Let’s eat Bibimbap 비빔밥!

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Author: Mar Montiel-Cerón

You’ve seen it in K-dramas full of color and personality, as a unique food whose presence on the Korean table is a must. It’s Bibimbap 비빔밥! One of the most popular and healthy dishes in Korea. In this blog, I invite you to discover more about its history, composition, and some of its health benefits. So make yourself comfortable and bring your favorite fruit while you enjoy learning about this Korean delicacy.

I recommend you check out MBLAQ’s “Bibimbap Musical”, which is a blast!

Taken from Pinterest

Bibimbap means “mixed rice with meat and assorted vegetables”. A dish served in a bowl with hot white rice topped with namul 나물 (sautéed and seasoned vegetables), seasoned with gochujang 고추장 (chili paste) and soy sauce or doenjang 된장 (fermented soybean paste). Endless variations of this dish can be made according to dietary preferences and needs (e.g., bibimbap from microgreens, which are home-grown edible plants) and also according to the plate or bowl in which it is served (e.g., bibimbap dolsot and bibimbap yangpun). The most traditional and authentic versions of bibimbap are made with raw beef and egg yolk. However, some prefer to make it with fully cooked ingredients. As a result, we get a dish with a great variety of combinations and flavors. Thus, bibimbap is one of the Korean dishes enjoyed equally by Koreans and international Korean food enthusiasts.

Taken from Pinterest

About the origin of bibimbap, we find that it has a unique background, and the research on its beginning has divided it into two theories.

First Theory

It is possible that people tried to find a way to make a delicious meal by eating namul (and other types of vegetables) beyond the traditional style of food and created a dish that had vegetables, rice, and meat (if available), mixed with gochujang in a bowl. This made it possible to share with everyone afterwards, thus increasing fellowship among family members or peers.

Second Theory

It may have been created when there was insufficient time or space for a traditional classic meal. According to this theory, two historical references support the idea. The first is “People’s Unofficial Story of Jeonju” (全州野史), which mentions that Jeonju bibimbap was for the provincial office officials, the head of Nongak samulnori (a genre of traditional percussion folk music), and dignitary guests at a party, this suggests that bibimbap was a popular dish among wealthy and high-ranking officials. The second reference is “Lannokgi” (蘭綠記), where it is written that bibimbap was created by farmers’ wives for their husbands who did not have enough time to have a traditional Korean meal served with rice and side dishes; by putting it all in one bowl, it was easier and quicker to consume.

Based on the above, it can be assumed that bibimbap originated in the Korean culture of Bapsang 밥상, which is eating rice with various side dishes.

Taken from Pinterest

Now let’s talk about the characteristics of bibimbap. This dish consists of three essential and fundamental parts, which are:

  1. The base of cooked warm white rice. 
  2. The toppings included namul, nuts, meat, and much more. 
  3. Condiments like soy sauce, gochujang, and doenjang, among others. 

Thus, everyone can select the ingredients to use according to their preferences or nutritional needs, and create a delicious dish. On the other hand, the varieties of bibimbap are determined by the ingredients used in the preparation, the province of origin, and the sauce used. Some of the most common types are mentioned below.

Based on toppings

Different varieties of bibimbap are made depending on the ingredients used. Dolsot bibimbap 돌솥 비빔밥, uses a stone pot for cooking, sanchae bibimbap 산채 비빔밥, is the vegetarian version, yeolmu bibimbap or bori-yeolmu bibimbap 보리열무 비빔밥 is made with young summer radish kimchi. There is also nakji-bokkeum bibimbap 낙지볶음 비빔밥, which is made with stir-fried octopus, and, finally, meonggae bibimbap 멍게 비빔밥, which is made with sea squirt.

Based on sauces and seasonings

The sauces for each type of bibimbap are fundamental, as they determine its flavor and make the dish very different or even something new. In traditional bibimbap gochujang is the main sauce, but doenjang and cheonggukjang are two other sauces commonly used. Among the seasonings are perilla and sesame oil, bean sprout soup broth, and vinegar. The use of each one is determined by the ingredients, family traditions, and the area where it is prepared. Thus, the sauces used reveal the historical, geographical, and cultural characteristics of Korea and its people.

Another type of bibimbap that is common, and we should mention it, is yangpun bibimbap 양푼 비빔밥, the one that appears in K-dramas and is eaten in a large brass bowl with a spoon. This is used to express sadness or stress, as we can see in the typical scene when the protagonist wears a loose and comfortable t-shirt, with her hair pulled back in a carefree way.

Taken from Instagram by _food_diary_16

Regarding its health benefits, one of the main ones is its effect against metabolic diseases, since bibimbap has different variations depending on the ingredients used. By having rice (carbohydrates), vegetables (fiber, vitamins, and minerals), meat (protein), and fermented foods, such as chili and soybean paste (probiotics), it becomes a balanced and nutritionally complete preparation. In addition, the health benefits increase according to the ingredients used. Some examples are the hypoglycemic effect of soybean sprouts and the anti-inflammatory effect of the Chinese mushroom, among many others.

Also, it is worth mentioning that the ingredients of bibimbap form the flavor harmony of five colors and five flavors, based on the theory of the five elements of yin-yang. Where the colors green, red, yellow, white, and black are associated with the health of different parts of the body, like the liver, heart, stomach, lungs, and kidneys.

Taken from Pinterest

Bibimbap is without a doubt an unmissable dish of Korean gastronomy. It has flavor, harmony, colorimetry, and adaptability to the different tastes and needs of everyone. When you try it, remember to mix all the ingredients with a spoon, and if you can, share it with someone. 

If you liked the blog, do not forget to share it, and let me know in the comments what kind of bibimbap you would like to try. See you next time! 💗

Reader pair: Nathalia Millán 

Reviewed by: Luisa Quintero

References

My Korean Kitchen. (enero 3, 2022). Bibimbap (Korean Mixed Rice with Meat and Assorted Vegetables). Bibimbap (Korean Mixed Rice with Meat and Assorted Vegetables) – My 

Cha, YS. (2018). Bibimbap as a Balanced Ine-Dish Meal. En KY, Park. DY, Kwon. KW, Lee, y S. Park (Eds.). Korean Functional Foods (1ra ed., pp 421-436). Taylor & Francis Group. https://books.google.es/books?hl=es&lr=&id=Uj4PEAAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA421&dq=bibimbap&ots=o7Y0ZZVi2-&sig=meg_3JeINP3x58lYXtuMOceE1no#v=onepage&q=bibimbap&f=false

My Korean Kitchen. (septiembre 4, 2017). Yangpun Bibimbap. Yangpun Bibimbap – My Korean Kitchen

Chung, KR., Yang, HY., Jang, DJ., y Kwon, DY. (2015). Historical and biological aspects of bibimbap, a Korean ethnic food. Journal of Ethnics Foods. 2 (2015), 74-83. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jef.2015.05.002

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