One of my favorite things about going to Korean restaurants is the plethora of dishes that they give you throughout the meal. This is their tradition, in that they bring out anywhere from five to ten plates of mixed appetizers such as marinated yams, Kimchi, black beans, cucumber salad, sprout salad, or a variety of what they have available that day. These are to be eaten with the meal as an accompaniment or as an appetizer beforehand. Because each Korean restaurant is slightly different you never know what you're going to get. I've had some pretty bad marinated fish and some fantastic kimchi in these little dishes. The fun is exploring all the different tastes and flavors that you get from a variety of Korean cuisine.
But nothing is more fun than the traditional Bibimbap in a stone pot.
Our mouths thrive on texture. We love the texture of crunchiness compared with the saltiness and gooeyness of caramel and the silky texture of pudding. Even when we're on a diet we crave some crunch to go with our drab diet food. And I think this is why I love this dish is so much.
Bibimbap literally means a mixed meal or mixed rice. It's basically a bed of rice with sautéed vegetables and meat on top. The ingredients are stirred together thoroughly just before eating. Technically it can be served either hot or cold and some restaurants will offer a raw egg yolk right on top. This is to be stirred in to a hot Bibimbap in order to cook the egg similar to fried rice.
Bibimbap can be served in just a plain bowl but if you really want the true authentic Korean flavors and textures, make sure you order it in a stone pot. This is called “dolsot,” meaning, stone pot. The stone pot is heated in an oven or stovetop until it's smoking and it's so hot that anything that touches it sizzles for minutes. They coat the bottom of the bowl with sesame oil, put in the cooked rice, and then top it with a variety of vegetables such as sautéed shiitake mushrooms, sliced spinach, mung bean sprouts, onions, fern stems, daikon radish, zucchini, and just about any type of sautéed vegetable you can think of. These are compartmentalized into sections around the top of the rice and there is room for one more which is usually the protein. The most common form of protein on Bibimbap is bulgogi, a marinated beef that is thinly sliced and cooked quickly. Topping it all off right in the center is a raw egg yolk.
When the dish is brought to your table you can hear it sizzling throughout the entire restaurant. You're welcome to add the various condiments to the dish or different sauces such as hoisin or garlic chili sauce. But my favorite part of the meal is how the rice gets super crunchy and crispy on the bottom of this stone pot. In the meantime, I mix up the vegetables, the meat and the egg on top, eating down through the bowl as I go. When I get to the bottom that crunchy crispy rice is so sweet with the sesame oil, well, my mouth just craves that texture.
The servers typically give you chopsticks and a large wide spoon to scrape up all of those crunchy rice bits stuck to the bottom of your stone pot. This truly is the best part of this meal. I love this meal so much that I have purchased a couple of these stone pots and simply heat them up on my stovetop or in the oven until they are smoking. I have all my ingredients ready to go when I bring that stone pot out of the oven.
Make sure you have something to put the stone pot on--either a trivet or several layers of towels--because it will be searingly hot.
The next time you want a truly authentic Korean meal, think Bibimbap! And don't think of ordering it without the stone pot.
Photo Source: by LWY at flickr