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Korea’s Bibimbap: Regional and National to Global

The Many Looks, Many Flavors of Bibimbap

It’s just a bowl of rice mixed with pork or beef and some assorted veggies – an all time favorite of Koreans. That’s the Bibimbap. Across all generations and all ages, the bibimbap is beloved in Korea. Now it has swept the world. It’s delicious, appealing, filling and nutritious. It comes in endless variations and restaurants the world over have been creative in preparing and presenting this dish.

Some might consider bibimbap a fast food dish as all ingredients are mixed together after tossing and stirring and then enjoyed. If it’s a fast food item then it’s very different from all the other quick meals served around. The dish offers many nutritional benefits with its rice, meat and assorted vegetables. Also, bibimbap represents Korea’s long-held belief in harmony, created by oseak – the five cardinal colors of traditional Korean art. The meal is thoroughly prepared; it can be served cooled or as a hot dish, in a golden yugi, a Korean brassware, or a heavy-duty dolsot, a stone pot.

Bibimbap was first called goldongban during the 16th to 20th century, meaning “rice made by mixing various types of food”. It’s also called hwaban, meaning “flower to bloom on top of rice.” The colorful mix could be found many regions throughout Korea and recreated in various types of these specialty bowls found today. For example, there’s bibimbap to-go, available in many countries outside Korea. You find them anywhere from convenience stores to gourmet restaurants. Bibimbap is also featured in many international in-flight meals. However, if you prefer fine dining and want genuine Korean tastes, you can have gang-doen-jang bibimbap or soybean paste sauce.

Here are some of the best known regional versions that’s got global recognition.

Jeonju bibimbap is regarded as the most representative example of bibimbap. It’s fried beef and thin garnish strips of cooked egg whites and yolks. The broth from a beef brisket is used to cook the rice, garnished with the tartare and egg on top, its signature feature. Another is Heot-jesatbap, served during ancestral rites. The region of Andong is best known for this scrumptious meal, typically made with the three colors of namul, jeon (coated and pan-fried fish and vegetables) and guk (soup) from the table for ritual services. Since it is served in remembrance of one’s ancestors, the main spices of Korean cuisine, such as spring onion, garlic and red pepper powder, are not used. The ritual dish is served with a variety of jeon and sanjeok (skewers).

Unlike other bibimbaps, diners may adjust the flavor of individual servings. Tongyeong bibimbap is from a coastal community of the same name, with an abundance of fresh seafood. Namul and vegetables are served on steamed rice and then mixed with shrimp, clams, and mussels blanched in boiling water and seasoned with sauce. Jinju bibimbap is a unique local food of Jinju in Gyeongsangnam-do. It is served with vegetables like cooked fern brakes and bean sprouts on top of steamed rice. Minced beef and jang guk (clear soybean soup) is mixed in a bowl and served garnished with cheongpo (mung bean jelly), yukhoe (beef tartare), and red pepper sauce.


Korea’s Different Food Types

Did you know that Korea’s cuisine are divided into several types, each with their own influences?

Buddhist Cuisine

Since Buddhism was introduced into Korea, Buddhist traditions have strongly influenced Korean cuisine. Korean temple cuisine originated in Buddhist temples of Korea. What types of food originate at the temples? A bowl of cooked glutinous rice (called chalbap), fried dessert (called yakgwa), and fried and puffed rice snack (called yumilgwa ) were served at the Buddhist altars during the Silla period (57 BC – 935 AD). During the Goryeo Dynasty, wraps made with lettuce together with yaksik, and yakgwa spread to China and other countries. Since the Joseon Dynasty, Buddhist cuisine has been established in Korea according to regions and temples.

Royal Court Cuisine

The cuisine of the monarchy is closely related to Korean temple cuisine. Then, when the royal court maids who were assigned to the royal kitchen became old, they had to leave the royal palace. Many entered Buddhist temples to become nuns. Hence, culinary techniques and recipes of the royal courts were integrated into Buddhist cuisine.

