Bibimbap is one of Korea’s most famous and widely eaten Korean dishes. It is loaded with vegetables, the egg provides some protein and the rice gives you a healthy dose of carbs.
In its most basic form bibimbap consists of:
- A variety of vegetables
- An egg, either raw or cooked
- Gochujang (red pepper paste)
There’s a tonne of variation, but we’ll get to that at the end.
A bit of background on Bibimbap
Bibim (비빔) is the Korean word for mixed and bap (밥) is the Korean word for rice (a useful word to know when you’re navigating a Korean menu!).
The first ingredient or layer of a bibimbap is steamed white rice.
A selection of individually cooked vegetables is then layered in a circle on top of the rice. There are loads of variations, but the traditional vegetables usually include bracken or fernbreak, bell flower root, spinach, bean sprouts, zucchini or cucumber and carrots. Because these vegetables are all popular side dishes, this makes bibimbap the perfect way to use up leftovers in the Korean kitchen.
An egg is then added on top of the vegetables. It can be raw but quite often it’s lightly fried. I prefer the egg when it’s in the hot stone bowl that I’ll talk about in the variations.
And the final and essential component is a good dollop of gochujang. Gochujung is red pepper paste and is the ingredient that gives so many Korean foods their deep earthy red color and spicy flavor.
Bonus Tip: If you don’t want the egg (you might be vegan, plant based or just not a fan of eggs!). You can say ‘kaeran bae ju-say-o’. There’s many ways to ask for no egg, but this has always worked for us and is an easy phrase to remember. Kaeran = egg, bae = don’t, jusayo = please give.
How to find a Bibimbap restaurant in Korea
Maybe, like me, you’re keen to try bibimbap as soon as possible. But, frustratingly, I couldn’t find it anywhere. I remember friends back home saying, ‘of course you’ve tried bibimbap already’ and the answer was – NO! Then one day, when I was starving and couldn’t find anything familiar to eat, I walked into a little Korean café and tried to translate the menu as best I could. And there it was비빔밥! I realized that because bibimbap is a traditional home cooked Korean meal, the most common (and often the best) place to find bibimbap is in traditional Korean cafes.
These cafés are often run by an older couple, or several older women. They don’t look too fancy, but they serve amazing traditional Korean food. And the cost usually very low and the service can be very friendly (and sometimes a little bossy!).
Frequently, there will be pictures of bibimbap on the windows of the cafes, which is a great help for travelers. So, keep a look out as you’re walking around. It’s also a staple at department store food courts (usually located in the basement floor) which helpfully have English translations of the menus. Also, many of these cafes are open 24 hours to cater for late night workers. So if you see a restaurant with the number 24 on it, it’s quite likely that it will serve bibimbap. That may sound a bit weird, but you’ll know what I mean when you see it. The 24 was somewhat of a beacon for me before I could read much Korean. I always knew I was going to get good home style Korean food there.
When there’s no English, here’s what to look for: 비빔밥 or for the stone pot version 돌솥비빔밥.
You’ve found the restaurant, now let’s eat Bibimbap!
The most imparting part of eating bibimbap is the mixing Not just a little stirring, but a very thorough mixing! Use the provided spoon and make sure every bit of rice and vegetable is mixed with the red pepper gochujang sauce.
Usually it will come with the red pepper sauce already added, but if not, just scoop however much you want out and plop it on to.
If you’ve ordered the stone pot bibimbap, make sure you leave a small layer of rice on the bottom because this will continue to cook in the sizzling oil and become really crispy and you don’t want to miss out on that!
Other than mixing, the only thing left to do is eat! You can feel free to eat bibimbap with your spoon. It’s in fact very traditional to eat bibimbap with a spoon, so you don’t need to battle all those little grains of rice with your chopsticks on this one.
Bibimbap will almost always come with a bowl of miso soup. You can enjoy this separately, but if you think your bibimbap is too dry, you can add a little soup to it.
Well, that’s it! I hope you enjoy bibimbap, comment below if you’ve tried it and how you found it.
Variations to look out for
There are so many, and to be honest you can make it at home yourself anyway you like. But here’s two favourites to look out for:
Dol Sot Bibimbap is by far my favourite. It’s basically the same as above but is served in a sizzling hot stone pot. There is a layer of sesame oil in the bottom of the pot that makes the rice go crispy and gives a delicious sesame flavour. You can usually get this anywhere you can buy plain bibimbap and it costs about $1 more. Check out my video for the stone pot bibimbap!
Jeonju Bibimbap. Jeonju is famous for bibimbap. This is apparently the birthplace of the dish and its so popular there, they even have a bibimbap festival! The main difference is that the rice is cooked in beef broth, giving it a deeper, more savory flavor. Marinated beef is added underneath the egg. If you can’t travel to Jeonju, you will be able to find this variation elsewhere, particularly in Seoul.
You can check out our article on eating bulgogi in Korea.