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Posted by shinshine

For someone like me who is not a big fan of salads, bibimbap is a delicious way to eat lots of vegetables.  I can hardly eat a couple of raw spinach leaves, but I’ll take a half bunch of spinach that’s quick-blanched and seasoned lightly with sesame oil and soy sauce, a typical ingredient of bibimbap, in one sitting.  The ingredients are easily adjustable, so I make a point to pack in vegetables I haven’t had in a while.

My favorite has always been bibimbap in stone pot (돌솥비빔밥; dol sot bi bim bap).  The hot stone pot keeps the content sizzling when it arrives at the table.  A major plus for this version is that the cooking lingers on to toast the rice coated in sesame oil on the bottom.  After eating the rice and vegetables mixed with gochujang (고추장; Korean hot pepper paste), the crispy rice on the bottom is like a dessert before dessert, a highlight of my bibimbap experience that is savored to the end.

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So – why not cut to the chase and get the vegetables and the crispy rice?

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To make a crispy rice crust) I cooked sweet rice (찹쌀; chap ssal) to maximize the contrast of stickiness on top and crispiness on the bottom.  Regular short grain rice can be also used.  Then I coated a hot cast iron pan with sesame oil.  After reducing heat to very low, I spread a thin layer of rice on the pan.  Then I just checked for the color on the bottom and turned the rice crust once in a while to even out the golden color.  It takes anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour depending on the thickness and the color desired.

One way to cut this rice crust is to do it in about 10 minutes after spreading the rice on the pan, when the round shape has been set (meaning, the rice moves as one big piece when you gently shake the pan) and the bottom starts getting some color.  Cut with a dough scraper in 6 or 8 pieces.  This is when it’s easiest to get a clean cut, after the shape has been set but before the bottom crust has become too crunchy.

When the crust is done, place your toppings of bibimbap or anything else you’d like to create.  There are plenty of bibimbap recipes on the internet these days, which involve cooking short-grain rice, cutting and cooking (sautéeing or blanching to bring out the best color and taste of) various vegetables of your choice and finishing with a sunny-side up egg and gochujang.  I thinned out gochujang with vinegar and water so that I could drizzle it, along with the essential egg yolk, over the rice.  An after-thought was quail eggs on individual pieces to make everyone equally happy, if it is served at a get-togehter.

I was so focused on putting together my favorite parts of bibimbap, I only noticed the obvious visual similiarity to a thin crust pizza afterwards – which is another food I like.  As much as bibimbap has evolved to reflect seasonality and regional specialties and represents an aspect of Korean food – well-balanced, delicious, healthy meal – this crispy version of mine is probably reflecting a certain aspect of myself.

DID YOU KNOW?
How did bibimbap start?
Although bibimbap appears to have been documented for the first time in a cookbook written in the late 1800’s, I found several stories of how this dish might have come about, including- a simple meal or lunch served to kings

– simple meals served to kings in times of war away from the palace

– meals delivered and served on site during busy rice farming seasons

– custom of having bibimbap on New Year’s Eve to symbolize finishing food from the past year and prepare new food to celebrate the New Year

– Shin In Gong Shik (신인공식;神人共食) – one particular story that seems to carry a bit more weight than others is the custom of sharing food with everyone after memorial services for ancestors.  This is based on Shin In Gong Shik, which can be translated into ‘sharing food between gods and humans.’  Especially for the services away from home, delivery of proper plates was limited, which led to various kinds of food in one bowl per person.
The importance of this should be placed on how people shared food in accordance with Shin In Gong Shik.  The concept of sharing food is an important part of Korean culture which can be a topic on its own.  I believe this is also the concept that the New York Times advertising on bibimbap meant to address among other things.  It was unfortunate that the intent of introducing bibimbap was blundered by the awkward text.
KOREAN WORDS
mixed 비빔 (bi bim)
rice (cooked) (bap)
spinach 시금치 (shi geum chi)
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