Food Fables: Bi Bim Bap

I began planning this on-going series a couple months ago, but only now got up the gumption to begin it.  I hope to learn to cook some Korean foods and share them with you in the process.  In my head I was calling it the Kimchi Chronicles.  Turns out that is also the title of a Korean food show on PBS.  It is supposed to be a good show, but I can’t help but feel a little resentful that they somehow used their Jedi mind tricks to steal my awesome title from inside my brain.  Maybe the episode with Hugh Jackman will help me get over it.  Maybe not.  Harrumph.

I consider food to be a very important part of a culture.  The history behind how a food came to be, the customs that surround a meal at a family home, the foods themselves in their richness or simplicity… it amazes me how different meals can look from a distance, and how similar they are when you look closely.

I’ve been enjoying Korean food for awhile now, but I finally took the plunge; this is my first foray into preparing it myself.

A few things held me back… First and foremost, well, there’s always that pesky language problem.  How do I order meat at the butcher shop?  Oh, that’s easy.  I can just look that up in my dictionary.  (But as soon as I say something in Korean, the friendly locals just start rattling off in Korean right back at me. Smile, nod, shake my head, look confused, glance furtively around for some sort of contextual clue as to what the heck they are talking about, do an embarrassing version of charades, smile, nod…  Sometimes I am tempted to pretend I don’t know anything at all.)

But let’s get back to the food.  Today I decided to forget all my reservations and jump right in.

Time to make bi bim bap.  It is pronounced bee-bim-bop, and I imagine some of you may be confused.  If there is a completely different alphabet system, why not just spell it the way it sounds in English?  It turns but there are rules for the Romanization of words here, so out of respect for the culture I try as much as possible to follow them when writing.

But back to the food.  Again.  Bap is rice.  Bi bim essentially means “mixed up.”  Hence, bi bim bap is Korean for “mixed up rice.”  It is a homestyle food, but unique enough to be famous worldwide.

Do you want to know where I got my recipe for bi bim bap?

That’s right.  It’s a picture book.  Given to us before we moved by our totally awesome Korean-American friends: Judy, Daniel, Annabel, and Priscilla.  (You guys rock and we miss you!)

At the back of the book there is a recipe.  I tried to follow it as closely as possible, but it is almost impossible for me not to alter a recipe in one way or another.  Just ask my dear husband.  I’m pretty sure he secretly wishes that for once, just once, I would cook a meal following the EXACT recipe.  Poor guy.  Somebody should have warned him that the combined Spencer traits of hippie-ness and an intensely competitive spirit do not bode well in the kitchen for a guy who grew up on white bread.

Once again, back to the food.  Oy.  Why can’t I stay on topic today?

Here is the basic formula.  

Marinade thinly sliced beef called bulgogi (you can also use very thinly sliced sirloin tip) in a combination of sesame oil, sugar, soy sauce, green onions, sesame seeds.

Make some rice.  Mine is soaked/sprouted brown rice, but white is what the recipe called for.  I warned you… (In my defense, soaked brown rice takes on the sticky consistency of white rice.)

Stir fry some carrots and the bulgogi separately.  Steam spinach and bean sprouts.

Scramble some eggs and make a thin egg pancake.  After cooking, roll the egg pancake and slice.

Serve with rice in the middle.  Top the rice with some of the bulgogi sauce.  Arrange all the ingredients around the rice on a bowl or plate.

Then “bi bim” everything together.

We used seaweed to eat it, only because our kids have fond memories of their friend Annabel eating her rice with seaweed.

Enjoy with your family!

We had kimchi on the side and Kevin and I added a slightly spicy red bean sauce called ssamjang to our bi bim bap.  Chal mogo seumnida!  (I ate well!)


  1. Oh, I can’t wait for more of this series! I love, love, love hearing about different foods!