Seoul's 5 best bibimbap
There are many reasons why this healthy, colorful dish is so popular, and why the government and Korean companies are using centuries-old bibimbap as a headliner for globalizing Korean cuisine.
Whether you're looking for a light lunch option or a full-blown palatial feast, here are five restaurant names synonymous with bibimbap in Seoul. Go on the hunt for your favorite bowl of rice, vegetables, chili paste, egg and sliced meat.
Bon Bibimbap: The franchise
Currently operating more than 126 branches all over the country in addition to branches in the United States, Japan and China, Bon Bibimbap took the office lunch hour by storm when it first opened less than a decade ago.
Judging from the lines of locals out the door every weekday at noon, the franchise must be doing something right.
Each small store is clean, cheerful and cheap, and offers up consistently decent and varied versions of bibimbap.
The company's extensive "research kitchen" rolls out new experimental dishes with new "fusion" ingredients such as shrimp and other seafood.
Bon Bibimbap recommends its "Spicy octopus dol-sot bibimbap" (₩8,500) The pure vegetarian bibimbap (₩6,000) is a great light lunch option for the health and weight conscious.
Insadong main branch: Jongro-gu Insadong 75-1; +82 736 4288; www.bonbab.co.kr
Go-gung: The palatial spread
Literally meaning "old palace," Go-gung is considered the best bibimbap place in Seoul by the older generations.
Despite the rather humble and nondescript interior of the Myungdong branch, the spreads that Go-gung features on its menu are both impressive and authentic. Korean diplomats like to bring their guests here for a seemingly casual yet surprising sumptuous dining experience.
The spread is literally palatial, modeled after the cuisines served to the kings of the Joseon dynasty. Apparently bibimbap was a lunch staple even back then, as kings liked to eat the dish upon returning to the palace after a trip outside, but a "light lunch" in the royal context still consisted of at six or seven courses, with approximately 10 or more side dishes.
The original Go-gung restaurant is located in Jeonju, a region famous for its bibimbap, and boasts 40 years of history as well as the first (if not only) bibimbap exhibition hall detailing the history and folktales associated with the age-old dish.
Go-gung bibimbap set: ₩37,000
Jung-gu, Chungmuro-2-ga 12-14 (중구 충무로2가 12-14); +82 2 776 3211; www.gogung.co.kr
Bibigo: The Hallyuwood hopeful
The latest brainchild of Korea's largest food conglomerate, Bibigo is a modernized take on how to make bibimbap more appealing to the taste buds of the sophisticated urbanites of the world.
You can bet that the brightest brains in the food industry went back to the drawing board (or the kitchen) time and time again to figure out the best way to globalize this traditional Korean cuisine.
Bibigo's answer? A salad-type bibimbap that combines more fresh greens, the choice of a variety of meats including chicken breast and bulgogi, and sauce varieties that include modern options of lemon and sesame sauces in addition to the traditional gochujang (red pepper paste) and ssamjang (bean paste).
Bibigo rice: ₩7,500
Gwanghwamun Officia Building Sinmunno-1-ga, Jongro-gu 110-999 (종로구 신문로1가 광화문 오피시아빌딩); +82 2 730 7423; www.ibibigo.com
Jeonju Joongang Hweguan: The tourist trap
It's rather odd, but every time we've been to Jeonju Joongang Hweguan, it has been 100 percent full with quiet Japanese tourists solemnly and reverently eating a dol-sot bowl while poring over their Seoul guide books that prominently display this tiny Myeong-dong restaurant on their front pages.
Locals do make their way to this hole-in-the-wall during lunch hours, and the occasional Western visitor wanders in from time to time.
The taste tends to be richer, a little sweeter and more intense than the locals-only restaurants, which doesn't mean it's any less good. In fact, it's so delicious that the restaurant has been around for the past 46 years, and more than 30 years at its current location.
Be sure to print out a map before you set out, as the winding alleys of Myeong-dong tend to be quite bewildering for first-timers.
Jeonju gopdol bibimbap: ₩10,000
Jung-gu Chungmuro-1-ga 24-11 (중구 충무로 1가 24-11); +82 776 5889;
Walkerhill Ondal: Opulence in a bowl
Contrary to what one might expect, Korean restaurants are rare among Korean luxury hotels.
Ondal Restaurant at the Walkerhill Hotel is one of two Korean restaurants in the luxury hotel scene in Seoul (the other being Lotte Hotel's Mugunghwa) and thus takes its culinary responsibility very seriously.
Featuring naturally-grown vegetables and roots, as well as yook-hwe (raw beef) that cooks slowly in the insulated dol-sot, Ondal Restaurant's dol-sot option is the last word in bibimbap, as it well should be given the hefty price tag.
Jeonju-bibimbap set: ₩55,000
Dolsot-bibimbap set: ₩55,000
Gwangjin-gu Gwangjang-dong San 21 (광진구 광진동 산21); +82 2 450 4518;
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