Signature Dishes : Bibimbap
Bibimbap is a popular Korean dish. The name literally means either "mixed meal" or "mixed rice," since the word for rice ("bap") is synonymous with the word for meal.
It's served as a bowl with rice, a variety of regional and seasonal vegetables (collectively called "namul") and Korean chile paste ("gojuchang"). Sometimes a little bit of beef or bulgogi is added, or it can be made with raw fish and lettuce, tofu, or any combination of ingredients. Often it's topped with a raw or fried egg and all of the ingredients are mixed together before eating.
Bibimbap is said to have arose from "jesa," a traditional ceremony in which Koreans honor their ancestors. The ceremony is usually held on the anniversary of the deceased and on the Lunar New Year ("Sol") and during the fall Harvest Festival ("Chuseok"). Included on the ceremonial table are a variety of foods, wine and rice that are offered ritualistically to the ancestors. Koreans believe that by eating everything from the ceremonial table, they could receive the blessing of the ancestors.
A little bit of each of the vegetables was added to the bowl. Then, gochujang was added to impart a bit more flavor and spice. Thus, bibimbap was born.
Despite it's auspicious beginning, bibimbap is a common dish found in daily meals in modern Korea and around the world.
There are of course regional variations. The most famous of these is Jeonju bibimbap, which is said to be a derivation of the recipe from the royal court. Their bibimbap contains bean sprouts and eggs. The city in the North Jeolla Province is so proud of their dish that they even have a festival for it, held every October in the traditional village.
Another variation, called "dolsot" bibimbap, is served in a hot stone bowl. A raw egg is added at the table because the egg cooks in the hot bowl as you eat it. The rest of the ingredients continue to cook in this hot dish, so that the rice gets a nice and crispy brown on the bottom.
A different variation of bibimbap, called "hwedeopbap" is made from a variety of raw fish and seafood. The dish is popular along the coastal towns of Korea where the fisherman bring in the freshest catch from the sea to your bowl. It's usually served with hot rice, but cold fish, lettuce and other chilled vegetables, all mixed up with a seasoned gochujang.
However you like your bibimbap, it's easy to make it at home. It can be made with any number of leftover vegetables, or just a mixture of what's in season, like sautéed zucchini, mushrooms, spinach, soybean sprouts, carrots, lettuce, julienned cucumber and even little strips of roasted seaweed ("gim"). You can put in pieces of chicken, beef or even tofu. Go ahead and add a fried egg if you like and season it with a bit of sesame oil and a dollop of chile paste to taste. Voila! You have a one-bowl meal that's both delicious and nutritious.