Welcome to this week"s "Eat Like a K-pop Star." It"s the weekly series where we showcase a delicious Korean specialty or something we"ve seen a K-pop star chowing down on lately and show you how to get or create some food of your own.
We"ve got two stars of this week"s show. First up: Edward Kwon, who worked his way up from dishwashing to become one of Korea"s most celebrated chefs and a self-proclaimed "Korean food ambassador" to the rest of the world.
The next star? Only one of Korea"s most famous dishes, once created for the palates of kings but is now what Kwon calls one of the country"s most accessible comfort foods. That"s right, it"s bibimbap time.
In many ways, bibimbap is Korea in one simple bowl: straightforward in ingredients and yet so complex in flavor, and easy to adapt. The dish"s birthplace is Jeonju, a Korean city about two hours south of Seoul, and the nation"s unofficial foodie capital. CNN followed Kwon on a recent trip to Jeonju and watched as he learned how to make the meal in its most traditional form.
It"s also a favorite of some of your favorite U-KISS stars:
The basics of the meal are the same nationwide. First, the rice. Kwon learned that in Jeonju, rice is cooked in a beef broth instead of water, leading to a slightly richer and tastier version of the simple grain.
Next: the veggies. Vegetables vary slightly throughout different restaurants and kitchens in Korea, but your bibimbap staples include: Korean radishes, kimchi, bean sprouts, spinach or another leafy green, green onion, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, dried seaweed, and Korean zucchini. As Chef Kwon learned in Jeonju, the most important part of the vegetable portion is that each ingredient is prepared, seasoned, and cooked separately. That means this dish can be intimidating for amateur Korean cooks, but that attention to individual flavor is what makes each bite of bibimbap come alive when it hits the mouth.
The women over at Crazy Korean Cooking have a great video on getting each vegetable ready for prime time:
Next comes the most important part: gochujang, or the red chili paste that seasons many traditional Korean dishes. It leaves mouths burning but wanting more. Many Koreans pick up a jar of this at their local market (and even outside of the country, this ingredient is becoming more mainstream, so check out your local supermarket if you"d like to try it.)
In Jeonju, though, the gochujang is just a starting point for the red paste that gives bibimbap so much of its flavor. Kwon watched as Chef Yu Inja added sesame oil, Asian pear juice, and garlic to a tasty gochujang, filling it with even more sensation.
Meat eaters add another element to their bibimbap at this point. In Jeonju, chefs chop up a high quality Korean beef and add gochujang for a seasoned beef tartar atop the rice and veggies. In other places in the country, or in fusion restaurants around the world, chefs might add a seasoned pork, grilled tofu, fresh seafood like squid or octopus, or some salty grilled beef.
Lastly: the egg. In Jeonju, this means a raw egg yolk that seeps gooey flavor into the bowl. Other restaurants fry an egg and sprinkle it with some dried seaweed, sesame seeds, or salt and pepper.
(Photo : Rachelle D.) The colorful end result usually seems too beautiful to eat. But that"s when things get interesting, and where the dish gets it"s name. The last step before eating is to bibim, (mix together, in Korean) the bap (rice) until everything is combined. The effect is a single bowl meal where each bite contains a little bit of each tasty ingredient.
Kwon noted that after he did his mixing and tasting, Jeonju"s traditional bibimbap was a richer, more complex version of the (still delicious) bibimbap that most restaurants or families whip up in the rest of the country.
Upon return to Seoul, Kwon was eager to do what so many innovators are doing in the fast-paced Korean capital right now: honoring the past while creating the future. He served a twist on bibimbap in one of his restaurants, using new food technology to design ingredients like liquid nitrogen gochujang bites and dehydrated, twice-cooked rice. He presented more as a piece of modern art than a bowl of traditional comfort food.
And yet, in a few bites, even his most traditional customers recognized the old flavors adapted in new ways. It"s one of the beauties of the dish. You can forget about a few of the veggies you don"t like or dream up a vegan version, but at the end of the day, bibimbap is bibimbap, and it"s fantastic.
If you missed Chef Kwon"s journey on CNN, you can catch up here. Let us know what you think, or if you have any other great bibimbap recipes we should know about!