By Alyna O'Hanlon
April 29, 2020
When I was 23, I got on a plane by myself and moved to South Korea to teach English at a public foreign language high school. It is one of those life experiences that was so important but also feels like a dream in many ways.
There were so many wonderful things about living in Korea. It was really beautiful. The culture was incredibly rich and fascinating. My students were bright and kind and eager (they also had the sweetest pink and grey uniforms!) I lived in an apartment complex named "Full House" that overlooked a rice field. I made deep friendships with people from all around the world (though disproportionately from Michigan!) I got to travel and learned more about myself and resiliency. The food was unforgettable, too~ flavorful, distinct, and delicious.
Look at their sweet uniforms! (They also had amazing velvet pink blazers)
Bibimbap is one of the most famous Korean dishes, which in addition to sounding delightful phonically also tastes fantastic. Bibim translates to "mix" and bap means "rice." A rice dish you mix all together. It was a staple for me while abroad and I've had it at restaurants since returning to the States. But I've never tried to make it myself. Until now. I made bibimbap in quarantine and it was delightful. And so simple! It's really all about the sauce.
The sauce is based on red pepper paste, called gochujang. I purchased some at the Korean grocery store H Mart months before the lockdown (with vague notions of what I might use it for) and thus already had it on hand in my quarantine kitchen. I believe you can also find it in the specialty sections at more traditional grocery stores or could surely order online.
Perhaps bibimbap is already in your repertoire but if you are not familiar with it or red pepper paste, I implore you to give it a try! It is a great flavor that is so unique and in addition to inspiring a nostalgic trip down memory lane, I found it a pleasant change of pace from the spices and flavors in my recent rotation.
Here's my photo:
Rice (traditionally white, I used brown)
Mung bean sports (lightly blanched)
Spinach (sauteed with sesame seed oil + a dash of soy sauce right before removing from stove top)
Mushrooms (sauteed in same fashion as spinach)
Egg (fried sunny side up)
Cucumber (quick pickled - I used this recipe, though sliced in round pieces instead of spears and omitted the dill)
3 Tablespoons gochujang paste (Korean red pepper paste)
1.5 Tablespoons rice vinegar
1 Tablespoon sesame seed oil
1 Tablespoon maple syrup
Whisk all together in a bowl and drizzle over bibimbap.