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Bibimbap: High-nutrition All-in-one Meal
Koo Chun-sur, Director, World Food Culture Research Institute
Bae Jae-hyung, Photographer
Lee Kyung, Food Stylist
Bibimbap contains all the nutrition that is needed for a complete meal. Moreover, it includes the added advantage of being adaptable to practically any recipe. Bibimbap is creative as well as unique in that its color and appearance will vary according to the ingredients used and the personal tastes of the preparer.

As ever more of the world has come to be highly developed, people's activities are now more diversified, while food culture has changed accordingly. One-dish foods that are easy to prepare and to clean up have thus become increasingly popular. For example, the sandwich invented by the English, the hamburger and hotdog popularized by the United States, and the curry-rice dishes of India, are favorites for their simplicity. In fact, it is said that the sandwich and hamburger were developed by accident. Meanwhile, Korea has a one-dish meal of its own: bibimbap.

Creative One-dish Meal

Bibimbap is simply a bowl of rice that is mixed with various kinds of vegetables, together with mushrooms, a fried egg, and ground meat, and seasoned with red chili pepper paste. A dribble of sesame oil can add to its savory taste. To foreign nationals who are not familiar with Korean food culture, the concept of bibim (mixing rice with side dishes) might seem somewhat obscure. The basic objective of bibimbap is to combine various ingredients with rice in order to create a harmony of contrasting tastes. A unique tasting bibimbap can be created depending on the particular recipe, ingredients added, season when it is prepared, and personal preferences of the preparer.

Every country is known for its representative foods, but variations can often be found in regard to their names. For instance, visitors to France are often perplexed by the endless variety of cheeses available, each with their own appearance and taste. I have been told that there are some 365 different varieties of cheese currently being produced in France.

Bibimbap, on the other hand, is very straightforward for foreigners since it goes by only one name. When a special ingredient is included, its name can be added to identify a particular type of bibimbap, such as kkot (flower) bibimbap. Sometimes, the name of a region is affixed to the front of bibimbap, such as Jeonju bibimbap, to make known its unique regional characteristics. Despite the fact that there are such modifications in the names of bibimbap, the extra ingredients never replace the basic items; they are simply supplemental additions. For example, soybean sprouts are an additional ingredient of Jeonju bibimbap.

Origins of Bibimbap

Siuijeonseo, a cookbook compiled in the late 1800s, includes the first-ever reference to bibimbap. In these records, bibimbap is also referred to as bubuimbap and goldongban. As gol means 'disorderly' and dong means 'mix,'goldong refers to thoroughly mixing different things together. Therefore, goldongban is a reference to rice combined with various side dishes or ingredients in a bowl.

A few of the theories or stories about the origin of bibimbap include the following. First, is the 'palace food theory.' A meal prepared for the king during the Joseon Dynasty was known as sura, while bibim was served as a light meal whenever the king's relatives visited the palace.

Second, is the 'meal for peasants during the farming season theory.' Although peasants would have to eat several daily meals during the farming season, it was difficult to have regular meals in the rice fields. As such, for convenience, the peasants would use a single bowl, in which rice was combined with side dishes.

Third, is the 'Donghak uprising theory.' When the Donghak uprising (a revolutionary movement led by peasants to protest the rampant corruption of government officials and the encroachment of foreign powers) broke out in the Gobu area of the Jeolla provinces in 1894, the Donghak peasant rebels were forced to mix their rice together with side dishes because of their lack of bowls and plates.

Lastly, there is the 'eumbok theory.'Eumbok refers to the tradition of eating the food offerings used during ancestral rites upon the conclusion of the ceremony. In doing so, people would place some of each food item into a bowl and then mix them together before eating.

Although we might never know which of these theories is true, these stories about its origins prove that bibimbap is indeed a traditional Korean creation, deeply rooted in our history and culture.

Preparing Bibimbap

The primary ingredient of bibimbap is rice, typically plain white rice, while the vegetables are prepared in advance. Red pepper paste is added for a spicy flavor, while a splash of sesame oil or perilla seed oil is included to enhance the bibimbap's savoriness. Lastly, a fried egg is added to balance the color and appearance of the dish, and to supplement its nutritional value.

Bibimbap seems like a simple meal to prepare. However, because it requires a number of different ingredients, it is actually one of the most difficult dishes to get just right. For truly great tasting bibimbap, a variety of ingredients are needed and thorough preparation should be made in advance. Nevertheless, bibimbap has the advantage of being a meal that, though simple in nature, is above all highly nutritious and healthy. Bibimbap is also an ideal choice for budget-minded families since a variety of ingredients are readily available year-round.

Bibimbap contains all the nutrition that is needed for a complete meal. Moreover, it includes the added advantage of being adaptable to practically any recipe. Bibimbap is creative as well as unique in that its color and appearance will vary according to the ingredients used and the personal tastes of the preparer.

Bae Jae-hyung, Photographer
Lee Kyung, Food Stylist

   Source: Koreana Summer 2004
  비빔밥 ( bibimbap ), Bibimbap (Rice Mixed with Vegetables and Beef) | Riz aux légumes et à la viande assaisonné d'huile de sésame et de pâte de piment (<i>bibimbap</i>)
  산채비빔밥 ( sanchae-bibimbap ), Bibimbap with Wild Vegetables | Riz aux légumes de montagne
  전주비빔밥 ( Jeonjubibimbap ), Jeonju-style Bibimbap | <i>Bibimbap</i> (riz au bœuf et aux légumes) à la mode de Jeonju
  돌솥비빔밥 ( dolsot-bibimbap ), Stone Pot Bibimbap | Cassolette de riz aux légumes et à la viande hachée
  육회돌솥비빔밥 ( yukhoe-dolsot-bibimbap ), Stone Pot Bibimbap with Beef Tartare | Cassolette de riz aux légumes et au bœuf cru assaisonné
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