Vegetarian Cuisine

Even vegetarian cuisines are linked to Buddhist traditions from the Goryeo dynasty onwards. There are now many vegetarian restaurants in Korea which were historically local restaurants that are unknown to tourists. Most have buffets, with cold food, and vegetarian kimchi and tofu being the main features. Bibimbap is a common vegan dish. Menus change with seasons. The Korean tea ceremony, suitable for all vegetarians and vegans, began with Buddhist influences.

Ceremonial Food

Food is included in Korean family ceremonies, mainly based on the Confucian culture. The four family ceremonies – coming-of-age ceremony, wedding, funeral, and ancestral rite – are considered especially important and elaborately developed, influencing Korean life today. Ceremonial food has developed with variation across different regions. Ritual foods, for example, arranged by rows on the dinner table include rice, liquor, soup, vinegar and soy sauce (1st row); noodles, skewered meat, vegetable and fish dishes, and rice cake (2nd row); three types of hot soup, meat and vegetable dishes (3rd row); dried snacks, kimchi, and sweet rice drink (4th row); and variety of fruit (5th row).

Street Food

In South Korea, food may be purchased from street carts during the day, customers eating standing or have their food wrapped to take home. At night, streets are filled with small tents that sell inexpensive foods, drinks, and alcoholic beverages. Seasonal foods include hotteok, and bungeoppang, which are enjoyed in autumn and winter. Gimbap and tteokbokki are also very popular street food.

Merging Modern and Tradition in UW

Look out for us in the University district when you crave Korean food. Our selections have stood the test of time and come to you still with its traditions and historical significance.

Basics About Kimchi: A Practical Guide

Easy Facts Revealed About Kimchi

Kimchi is a huge part of Korean cuisine. In fact 64% of of South Koreans eat kimchi at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. The dish doesn’t come in just several variations, actually, there are more than 100 recipes for kimchi across north and south Korea. Traditionally made in autumn by families, it’s a way of preserving cabbage for the winter months. In its early days, kimchi is fermented by sealing it in big jars and then burying them in the ground. Some families in Korea still do that today.

For a quick study, here are the basics of kimchi. First, what are its common ingredients? Kimchi is typically made from fresh cabbage that’s been chopped and submerged in a salty brine with flavourings such as onions, garlic, fish sauce and a Korean chili powder called Gochugaru. Where does it color come from? The Gochugaru gives kimchi its bright red color, but doesn’t add too much heat. It gives an earthy, sweet and peppery flavor.

Kimchi is fermented. After the flavorings are added, the mixture is sealed to allow bacteria to feed on the sugars; sometimes bacteria is added to the mixture using a prepared ‘starter’ culture. How long do you wait before you eat it? It’s ready to eat – after two to four days of fermenting, when the cabbage becomes softer and the kimchi acquires its distinctive sour-fizzy taste. Then you can store it in the fridge to be enjoyed for months.

Why are there so many variations of kimchi?

Because that depends on regional specialties. Some add raw oysters, boiled eggs and tiny fresh shrimp to the mixture, while others replace the cabbage with other leafy vegetables or cucumbers. When you tasted a family’s kimchi, you would know where in the country they were from. Where is kimchi popular? While the Korean peninsula is considered the home of kimchi, it’s also produced and enjoyed in Japan and China, and more recently around the world.

Kimchi today is readily more available commercially, in supermarkets and grocery stores. Even in Korea now, many people in the big cities, they buy their kimchi instead of making it. Manufactured kimchi has now become very good, and there’s not too much difference with the kimchi that is made at home. It is best though to buy kimchi that has been kept refrigerated, to ensure its living bacteria have not been sterilized. Bacteria is important for flavor and for its health benefits for the gut.

Kimchi at Korean Tofu House

If you’re around UW in Seattle, visit the Korean Tofu House. We’ve got your favorites on our menu – all the Korean classic dishes you love.