Here's everything you need to know about this Korean specialty that's similar to sushi.

Instantly recognizable, Korean cuisine is unique, distinctive, and absolutely delicious without being too difficult to cook. That could explain why Korean food has recently become so popular in the United States and other countries. And one of the most popular dishes in Korea at the moment is Kimbap, which is a mixture of ingredients wrapped in seaweed and rice.

Although many call this dish "Korean sushi," there are actually significant differences between kimbap and Japanese sushi. The process of making kimbap is not all that difficult, but it takes some time to master the process and perfect the art of making kimbap.

Here's a guide to understanding what kimbap is and how you can make it yourself or with friends from the comfort of your home kitchen.

What is Kimbap?

Kimbap the dish is essentially rice wrapped in seaweed and filled with a variety of ingredients. The term kimbap translates directly to "seaweed and rice." It's made in many different ways and with many different ingredients, especially at modern eateries, but kimbap is a traditional dish that goes back several centuries and has been satisfying Korean foodies throughout the ages.

This simplicity in its general definition leads many to assume it is "Korean sushi," but again, this isn't really correct. The ingredients used in kimbap, while customizable, are often distinct and used specifically for the dish.

Traditionally, there are marinated vegetables, fried egg, ground meat, and fish cake, as well as several other ingredients. A great dish of kimbap should represent the entire color spectrum as well as the flavor spectrum. That is, it should be diverse and highly flavorful.

Kimbap Korean Style Sushi
Credit: Tara Donne

What's Inside Korean Kimbap?

The list of traditional ingredients used in kimbap is finite and rather small. When professional chefs make kimbap in the traditional style, they'll usually use carrots, spinach, danmuji, which is a yellow pickled radish, fried egg, a fish cake, and marinated beef. The rice used in kimbap is seasoned with salt, sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil.

The various ingredients are typically prepared separately to keep each ingredient's unique flavor intact and distinct from the other ingredients. So when the ingredients come together, the result is a dish with a highly complex flavor profile.

Although this is traditionally how kimbap is prepared, you can use any number of different ingredients you choose to make kimbap at home and prepare it in any way you wish. There's no end to the customizability of the dish.

How to Prepare Kimbap at Home

If your mouth is watering and you think you're ready to prepare your own dish of delicious kimbap at home, there's a simple method to follow. You'll first need to gather together all of your ingredients and keep them separated, so you'll need to prepare your cooking station. After you've gathered your ingredients and prepared your station, it's time to start cooking.

1. Prepare Your Rice

You'll need a quality rice cooker to cook the rice to the perfect tenderness. Great rice is about texture, usually a nice mix of softness and bite, although you can cook yours to whatever texture works best for you. You'll also want to add vinegar to the rice to make it nice and sticky. This way the rice won't lose its integrity or structure when you're preparing the kimbap and putting everything together. In addition, you'll want to rinse your rice before you use it to cook your dish.

2. Chop Your Ingredients

As your rice is simmering, you'll want to cut your veggies into thin strips. Traditional kimbap is made with very thin and small strips of veggies, but you can cut them to any thinness you prefer.

3. Cook Your Eggs and Meat

After you've cut up your veggies, you'll want to cook your eggs and meat. Traditionally, rice used for kimbap is also cooked in a skillet. Cook each separately, washing your skillet between uses.

4. Spread Your Rice Over a Rolling Mat

A sushi rolling mat will really make easy work of rolling your kimbap into a tight roll. After the rice is done cooking and your other ingredients are prepped, take out your rolling mat, lay a sheet of seaweed in the center of it, and spread some of your rice over the seaweed sheet. You'll want to leave only a half-inch of the seaweed visible at the top of each sheet.

5. Arrange Your Ingredients in Tidy Rows

You can then layer your ingredients over the rice. Place each ingredient in it's own row, one below the other, so they remain separate from each other—that's what makes kimbap look so colorful and sushi-like once it's cut.

You've now got several delicious pieces to divide among your friends, or simply eat them all for yourself. Either way, enjoy the beautiful and delicious kimbap you've created!

Try this recipe for Kimbap, which calls for American cheese and cooked ham.

Check out our collection of Korean Recipes.