Homestyle Bibimbap

Homestyle Bibimbap

Overhead view of bibimbap
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

One could argue that there’s no single dish that more fully encompasses traditional Korean cuisine than bibimbap. Literally a combination of the Korean words bibim (mixing) and bap (rice), bibimbap comes in many varieties and involves mixing together rice with different side dishes (banchan) that are cooked separately—it’s a complex, millennium-old tradition defined by eating rice with multiple side dishes concentrated into a single bowl. And because you could, hypothetically, mix rice with any combination of toppings both at home and in restaurants, there isn’t one universal recipe for bibimbap, nor is there a right or wrong way to make it.

Gif of bibimbap bowl being assembled
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

This recipe gives instructions for bibimbap that’s topped with ground beef and individual banchan of carrot, squash, radish kimchi, spinach, mushrooms, and fried eggs. While we highly recommend making all of these toppings, you should feel free to omit some depending on your convenience or preference, or to substitute with other banchan or types of kimchi you may have. That’s the fun of bibimbap—all the possibilities.

Common Types of Bibimbap

Of all the various bibimbaps found in Korea, the most lavish is Jeonju bibimbap, found mainly at restaurants piled high with about 30 different toppings, including bracken (a type of fern), bellflower roots, various dried vegetables (namul), and yukhoe (Korean-style raw beef). Due to the amount of labor required to prepare the ingredients needed for this dish, many places no longer offer true Jeonju bibimbap. Today, most restaurants in Seoul serve bibimbap with raw and sautéed vegetables in place of Jeonju’s traditional garnishes. Many toppings are derived from dishes used in religious rituals, and as modern Korean society moves away from these customs, finding and preparing ingredients like dried vegetables has become more complicated and challenging. 

Overhead view of mixing bibimbap

Other types of popular bibimbap include ones topped with sea pineapple (a sea squirt that’s best in April), yukhoe, and sanchae (wild mountain greens). While bibimbap comes in these and a multitude of other forms in restaurants, the most beloved type of bibimbap in Korea today is what I’d refer to as the homestyle version, which usually consists of leftover banchan (side dishes), a dollop of gochujang, and a drizzle of sesame oil. (In fact, bibimbap’s popularity at restaurants in South Korea has fallen off at least in part because it’s so easy to make at home using whatever banchan you have in the fridge.)

Although Korean cuisine continues to evolve, and despite bibimbap’s infinite possible forms, there are certain ingredients that usually come to mind when bibimbap is mentioned, including beansprouts, fresh radish kimchi, sautéed Korean squash, and spinach namul. This recipe is intended to be easy to make and delicious, and representative of Korean bibimbap as you’d see it in many homes today.

The Origins of Bibimbap

There are several theories about the origins of bibimbap, though most are built on the same basic idea that the classical, millennium-old tradition of preparing multiple side dishes to serve alongside rice (known as “Bapsang Culture”) led to the inevitable practice of putting it all in one bowl together. Some argue this practice sprung up after days of commemorating the dead, when families cook many dishes to ceremonially serve to their ancestors—combining those dishes in one bowl not only makes efficient use of leftovers, but also represents the idea that the family is unified as one.

Some trace bibimbap to farming practices, where appetites were large after hours in the field, but time was short to put it all together into a meal. Others simply think the practicality and ease of mixing it all together in one bowl made it a fairly obvious practice regardless of occasion or locale. According to scholars from the Academy of Korea Studies and Korea Food Research Institute in Songnam, South Korea, bibimbap “developed alongside the Korean meal table,” where rice was (and still is) enjoyed with soup and an assortment of banchan. Whatever the specifics of bibimbap’s origin, the dish’s melding of multiple components into a single bowl is a reflection of Korea’s “we” culture, which can also be seen in the fact that in Korean, we always say “our” mother/father/country and not “my” mother/father/country.

How to Prepare Bibimbap

It is crucial to prepare all the ingredients for bibimbap separately—this allows you to control the doneness and seasonings of each ingredient during their prep. 

Any of the vegetables and meat can be julienned or sliced thinly to make them easy to mix. How long you spend preparing the vegetables will depend on how many toppings you’d like, your knife skills, and your speed as a cook. This recipe is written for maximum ease, but if you’re a more confident home cook, you can change the order of the recipe for a faster total prep time.  

Overhead view of toppings of bibimbap in metal bowls
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To assemble bowls of bibimbap, start by mounding a layer of cooked short-grain rice in serving bowls, then artfully arrange each prepared vegetable and meat on top and drizzle lightly with sesame oil. Though the vegetables can be enjoyed room temperature or warm, the rice should be hot. Serve with a sunny side-up egg on top, if desired.

