It’s been about a decade since I discovered the genius meal that is bibimbap, a medley of vegetables and meat artfully arranged over rice with a raw or fried egg on top, garnished with hot chili paste. Having enjoyed and cooked countless variations since, I can’t help but wonder why there’s no real equivalent outside of Korea. Most Japanese restaurants throw together a solid chirashi don, a variety of raw fish over sushi rice, occasionally topped with a quail egg. But Korea has that too, known as hoedeopbap (harder to pronounce but just as tasty). I thought of comparing it to Vietnamese pho, with its accompanying platter of assorted garnish, but pho is soup, not a rice bowl, and I’d like to get out of Asia at some point anyway. Chipotle’s burrito bowl, maybe?
If you’ve never tried Korean food, bibimbap is the way to go. Food Republic’s dating columnist Jason Kessler put it best, on choosing a restaurant to meet his girlfriend’s parents: “Ask [her dad] if he likes steak and eggs. (Of course he does.) What about rice? (Everyone likes rice.) Well Bobby Boy, that’s bibimbap and no, it’s not a new dance craze.”
It’s true — if you like the abovementioned components, there’s no reason not to mix them all together (seeing as bibimbap translates to “mixed rice”). Raw egg creep you out a little? Ask them to fry it — there’s no better sauce in the world for delicious meat bathed in Korean marinade or sauteed veggies of any kind than warm egg yolk. Some things are simply universal like that.
Typical of a traditional Korean dining experience, which incorporates many small plates into one big-picture meal, the individual components of bibimbap presented together in one bowl is a centuries-old nod to the modern trend of deconstructed plates. If you can find a Korean restaurant, bibimbap is on your horizon. Go ahead, mix it up.