However, the king of Korean vegetarian fare is, without question, Bibimbap (literally, mixed rice). Normally, I wouldn't take it upon myself to write about it, given that it's probably the simplest, most well-known, and most widely-diffused Korean food out there, with the possible exception of LA Kalbi. Thanks to Hansik, though, I recently underwent the most extreme and regal Bibimbap experience of my life:
Bibimbap with a master. This Granny (a term of respect in Korean) has been making Bibimbap for 52 years and claims that her mother invented it, or at least the high-class version.
Your standard Bibimbap - even the one I ate on the airplane on the way over here nearly five years ago, which, incidentally, was the first Korean food I ever tried - is vegetable heaven. Julienned vegetables like sauteed radish, carrot, and bracken, along with steamed and seasoned spinach, some bean sprouts, and a bit of roasted seaweed sit atop a bed of rice. Throw an egg on top if you'd like, drop on a dollop of red pepper paste, and stir it all up. Voila: a natural, low-maintenance, delicious vegetarian meal. At a cheap restaurant, this will run you about 3 dollars; at a fancy one, closer to 6.
For Kings, or, in this case, a bunch of vagabond foodies, Bibimbap can really be scaled up. Check out our table above: everything I just mentioned, plus sweet and spicy balloon flower root (it's OK if you have no clue what this is), sauteed zucchini, sautéed shiitake mushrooms, thin-sliced egg, mung bean jelly, ginko nuts, pine nuts, crushed sesame seeds, and a special broth made right there at the restaurant.
Listening attentively to half a century of wisdom.
Being that everything will eventually get all stirred together, you'd think you could just throw in all the ingredients any which way. It's not so, though! The master insisted that we put each ingredient in its own place, paying particular attention to color symmetry. White radish slices and bean sprouts should be on opposite sides for optimal aesthetic appeal; sauces and nuts at the end to give it that just-completed look.
Me, Greg, and Tanya enjoying the lesson. Unfortunately (for them) Andy and Anina had not yet joined the festivities.
Can you believe I made that?
It turns out that even mixing it requires a particular technique. In addition to stirring everything up and mixing it evenly, one has to be sure to smush it together just so, in order that the perfect balance of soy sauce, sesame oil, and pepper paste will be mashed in to each grain of rice.