I took a savoury trip safely to Korea thanks to the Internet, Bon Appetit, and a small Korean supermarket I found in Ottawa not far from my house. My mission: to cook Bibimbap, literally 'bibim' (mixed) and 'bap' (rice).
I researched, I shopped, I prepped (a lot!), I cooked, I hummed "put 'em together and what have you got... bibimbap-ity, bibimbap-ity, bibimbap-ity-doo") And then I ate .... a feast of noodles (not rice), beef bulgogi, and a variety of vegetable 'mix-ins'. The dish has endless variations, and can easily be made vegetarian-friendly.
Origins of Bibimbap
As I researched, it was clear there was centuries of thought behind this dish, with careful attention to taste, harmony, balanced appearance and healthy, umami eating.
The ingredients are chosen based on the 'ying' and 'yang' and the Five Elements Principle:
--- Rice (sweet)
--- Chungjang (salt)
--- Sesame Oil (savoury)
--- Gochujang (spicy)
--- Kongnamul (bitter)
Vegetable mix-ins can be your choice but should be blanched, lightly sateed and seasoned. Try to follow the colour wheel and umami principles: dark green spinach, orange julienned carrot, white daikon radish, red bell pepper, mushrooms, cucumber, bean sprouts, dried seaweed etc.
Legend has its that Bibimbap originated in Jeonju in South Korea, an important tourist centre for the best in Korean food. In 2011, in a CNN Travel poll, Bibimbap was listed at number 40 on the World's 50 most delicious foods. A version of Bibimbap, or a dish called Dolsot Bibimbap, is served in a very hot (hissing!) stone bowl in which the rice is cooked, then topped with vegetables, beef, egg and hot red pepper paste. The rice crisps up in the hot bowl and is part of the fun of the dish.
Its popularity continues to rise today as Western cultures discover the umami nature of the dish. At right is a photo of an event to showcase the dish. The bowl measures 2.5 m in diameter, contains 200 kg of rice and 10 kinds of vegetables -- enough to serve up to 1,000 people.
For the recipe I chose to use as a base -- from Bon Appetit -- there were two ingredients I needed from the local Korean supermarket -- Gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste) and Gochugaru (coarse Korean red pepper powder). I goggled 'Ottawa Korean supermarkets' and found it only several blocks away from my house. It is a small, run down, jumbled kindof place on Bank Street, not at a glance the type of store I'd explore on a whim. But it was quick and easy. I simply pointed to the photos of the ingredients I needed and I was out in five minutes.
Gochujang or Korean hot pepper paste is pictured at left.
The store carried medium strength, which was was perfect for my dish. It's obviously the Korean version of Sriracha but not nearly as hot. I've read it's rivalling Sriracha in popularity. It has my vote.
The other ingredient was Gochugaru (coarse Korean red pepper powder). The colour of deep red sprinkled lightly on vegetables gives a nice, pleasing appearance. Used lightly, it has only a very slight bite to it.
I added beef bulgogi to the dish for husband in particular. I've featured recipes for this in previous blog postings. The seasoning of soy and ginger on very lean beef adds a distinctive flavour to the dish. In this posting, I'm using the Bon Appetit version of beef bulgogi.
The final topping for the dish is an egg. Tradition is that it is a raw or very runny egg. I don't do raw so made a fried but still runny egg. Then assemble the rice or noodles in a bowl, top with vegetables and sauce, then the egg, admire how it looks, stir it all together and Bibimbap it is.
Plan ahead for this one, organize all ingredients beforehand, conscript the chopping helpers and enjoy! A savoury and safe trip to Korea. 'Bibim-bap-ity doo...'
(with recipes for some of my favourite vegey mix-ins)
Beef Bulgogi and Rice OR Noodles
1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce