Sundays are typically quiet affairs where I spend much of the day cleaning and generally preparing for the week ahead. It is also the day I cook myself the meals I need for the coming work week, so much of my Sunday afternoons are spent in the kitchen. In my Sunday Dinner series, I highlight some of my culinary concoctions. This week’s dinner is…
Full disclosure: this is perhaps the single-greatest meal you’ve never heard of, and that’s OK because unless you’re into Korean food, you’ve likely never heard of this. It’s simplicity and heartiness, all in one bowl. Though there are various kinds of bibimbap, essentially it consists of cooked rice, meat, and an assortment of vegetables. All of the ingredients are then mixed with hot pepper paste and generally topped with a fried egg.
The exact age of this dish is unknown, but it is mentioned for the first time in an anonymous Korean cookbook. In the early 1900s, the royal governor of North Gyeongsang province borrowed the cookbook from its owner and transcribed all of its contents into Hangul, the written Korean language. Prior to the early 20th century, bibimbap was referred to as ‘goldongban’ (걸동반) which means rice mixed with everything. It was eaten by all classes in society — most prominently by rulers of the Korea’s Joseon dynasty. For the king, this dish was often a snack eaten between meals.
Its origins are disputed. Some say that bibimbap was traditionally eaten on the eve of a new year, clearing out old leftovers to start the new year fresh. The more mainstream theory is that it is a meal formerly shared at ancestral rites, mixing all of the foods laid out as a food offering to one’s ancestors before sharing it between members of the family observing the rite.
Today, bibimbap is the ultimate in Korean comfort food. Though hearty enough to be a meal in and of itself, it’s also largely considered to be a snack. It isn’t considered to be a dinner-type food; however. Many Koreans today will have bibimbap for lunch on a busy workday. When I lived in Seoul, I’d have this a few times a week at least. I’d have this so much that the owner of the restaurant I went to in the Songpa district of Seoul insisted that I call her ‘Jangmonim’, which means “mother-in-law.” The name of her restaurant was also ‘Jang Mo Nim’.
The popularity of bibimbap among Westerners continues to grow. This dish has been noted by many surveys as one of the premier recognizable Korean dishes, alongside bulgogi (marinated barbeque beef) and kimchi (spicy fermented cabbage). The latter is also widely included in bibimbap itself.
While there are a thousand different things you can do with bibimbap and about as many ways to cook it, here’s how I did it. In terms of the ingredients, you can use as little or as much as you want. I have not listed quantities here simply because I myself did not measure them.
White Rice, steamed
1 large carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
Green onions, chopped
Extra Lean Ground beef (roughly 300g for myself and Julianne)
1 egg, fried
Korean hot pepper paste
Soy Sauce (for seasoning vegetables)
- Steam white rice. This could be done first since it requires no human intervention during the cooking process.
- In a pan, fry up the matchstick carrots and zucchini, seasoning them lightly with 1tbsp soy sauce, 1tsp sesame oil and pinch of salt. Fry for 2-3 minutes on high and set aside.
- In separate bots, boil spinach and bean sprouts. Once boiled, each in a bowl mixing in sesame oil, chopped green onions and garlic. You can add salt as well. (I personally do not add salt, but many people do)
- In a pan, fry up kimchi on high for about 3-5 minutes. Set aside.
- In another pan, fry up ground beef, seasoning with soy sauce, sesame oil, chopped onions, minced garlic and a pinch of sugar (brown is better, but white does the job too).
- Fry the egg, sunny-side up.
- Placed steamed rice, ground beef and vegetables in a bowl and mix. Add 1tbsp (more or less, depending on your tolerance for spicy) and mix well. Top it with the fried egg.
As much as I like this, I don’t try to make it too often simply because of the sheer number of dishes it creates. It’s also one of those meals where I lose all sense of portion control, and so perhaps best that I have this just once in a while. There are different kinds of bibimbap and everyone makes it their own way, using whichever ingredients they prefer. Some use meat, some will use seafood or tuna. As previously mentioned, there are hundreds of ways to make bibimbap and there is no one set recipe or how-to on this dish.