This is why Seoul's soul food is Bibimbap

Move over laksa, see you poke. With oodles of protein and vegetables, and stacks of flavour, there is good reason why this hearty meal in a bowl is a South Korean classic.

South Korea's very own Bibimbap is taking the foodie world by storm.
  • Rachel Gray
  • August 2019

It has brought us the good-gut food craze kimchi and seriously delicious Korean barbecue but South Korea’s most famous culinary showstopper just might be this hearty, healthy dish.

What is bibimbap?

Pronounced “bee-beem-bap”, this dish of rice typically topped with sautéed vegetables like shiitake mushrooms, zucchini, bean sprouts and carrots and thinly sliced beef is comfort in a bowl. It’s finished with soy sauce, gochujang chilli paste (or sometimes a fermented soybean paste called doenjang) and a raw or fried egg that you mix into the dish before taking that first bite.

How is it made?

There are various types of bibimbap but commonly, mixed ingredients like those listed above are cooked up separately and arranged over rice in a hot stone bowl called a dolsot. The bowl is heated to piping-hot in an oven before being transferred to a gas stove top and lined with oil. The extra heat gives the rice placed at the bottom that nice crispy crunch. Yangpun bibimbap on the other hand is served in a brass or stainless bowl usually big enough for two or more.

How do you eat it?

With stainless steel chopsticks (in Korea, they are more popular than wooden ones) and a spoon. Mix the ingredients together well, then use your chopsticks to heap the food onto your spoon. Wait for it to cool slightly (it’s hot!) and enjoy.

Mix all the ingredients together to combine the yummy flavours.
Mix all the ingredients together to combine the yummy flavours.

What’s the modern twist?

Throw out the beef for an all-vegan version, complete with spinach, bean sprouts, tofu and strips of seaweed.

What’s its story?

Thought to have evolved from a dish called goldongban, dating back to the 14th century, over the years bibimbap has been the lunch of kings, the snack of farmers, offered to ancestral spirits during Jesa ceremonies (a kind of memorial) and shared among family and friends.

What does it go with?

Pair your bibimbap with soju – a clear distilled spirit typically made from rice and grains. It’s the most popular alcoholic drink in South Korea. Throw in a side dish of kimchi and some K-pop beats playing in the background.