If it’s not Jeonju-style, then it isn’t bibimbap

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If it’s not Jeonju-style, then it isn’t bibimbap

Having spent the weekend in Jeonju, North Jeolla province, for the international film festival, I think I’m finally eligible to write about bibimbap. It’s the town’s specialty, and I had it at almost every single meal. Whenever I hopped into a taxi and asked to be taken to a quality restaurant, I wound up at a bibimbap place. Jeonju (all of Jeolla, in fact) is known for its gourmets, so I didn’t protest.
Not that Jeonju is the only place to enjoy it, of course. One of Korea’s most beloved (and wholesome) dishes, bibimbap ― rice mixed with assorted vegetables and meat ― is easy to cook at home. One of the many stories about bibibamp’s origins is that it began as a way to use up the leftovers on New Year’s Eve and start the year with a clean cupboard. Other stories say it was once royal cuisine.
During the World Cup, bibimbap was promoted as “Korea’s fast food,” because it can be made so easily. Savoring it at its most authentic, however, takes some preparation. In this sense, you could call bibimbap a traditional dish that’s rather poorly treated in the modern era.
In the Jeonju restaurants I visited that specialized in it, the bibimbap was indeed different from what you get in Seoul. The rice was cooked in gravy from cow’s bones, and topped with bean sprouts. With vegetables like mushrooms and spinach, the rice came in a glittering brass bowl or a sizzling stone pot. Rather than cooked meat, Jeonju’s version comes with raw and spiced beef, gingko nuts and pine nuts, and is topped with a raw egg yolk.
Mix this picture-perfect dish with pepper paste ― sauteed with meat beforehand, if you’re really attentive to detail ― and it’s ready to serve. If you use a hot stone pot, you can let it sizzle for a moment before mixing, to make the rice crunchier. You don’t really need side dishes with bibimbap, but it’s best with bean sprout soup and cooled mulgimchi, watery radish kimchi.

Ingredients: Rice, sagol (cow’s bones), pear juice, cheongju (Korean liquor), garlic, sesame oil, salt, sesame seeds, pine nuts, bean sprouts, spinach, gosari (fernbrake), green pumpkin, mushrooms, radish, cucumber, carrots, hwangpomuk (yellow lentil jelly), beef and eggs.

1. Mix sliced raw beef with pear juice and cheongju and leave it for one hour. Then mix it with garlic, sesame oil, sesame seeds and ground pine nuts.
2. Cook rice in cow bone gravy. When it comes to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and put a handful of bean sprouts on top. Once the bean sprouts are cooked, mix them in with the rice.
3. Parboil bean sprouts and other vegetables in boiling water with salt, and then cool them in cold water. Then mix them with sesame oil, salt, garlic and sesame seeds.
4. Salt down the sliced green pumpkin and panbroil with garlic, salt and sesame oil.
5. Slice mushrooms, mix them with sesame oil, garlic and sesame seeds and saute.
6. Shred the radish, cucumber and carrots, and slice the hwangpomuk.
7. Put the cooked rice in a big bowl. Put raw beef on top of the rice, surrounded by the vegetables. Then put a raw egg yolk on top of the beef.
8. Put the pepper paste in a separate bowl to go with your bibimbap, and it’s ready to serve. If you want to make it more special, top with gingko nuts, walnuts, chestnuts, pine nuts and gim (seaweed).

by Chun Su-jin
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