** update: the "recipe" for each of the individual ingredients in bibim-bahp is here: some silly little guidelines **
Koreans make food so difficult. The Chinese can get dinner on the table as fast as Bruce Lee’s fists of fiery fury – just throw some vegetables and meat into a wok and stirfry – the hotter and faster, the better. Japanese food can be just as fast, too. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be cooked. A little oval of rice with a piece of raw fish and sushi is done. But Koreans? It’s long. It’s slow. It’s messy. Every single ingredient has a different preparation. Just look at all the tiny little dishes, bahn-chan, on a Korean dinner table. Marinate overnight. Ferment for weeks. If I had to cook Korean food every night, I wouldn’t be eating until Wednesday.
So I exaggerate; but only a little. I’ve known the labor of love that is Korean food for a long time – ever since squatting on my hind quarters on the kitchen floor watching my mom stuff red pepper and spices between every leaf on heads of Napa cabbage, shoving the cabbages down into a giant jar, and putting it in the fridge to ferment, or the nicer way to say it, ripen, for several days. Of course, now she doesn’t ever have to worry about that semi-permanent red tinge around her nails or the faint smell of garlic and red pepper on her skin. She can just buy a jar of kimchee at Kaju Market for $12.99.
In fact, we can buy almost anything at Kaju market or any one of the many independent and chain Korean markets in the LA and Orange County areas. Bulgogee and galbee is already cooked, or if we at least want the satisfaction of cooking, we can buy the marinated raw meat. Where American markets have salad bars, Korean markets have bahn-chan bars, set up the same way, allowing customers to pack little plastic boxes of whatever bahn-chan was freshly (or even not-so-freshly) made that day. Geem-bahp (also known as futomaki in Japanese), bean-dae dduk (mung bean pancakes), dduk-bok-gee (spicy pan sauteed rice cakes). It’s all so wonderfully convenient. Not always tasty, since nothing ever beats homemade, but close enough.
One of the things that my mom loves is bibim-bahp, which literally translates to "mixed rice." Bibim-bahp is a serving of rice with any number of seasoned vegetables, meat, and usually an egg placed on top. The person eating it adds ggoh-choo-jahng, spicy Korean red pepper paste to her own taste, and then proceeds to mix it all together in the bowl. Many restaurants also serve dolsot-bibim-bahp, the same mixed rice, but served in a dolsot, hot stone pot, rather than a regular bowl. The hot stone pot develops a crunchy rice crust around the bottom. When my mom found almost-ready-made bibim-bahp at the market, she was thrilled. Everything, even the ggoh-choo-jahng, is included – just add rice, and a fried egg if you’re so inclined.
Bibim-bahp is not difficult to make in terms of cooking skill, but requires quite a bit of time to prepare each of the vegetables. Inevitably, it also ends up messing up lots of pots, pans, utensils, and plates. It’s labor-intensive, and that’s why we almost never make it at home from scratch. But I am digging for my roots these days, and decided to make it myself. Plus, it was good a way to get to know the vegetable farmers at the farmers market.
Bibim-bahp is one of those dishes that is left for interpretation by whomever is cooking it. Traditionally, bibim-bahp has either kong namul or sook-joo namul (both are types of bean sprouts), dahng-geun (carrots), gosari (fernbraken), moo (white radish), shi-geum-chee namul (spinach), and ho-bahk (zucchini). There’s protein, which is usually the same marinated beef as bulgogi, but could also be ground beef, chicken or even tofu. I like lots of vegetables, and if I had my own way every time, I’d just put zucchini and spinach in there. But it wasn’t just for me, so I added some of the traditional things, too. I was feeling very low-carb, so for myself, I mixed everything up on crumbled tofu instead of rice. Bibim-doo-boo :)
The detailed ingredients of each vegetable would take me about fiv
e pages too long, so I’ll leave them out for now, but if you’re so inclined to eat bibim-bahp at home, email me. I’ll send you my recipe. Or at least the address of the closest Korean market that sells bibim-bahp pre-made :)