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Korea’s health secret of bibimbap prepared to perfection 【 Photo: An all-time favorite well-being food, Bibimbap 】

Bibimbap, a bowl of rice mixed with meat and assorted vegetables, is the most representative dish of Korean cuisine and has gained recognition worldwide as a healthy dining option. It is a favorite in-flight meal, and bibimbap restaurants have been popping up in different parts of the world. From traditional bibimbap to regional specialties and fusion styles, there are many ways to enjoy this dish. Read on to learn more about how bibimbap came to capture the hearts of so many.

A Globally Recognized Healthy Food, Bibimbap

A fantastic health food, born in Korea 【 Photo: Bibimbap served in stone pot and brass bowl 】

Bibimbap could be considered a type of fast food, in the sense that it is quite easy to place the various toppings on rice. However, bibimbap contains many beneficial ingredients including namul (seasoned vegetables) and meat which provide protein, minerals, and fiber. The different colors also represent Korean’s long-held belief in harmony, created by oseak (the five cardinal colors of traditional Korean art).

On top of its aesthetically pleasing appearance, bibimbap appeals to all the senses through its textures, smells, and rich taste. You may have seen a photo of bibimbap carefully prepared on a golden yugi (Korean brassware) or the heavy-duty dolsot (stone pot). The colorful ingredients please the eyes while the savory smell of sesame oil tickles the nose once the vegetables are mixed with rice. Each bite provides a mouthful of bursting flavors of the sauce and the vegetables.

Bibimbap 2.0, Fusion Food for a Modern World

  • Bibimbap 2.0, fusion food for a modern world 【 Photo: Bibimbap croquette 】
  • Bibimbap 2.0, fusion food for a modern world 【 Photo: Bibimbap in a cup 】

Bibimbap was originally called goldongban, meaning “rice mixed vigorously,” or hwaban, meaning “flower blooming on top of rice.” The vegetables used in bibimbap vary greatly by region, although the most common toppings remain the same no matter where you go. These toppings include bean sprouts, balloon flower root, bracken fern, and grilled beef. Sometimes a fried egg will be added.

  • Gang doen-jang (soybean paste sauce) bibimbap【 Photo: Bibimbap with soybean paste sauce 】
  • Mushroom bulgogi bibimbap 【 Photo: Bulgogi & mushroom bibimbap 】
  • Tuna and kimchi bibimbap【 Photo: Tuna & kimchi bibimbap 】

Bibimbap has evolved in many ways, improving upon health benefits, convenience, and taste. From simply needing to add water to neatly packaged servings, bibimbap is readily accessible. Jeonju Hanok Village in particular takes fusion one step further by serving bibimbap in cups and making them into croquettes, and even inventing a bun filled with bibimbap. If you’re looking to dine out but are worried about the spice level, many places serve variations of bibimbap with little to no spice, including bulgogi with mushroom, or tuna and stir-fried kimchi. If you want a stronger tasting bibimbap, try one topped with gang doenjang (soybean paste) and chives.

Regional Bibimbap

Jeonju Bibimbap

  • Jeonju Bibimbap
  • Jeonju Bibimbap
【 Photo: Jeonju Bibimbap, the most recognized bibimbap of all 】

Jeonju bibimbap is regarded as the most representative example of bibimbap. The broth from a beef brisket is used to cook the rice, and is garnished with yukhoe (beef tartare) and egg yolk, a signature feature of Jeonju bibimbap. Fried beef and thin garnish strips of cooked egg whites and yolk can also be used instead of the raw beef and yolk. Additional Jeonju specialties of hot pepper paste mixed in with fried beef called yak gochujang and bean sprout soup or beef radish soup complete the meal.

Andong Bibimbap

  • Andong Bibimbap【 Photo: Andong Heot-jesatbap 】
  • Andong Bibimbap【 Photo: Assorted pancakes 】

Heot-jesatbap is a combination of the words hoet, meaning “fake,” and jesabap, referring to a meal that used the food remaining after ancestral rites. Heot-jesatbap is most famously connected with Andong, where the Confucian scholars were known to have this dish even when there was no ritual service. This bibimbap is unique in that the three main spices of Korean cuisine, spring onion, garlic and red pepper powder, are not used. Soy sauce, sesame oil and its seeds are used instead of red pepper paste. Also, the ritual dish is served with a variety of jeon and sanjeok (skewers). It tastes even better with tang guk (beef and radish soup), a soup flavored with dried sea cucumber, octopus, seaweed, and sliced radish, all of which are diced into pieces and thrown into a clear broth.

Tongyeong Bibimbap

  • Tongyeong Bibimbap
  • Tongyeong Bibimbap
【 Photo: Tongyeong meonggae bibimbap 】

The coastal city of Tongyeong has an abundance of fresh seafood, making it the best feature of Tongyeong bibimbap. Namul and vegetables are served on steamed rice and then mixed with shrimp, clams, and mussels blanched in boiling water and seasoned with sauce. If this process is too cumbersome for you, you can throw all the vegetables in a pan and fry them in a rich seafood broth. This dish goes perfectly with clams and tofu soup. Tongyeong is also known for meonggae (sea squirt) bibimbap.

Jinju Bibimbap

  • Jinju Bibimbap
  • Jinju Bibimbap
【 Photo: Jinju bibimbap topped with beef tartare 】

Jinju in Gyeongsangnam-do also has a unique take on bibimbap. It is served with vegetables including cooked fern bracken and bean sprouts on top of steamed rice. Then, minced beef and jang guk (clear soybean soup) is mixed in a bowl and served after being garnished with cheongpo (mung bean jelly), yukhoe (beef tartare), and red pepper sauce. Yukhoe is the symbol of Jinju bibimbap, but the cooked beef version is also served. Yukhoe bibimbap can be commonly found on the menu of restaurants in Jinju, which trace back to the 1920s, when Jinju emerged as an active market in the cattle trade.

Bibimbap in the sky

Bibimbap, being Korea’s representative food, played a huge role in making Korean cuisine famous worldwide. The late singer Michael Jackson is reported to have enjoyed bibimbap many times during his stay in Korea after trying the dish as an in-flight meal. Many domestic and international airlines offer bibimbap with steamed rice, finely presented namul and spicy red pepper paste. Passengers can enjoy all the fun of mixing their ingredients together. The mildly spicy red pepper paste is also available to suit the taste of those not accustomed to it.

This page was last updated on September 19, 2019, and therefore information may differ from what is presented here.