18 (Sat) February 2012
-Oksu, Seongdong, Seoul, Republic of Korea-
The essence of bibimbab (BBB) is the combination of namul that comprise the dish. Namul is any kind of stringy vegetable or vegetable julienne that’s typically parboiled or lightly sautéed then seasoned with sesame oil, soy sauce or salt, pepper, and often minced garlic. In one of my prior posts, I noted that BBB always seems to taste “kinda the same” due to the overpowering flavor of the gochujang, as well as the additional sesame oil liberally poured on top of everything at the end, regardless of the main ingredients. Still, a proper BBB represents a combination of certain flavors and textures – earthy/tangy/sweet/spicy/bitter + chewy/crunchy/soft – each derived from the individual namul involved.
The mix presented here, conveniently ready-made and on-sale from E-Mart, hits most of the necessary notes: bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, doraji (bellflower root), gosari (fernbrake), and radish. I would say that the first 3, or some reasonable substitution thereof, such as a different green for the spinach, are essential. Preferably, I would’ve included zucchini in lieu of the doraji, which I find to be a bit too medicinal in flavor. Overall, the namul had been prepared somewhat bland, but, as always, the gochujang and additional sesame oil made up for it. At 3,486 won, an excellent bargain for the package, which was enough for 2 (the main photo shows 1 serving).
On his own blog, Seoul Food wrote about BBB as follows: “… When I think of bibimbab, I think of leftover day. It’s when Korean moms feel too lazy/tired to cook or set the table, so they just throw all the banchan into a big bowl with rice and a dollop of gochujang. … I’m pretty sure that’s how it was invented. A Korean wife got lazy one day and just like that, the dish was born.”
With all due respect to Seoul Food, and not intending to be didactic, I disagree on several grounds. While it’s certainly true that BBB at home is often assembled with whatever happens to be on hand, given that most Korean refrigerators are stocked with a variety of namul at any given time as banchan (side dishes for rice), I wouldn’t characterize the situation so pejoratively or dismissively as one involving “leftovers” (not that there’s anything wrong with leftovers). And even with everything available, getting it all together is no less labor-intensive than, say, making a sandwich or a salad. Also, the work required in preparing each namul in the first place, whether intended for BBB or otherwise, whether in a home or in a store or in a restaurant, is extremely time-consuming, so I definitely wouldn’t call it “lazy” (not that there’s anything wrong with lazy).
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