Korea’s signature rice dish is a culinary color wheel of soul-satisfying delights
Among the many diners who scour the Korean corners of Orange County for roiling tofu soups and fiery kimchee, the siren song of Korean barbecue remains almost impossible to ignore. But when it’s time to move beyond the basics, many inevitably turn to bibimbap, the ubiquitous rice dish found at virtually every Korean restaurant.
Its history is murky at best. Some accounts claim it originated as a royal snack to sate the king between meals; others trace it to a 19th century peasant uprising. The only widely accepted fact is that the best bibimbap is found in the South Korean city of Jeonju, which throws a yearly festival in its honor.
That’s a lot of pomp for such a simple meal that translates as “mixed rice,” but there’s incredible finesse in packing a bowl of white rice and topping it with an array of namul (seasoned or sauteed vegetables such as zucchini, daikon, mushrooms, carrots, and bean sprouts), a raw yolk or a fried egg, and a few bites of meat. Each ingredient is given its own space, arrayed in a culinary color wheel around the bowl. Then, it gets a squirt of chili sauce before everything is tossed together, reconfiguring all the components into a unified dish.
Hashigo Korean Kitchen’s dolsot bibimbap—a variation served in a sizzling stone bowl so that the rice caramelizes to a golden crunch—is proudly traditional. In addition to the typical assortment of vegetables, Hashigo also adds doraji (crunchy, slightly salty bellflower root) and gosari (earthy, braised fiddlehead fern). Meanwhile, Kaju Tofu Restaurant makes a wonderful and unique mushroom bibimbap loaded with enoki, shiitake, and king oyster mushrooms. Seafood fans should head to Han Yang for the nakji dolsot bibimbap, filled to the brim with tender nubs of octopus doused in sweet, smoky chili sauce.
However you prefer it, bibimbap is a soul-satisfying meal you might wish you’d had the pleasure of eating as a kid.
7152 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park, 714-228-0046
Hashigo Korean Kitchen
3033 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-557-4911
Kaju Tofu Restaurant
8895 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, 714-636-2849, kajutofugardengrove.com
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
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This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue.