of which weighed no less than 4-5 pounds. A bowl was distributed to every person and then a few divided tupperware were set amongst the bowls for sharing. In these were the namul (veggies): kimchi, spicy lettuce, bean sprouts, hot sauce and seasoned sesame leaves. I stood there with my jaw agape, in awe of how elaborate this delivered lunch was. And finally I realized it was, gasp!, BUILD YOUR OWN BIBIMBAP!
I freakin love build your own anything and so I was pretty much thrilled to sit down to this meal, where I got to add my own ingredients (hello, lots of kimchi please) and crack my OWN cellophane-wrapped, motorbike-delivered egg onto my own specially heated hot stone bibimbap bowl. It was magnificent and one of my favorite things that I’ve eaten in Korea.
Anything else Ms. Dwyer? Yeah dudes, if you can get yourself some bibimbap in Korea or otherwise, DO IT. And if you’ve already had really delicious bibimbap, you should tell me where so I can go there and eat it.