Jeonju claims bibimbap as the hometown dishYou can find bibimbap ― mixed rice with vegetables and meat ― in just about any neighborhood in the country.
But the citizens of Jeonju are proud to call bibimbap, one of the most popular Korean dishes, “the city’s regional food.” Indeed, the tradition of bibimbap in Jeonju is rooted in the region’s abundant soil that nurtures top quality vegetables.
There are seven restaurants in Jeonju that have been officially designated by the city government as bibimbap specialty restaurants.
Stories about the origins of bibimbap vary. Some people say the dish was first made in temples where there were not enough bowls to serve individual dishes. Monks mixed everything in one bowl.
Others say the food started as royal cuisine as lunch for the king. Then there are people who say the tradition of bibimbap began with farmers needing a convenient way to eat their meals in the fields.
Whatever the reason, you now can easily spot bibimbap restaurants in Jeonju. A few by the government office building in North Jeolla province sell “authentic bibimbap,” with some restaurants more than 50 years old.
Seongmidang, tucked in the alley leading to Jeonju’s post office, is known for serving bibimbap in brass bowls.
The restaurant is now run by the daughter of an 80-year-old woman who started it. The secret of their recipe lies with the rice, which comes pre-mixed in the kitchen on a bed of sesame oil and chili paste.
In a brass bowl, they place mixed rice with 20 different ingredients including steamed bracken, bean sprouts, raw beef marinated with sugar and sesame, mushrooms and dropwort.
It is served with a separate bowl of chili paste and sesame oil, and customers can add extra sauce as they wish. To maintain the fine texture, though, the restaurant chef encourages customers to use chopsticks rather than a spoon.
by Jang Dae-seok