An experiment in the kitchen is a blessing in disguise
[FOOD & KOREA] Meonggae bibimbap (Mixed rice with sea squirt)
|Meonggae bibimbap. Provided by Korea Tourism Organization|
If Peking duck is the signature food of Beijing, China, and kebabs stand out as the cuisine of Bursa, Turkey, then the dish Geoje Island in South Gyeongsang is best known for is its meonggae bibimbap, or sea squirt mixed with rice.
Meonggae bibimbap is a variation on traditional Korean bibimbap, which is usually rice mixed with vegetables and meat and seasoned with hot pepper paste.
The dish originated at the Baek Man Seong Restaurant on Geoje Island. One afternoon in the 1990s, a tourist from Japan visited a small restaurant near the city hall on the island. He ordered a bowl of rice topped with sea cucumber intestines.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for us, the kitchen was short on sea cucumbers that day. In a sudden act of consternation, the chef replaced the main ingredient with salted sea squirt, or jeotgal, and brought it out to the table, feeling perplexed and apologetic. To the surprise of the anxious chef, the tourist gave it a thumbs up and exclaimed it was better than his original order.
The success of the dish is a boon for experimentation. Meonggae bibimbap is now a popular dish and the restaurants that serve it are now a common sight in tourist areas.
Meonggae has been enjoyed by Geoje Island dwellers for a long time, especially in its salted form as meonggae jeotgal. If eaten raw, the dish has a piquant sweetness. To make it, the meonggae is cut into pieces, mixed with condiments and marinated for some time at a low temperature.
Sea squirts are abundant from April to June on the southern coast, especially off of the Geoje shore. During that time, the people of Geoje make enough jeotgal so that it can be eaten year round.
Meonggae bibimbap is easy to make and can be served in minutes. The steamed rice topped with dried seaweed and sesame oil mingled with the half-frozen meonggae jeotgal is a refreshing summer dish from the sea.
By Yim Seung-hye Contributing writer [email@example.com]