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.