What Is Bibimbap? And How to Build Your Own Beautiful Rice Bowl
You may have noticed the growing trend of "bowls" taking up their own section on menus or even commanding an entire restaurant concept. With their artfully arranged, colorful, and mouthwatering ingredients, these bowls are so beautiful, they've naturally also taken up a hefty chunk of real estate on social media. But what you might not realize is that the original "beautiful bowl" most likely originated in Korea.
Korean Mixed Rice Bowls
It's called bibimbap (pronounced "bee-BIM-bop")—bibim meaning "mixed" and bap meaning "rice." This beloved Korean bowl incorporates steamed white rice with assorted fresh, marinated, and sautéed vegetables along with raw or seared meat, if desired. It is always served with an egg, most often served sunny-side-up, as well as strips of crunchy and light seasoned seaweed. Kimchi or other fermented veggies, as well as pickled ingredients, lend added depth while the gochujang—Korea's iconic fermented red chili pepper paste—imbues the bowls with a smoky, savory, slightly sweet, slightly spicy flavor profile. The tastes and textures are crunchy and luscious, spicy and sweet with pickled and fermented notes.
When you see the most gorgeous finished product, you might think bibimbap is too complicated for you, but you'd be wrong. It's been around for centuries and ancient lore has it straddling the highest and lowest echelons of society: Some say it was served to emperors and government officials at lavish parties, while others say that it was a cheap and convenient one-bowl meal that farmers' wives made using seasonal ingredients mixed with rice. Either way, these legends still ring true as bibimbap can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be.
Customize Your Own Bibimbap Bowls
The customizable nature of this dish is an element that cannot be over-celebrated. Bibimbap can be altered to fit any lifestyle or diet—whether that is beginner- or advanced-level cook; adventurous or safe eater, or vegan or ultra-decadent diet. It must be noted, though, that bibimbap by nature is quite healthy with rice and colorful vegetables plus meat, fish, egg, or tofu—providing a low-calorie dish that is high in fiber, carbohydrates, and protein. Because of the dish's flexibility, it is also great for gatherings—a culinary canvas where each eater is also an artist, creating a work of edible art tailored to their own taste buds.
To make your own bibimbap at home, you'll need short-grain white, or "sticky," rice as your base. Some prefer brown rice, if going for a healthier spin. If you're a meat lover, you'll need your protein of choice: Traditionally it's served with raw beef and raw egg yolks, but if that's not your bag, you can substitute with your favorite cooked proteins like seafood, chicken, or over-medium fried egg. Then any variety of your favorite vegetables. In Korea, these are known as banchan and are served at every meal. These small side dishes become integral to the bowl mixture, so do your homework to find the ones that tantalize your own taste buds. The most common bibimbap veggies are lightly seasoned and sautéed julienned carrots, onion, spinach, shiitake mushrooms, and mung bean sprouts, as well as raw lettuces and kimchi.
The "secret sauce" is quite literally the sauce: gochujang. Different recipes call for different variations and with a little online sleuthing, you can find a recipe befitting your palate. Some use gochujang as is, while others add sesame oil, water, and sugar for a sweeter effect and others add more garlicky, spicy, or vinegary elements.
Place the rice in the bottom of the bowl, and arrange the vibrant banchan and protein around the edges, reserving the central spot for the perfectly cooked egg. Drizzle your choices of soy sauce, sesame oil, and gochujang sauce over the base ingredients, and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds if desired.
And there is a pretty awesome upgrade to your everyday bibimbap called dolsot bibimbap. Dolsot refers to a "hot stone pot." Sesame oil is poured into this hot pot vessel and the rice base is placed atop it, left to sizzle and form a crunchy, toasty crust while the veggies and meats sear and steam above. This decadent version of bibimbap is the more expensive option served in Korean restaurants. And once you taste the sticky rice's crunchy, chewy, crispy mutations because of this hot stone—plus the way it makes the veggies and sauces sing—you'll understand why.
How to Eat Bibimbap
The authentic Korean way to eat bibimbap dictates that you mix everything up—the golden egg yolk; the fresh, fermented, and sauteed vegetables; the raw or seared savory protein of choice; and the soy, sesame, and gochujang sauces. But if you're a military-style eater, feel free to go your own way. After all, that is the beauty of beautiful bibimbap.
Check out our complete collection of Korean Recipes.