By Tatiana Pietrzak
Bibimbap is a traditional ethnic dish of Korea that has now made itself known around the world. In fact, it has made its way into military combat rations and space food. Korean Air began serving it in the 1990’s and it has become one of their most desired dishes, Bibim means mixed vegetables and bap or bop means rice. It usually also includes a raw or fried egg and some sliced meat. It is very low fat and nutritional as well as beautiful in presentation depending on the cook that prepares it.
One theory of its origin is that rural Koreans used leftover vegetables and meat (if available) on top of rice to get rid of what they had before it spoiled. Others claim that it was eaten on New Year’s Eve as a way of clearing away old things and starting off with a clean slate. Yet another theory is that it was a way to consume leftovers after ceremonies to the mountain and village gods. There was also the Donghak peasant uprising in 1894 when the lack of bowls necessitated a simple communal meal.
Most likely, Bibimbap has been around for at least 1000 years since variations of it can be found all over Korea. Jeonju, Jinju and Tongyeong are especially famous for their varieties. Common ingredients include julienned (thinly sliced) cucumbers, zucchini, mushrooms, radish, spinach and soybean sprouts. Vegetarian versions include tofu and leaf lettuce. Beef is usually added but can be substituted with chicken or seafood. There are many regional, seasonal and class variations. For example, raw sprouts can be used in spring whereas summer has kimchi (fermented vegetables) on barley instead of rice.
To eat Bibimbap, mix all the ingredients together. Add as much chili paste (or gochujang) and soy sauce as desired. South Koreans also add sesame or perilla oil and sesame seeds to the mix. Don’t be afraid to use a spoon. Chopsticks are not always necessary with Bibimbap!