Fragrant and packed with flavour, Korean cuisine is hitting our cities quicker than you can say kimchi. But what is it about this Asian food that has made it so popular here in Europe? We take a look at Kang's Korean Kitchen, Gogogi and Son Kitchen's bibimbap to find out just what makes this dish so moreish.
In the mix
Literally translated as 'mixed rice', bibimbap has a surprisingly simple formula. Rice, vegetables, meat, spices and egg come together in a striking, Instagram-worthy medley that will leave your taste buds tingling.
Known originally as goldongban, the dish first graced Korea's dinner tables back in the 14th century. Created as a problem-solver rather than a dish in its own right, goldongban was simply a way of using up ingredients before the lunar New Year.
Transforming into bibimbap as we know it today took some time, with the first reference not cropping up until the 19th century. Here the dish took on new meaning, with true bibimbap being characterised by mixing the ingredients after serving instead of before.
Colourful Korean food
Far from its early days as a jumble of leftovers, bibimbap now is a carefully cultivated tradition. The vibrant colours of sticky white rice, bright greens and a glistening golden egg yolk transform bibimbap from simple staple to work of art. But its beauty runs deeper than that.
Shrouded in symbolism, the vivid ingredients in bibimbap are not just for show. Drawing from Buddhist teachings, it's believed that there are five colours that must balance in order to create a bibimbap that is as nourishing for the body as it is for the eyes. Each colour represents a part of the body: red represents the heart; black, the kidneys; green, the liver; white, the lungs and yellow, the stomach – so make sure a proper bibimbap has all five featured.
Variety is the spice of life
Bibimbap has been adapted many times in a rainbow of different ways. It can be served with beef, raw fish or spicy pork for an injection of creativity into this classic dish. If you order a dolsot-bibimbap, you'll find yourself with a smoking hot stone bowl that warms the ingredients as you stir, proper Korean style.
Gogogi's Korean restaurant in Berlin keeps it simple. Using just one classic base dish they offer versions with crispy fried beef or earthy shiitake mushrooms for veggie diners. But what counts is the base: sweet and sticky rice, crunchy fresh vegetables and rich fried egg that make this dish wholesomely addictive.
The folks at Kang's Korean Kitchen stick to tradition too, twisting their bibimbap with tofu, chicken, and beef – even offering an option to remove the signature egg for those of you who don't like it. No matter what you choose, it's served up with Kang's special rice and a dollop of Korean chilli paste. But Son's Kitchen are all about inventiveness – throwing in honey barbecue beef, spicy chicken and kimchi tofu for their fresh take on this Korean favourite.
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