How to Eat Bibimbap

A dollop of gochujang (red pepper paste) is an essential part of bibimbap, though you can also use a variety of mixed sauces, like store-bought or homemade yak gochujang (gochujang mixed with sautéed ground beef), ganjang soy sauce, or gang doenjang (a thick soybean paste stew). Exactly how much gochujang you add is also a personal decision: In addition to the dollop served with each bowl, it’s best to put a small bowl of additional gochujang on the table so diners can add more, if desired, as they mix it all together before eating.

To Marinate the Beef: In a medium bowl, season ground beef with soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, black pepper, and garlic. Let marinate for at least 10 minutes and up to 45 minutes.

Two image collage of spices and soy sauce being added to ground meat and meat marinating in a metal bowl
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Meanwhile, for the Radish Kimchi: In a large mixing bowl, combine the radish with salt, gochugaru, garlic, shrimp paste, maesil syrup, and ginger. Massage seasonings into radish until it softens; there may be some juice. Add the sliced spring onion and sesame powder, then toss lightly to combine. Set aside and allow to sit for at least 30 minutes.

Two image collage of radishes being massaged in a bowl and spices being added to it
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Spinach: In a medium saucepan of salted boiling water, cook spinach until wilted, about 1 minute. Immediately drain in a colander or strainer and rinse under cold water. In a medium bowl, toss spinach with chopped garlic, salt, soy sauce, sesame oil, and toasted sesame powder. Set aside.

Two image collage of blanching spinach and tossing cooking spinach with toppings
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Bean Sprouts: In a medium saucepan, combine bean sprouts with just enough water to cover. Cover saucepan and set over medium heat until water comes to simmer and sprouts are steamed and crisp-tender, about 10 minutes total. Drain and rinse sprouts immediately under cold water. In a medium bowl, season sprouts with soy sauce, salt, toasted sesame powder, chopped garlic, and sesame oil. Set aside.

Two image collage of bean sprouts being cooked and then seasoned in a metal bowl
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Carrots: Wipe the pan out, drizzle in perilla oil, and set over medium heat. Add perilla oil, carrots, a pinch of salt, and cook, stirring often, until slightly softened, about 8 minutes; add water as needed in 1 tablespoon (15ml) increments to keep the carrots plump during cooking and prevent browning, but without making them overly wet. Transfer to a plate or small bowl and set aside.

Two image collage of carrots cooking in a pan and then being transferred to a metal bowl
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Squash: In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, combine perilla oil with squash, garlic, and shrimp paste and set over medium heat. Cover and cook, stirring often and lifting the lid only to check cooking progress, until squash is tender but still holds its shape, about 5 minutes. (Covering the skillet traps stream, which we want here to prevent browning and keep the squash extra plump). Transfer to a plate or small bowl and set aside.

Squash topped with shrimp and seasonings in a pan
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Shiitake Mushrooms: Wipe the pan out, drizzle in the perilla oil, and set over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms, and garlic, and cook, stirring often, until mushrooms begin to soften, about 7 minutes; add water as needed in 1 tablespoon (15ml) increments to keep the mushroom plump and tender during cooking and prevent browning, but do not make them overly wet. Stir in soy sauce and freshly ground black pepper. Transfer to a plate or bowl and set aside.

Overhead view of mushrooms in a pan
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

For the Rice: In a large bowl, cover rice with water and, using your hands, swish and rinse rice until water becomes cloudy, about 30 seconds. Using a fine-mesh strainer, drain rice, then repeat until the water runs clear. Transfer drained rice to the bowl of a rice cooker. Add 1 cup water and cook according to manufacturer’s instructions. Alternatively, in a medium saucepan, combine drained rice with 1 cup water, bring to a simmer over medium heat, then cover, lower heat to low, and cook until rice is tender and fluffy, about 15 minutes or following timing on rice package. Remove from heat, fluff rice, then keep warm until ready to serve.

A single serving of rice
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

To Finish and Serve: In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil over medium-high until it begins to shimmer. Add the marinated beef and cook, stirring often, until cooked through and lightly browned, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer beef to a clean bowl and set aside; wipe out skillet. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil and heat until slightly shimmering. Break four eggs into the skillet, season with salt, and cook until whites are just set and the yolks are still runny, about 3 minutes.

Overhead view of booking marinated beef in a pan
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Fill four bowls with steamed rice. Wet the radish kimchi in its juice and arrange the prepared toppings on the rice in a circular pattern. Top each bowl with a sunnyside egg, a spoonful of gochujang, and a drizzle of sesame oil. Serve, passing additional gochujang at the table for diners to mix in to taste.

Overhead view of finished bibimbap bowl
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

10-inch nonstick skillet

Notes

For best results, use a knife to prepare the vegetables and avoid using the food processor, as it may result in over-processed, mushy vegetables.  

Make Ahead and Storage

All the components can be made in advance. Koreans are eating a meal composed of side dishes and a bowl of rice and soup, and we often easily add all left-over side dishes into a bowl of rice and mix them together with a dollop of Gochujang and drizzle of sesame oil together.

The radish kimchi can be prepared 2-3 days in advance.