At first, it was the name that did it.
Many years ago, while on holiday abroad, we stopped for lunch at a little restaurant and on the menu was this dish that I had never heard of before. How could I resist such a catchy name and all those adorable syllables that seemed to give a ‘come hither and eat me’ vibe? And so there I was, in Athens of all places, getting introduced to the Korean Bibimbap.
It was one of the best things I had ever eaten in my life.
So back home with me, along with memories of a wonderful Greek holiday, came the frequent recollection of that delicious mishmash of rice, vegetables, grilled chicken, egg and kimchi. It was something I wanted to eat regularly for the rest of my life.
There was one problem though. This was before Korean food enjoyed a surge in popularity, so it wasn’t easy to come across. In desperation, I started making my own Bibimbap and learnt many lessons on the way. Before I share these lessons and my recipe (ish), I must say that I am not making any claims to authenticity here. I have never even been to Korea, although it’s very high on my list of countries to visit. (Obviously, I mean South Korea here). This is the way I make it, according to my family’s tastes and there’s nothing to stop you from tweaking things to suit your preferences. I see it as not so much cultural appropriation as a homage to a favourite cuisine.
Lesson #1: It’s not difficult.
Prepping and cooking each separate component does require a tiny bit of patience but nothing is complicated. The dish literally is more than the sum of its simple parts.
Lesson #2: It’s highly customisable.
This is the way I do it but You Do You. Pick any vegetables, protein and accompaniments you like and the resulting dish can’t help but please you. If you don’t have typical Korean ingredients such as gochujang and kimchi, substitute it with what you have. I have used sriracha in place of gochujang, Indian pickles in place of kimchi and have still found the concoction delicious.
Lesson #3: It’s a great way to use up all the bits and bobs in your vegetable drawer.
I often make Bibimbap either just before a grocery shop when my vegetable drawer needs to be emptied of tiny bits of a few vegetables or just after when I have a wide selection of fresh vegetables at my disposal.
Lesson #4: Who doesn’t love the packaging?
Add colourful veggies, serve it in individual bowl and you will find small kids, big kids and yet bigger kids (aka adults) enthusiastically digging in.
Lesson #5: A very adaptable, basic formula
Bibimbap = Bowl of rice + simply cooked vegetables ( each flavoured mainly with garlic, soy, chilli and sesame either on their own or in a combination)+ a raw vegetable or two + a protein + fried egg (sunny side up) + kimchi (optional) + a hot & sweet condiment.
The egg, like the rice, to me, is the only compulsory bit as it adds a degree of creamy richness when you mix it all up before eating – everything else can be substituted to suit your mood. However, if you don’t like raw egg yolks or are a vegan, try adding some mayonnaise (vegan if you’re one, obviously) to improve the mouthfeel instead.
Lesson #6: Dolsot or Plain?
A dolsot bibimbap is one that is made in a special bowl (dolsot) which is heated so that the rice at the bottom gets gloriously crispy and sizzles. Allowing it to cool somewhat before eating requires more patience than I have and so I often find myself making the regular kind where no heat is required.
Bibimbap - the CIMK Version
- 2 chicken breasts Or use any other meat, seafood/fish, paneer, tofu or beans
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- 2 tsp gochujang use sweet chilli sauce or sriracha if unavailable
- 250 g cooked spinach squeeze as much liquid out as possible
- 2 cloves garlic sliced
- 0-1 tsp chilli flakes
- 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1½" matchsticks
- 2 courgettes/zucchini, cut into 1½" matchsticks
- 1 red pepper, sliced
- 1 cup edamame
- 6" piece cucumber thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup finely julienned red cabbage
- oil, light soy sauce, toasted sesame oil as required
- chopped spring onions, sesame seeds for garnish
- 4 large eggs
- 4 - 6 cups cooked rice We like jasmine or sushi rice
- gochujang, kimchi, sriracha, chilli oil as condiments
- Split the chicken breasts in halves horizontally. Combine the soy sauce and gochujang and coat the chicken with it. Set aside for a few minutes, then grill. Cut into strips.
- Heat a tbsp of oil in a frying pan, then add the garlic. Stir-fry for about a minute until the garlic goes golden, then add the spinach and a pinch of salt. Fry until the mixture is dry, sprinkle with chilli flakes and set aside.
- Separately saute the carrots, courgettes, red pepper and edamame in some oil until tender crisp and season with salt or soy sauce.
- Fry the eggs sunny side up. Divide the rice into bowls, then top with the raw and cooked vegetables. Top with the egg, garnish and serve with the condiments.
- To eat, you mix everything together (with a spoon, not chopsticks) so the egg coats all the ingredients. This is the proper way to eat a Bibimbap, as it literally means 'Mixed Rice'.