Joy Lin’s Bibimbap. Photo by Joy Lin

As any Mainer will tell you, it’s not bibimbap without a lobstah on top. Actually, I’m pretty sure no one has said that, but my guess is that many Mainers might know of this popular Korean rice dish, and some might even know more about it than me, a second-generation Korean-American woman.

Bibimbap translates to mixed rice, which is as much an understatement as it is to say that a sandwich is bread with stuff. First, there is the mound of steamed short-grained rice, a triumph all its own. The rice is perfect and content in its own bowl, but then some friends come along, and together they join hands and sing – at least, this is the way it tastes to me. The usual entourage at my house comprises two vegetables I almost always have: carrots (grated, if you don’t feel like julienning) and spinach (blanched, drained and chopped), both seasoned lightly with sesame oil, salt and pepper. Any vegetable could be added, from shiitake mushrooms to zucchini to mung beans.

But I often make bibimbap when I crave Korean food with real desperation, so I usually make it with the bare minimum ingredients and effort, with a fried egg on top – always a fried egg on top. At less desperate times, I might add some seasoned ground beef. Mixed together, with gochujang sauce on top, this “rice and stuff” hits the spot. As the little girl says in Linda Sue Park’s children’s book “Bee-Bim-Bop!,” “Mix it, mix it like crazy!”

Like that little girl, I had the privilege of enjoying this dish in regular rotation for all meals of the day, thanks to my culinarily talented and diligent mother. Often the dish was a means for using up leftovers, much like a casserole. On occasion, when my mother had procured certain special ingredients, she would serve us a version of bibimbap that was fit for royalty, with more than a dozen vegetables that were dried, sautéed, fermented or some combination of these. If we were really lucky, she would incorporate the bounty sent to us overseas by relatives from Korea, including specialty dried seaweed that was hand-harvested from the ocean, or things like fernbrake stems, which I imagine were picked from a secluded hillside owned by monks.

Curiously, I had never appreciated bibimbap until after I had my own children, perhaps because now my mother is on the other side of the country, and bibimbap doesn’t magically appear on the table at mealtimes. Historically, I had always preferred the more pungent Korean fare, like fermented soybean stew and spicy tofu soup, or the saltier, meatier side dishes (“banchan”), like pan-fried flounder and broiled mackerel. I still like those things, but now I find comfort in the more gentle flavor of vegetables and meat hugged by the aroma of sesame oil. So does my family, thankfully, because the children need to eat.

While I haven’t come close to replicating my mother’s culinary skill, at least in Korean cuisine, I am content with the learning process. Most Korean mothers don’t use recipes, and thus it’s sort of a rite of passage to learn as you go, by taste. The goal for me is to prepare something that approaches, even a little bit, the deliciousness that was seemingly ever present in my past. So I will keep making and mixing bibimbap. And I may just try it with lobster on top.


Adapted from Linda Sue Park’s recipe in the back of her children’s book “Bee-Bim Bop!” This is a simple version of a delicious and popular Korean dish, which can be prepared casually with just a few ingredients, or more elaborately with virtually anything your heart desires. It is meant to be a colorful, nutritious and hearty.

Serves 4


2 cups short- or medium-grain white or brown raw rice
1 pound ground beef
1 pound fresh spinach
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sesame oil
Neutral oil
2 carrots, cut in matchsticks (or use pre-cut matchstick carrots)
4 eggs

2 cloves garlic, minced
2 green onions, minced
5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon roasted sesame seeds, optional
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Cook the rice however you normally do.


As the rice is cooking, combine the marinade ingredients. Break up the ground beef gently with fork, then mix well with marinade for a few minutes, making sure all the meat has absorbed the marinade. Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to boil. Cook the spinach for 2 minutes in the boiling water, then drain and cool. Squeeze the spinach to remove excess water and chop. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a few dashes of sesame oil. Set aside.

To make the carrots, put 1 tablespoon of neutral oil in a large pan and warm. Sauté the carrots in the oil over medium-high heat until tender. Season to taste with salt, pepper and a few dashes of sesame oil. Set aside.

Using the same pan that you used for the carrots, heat the pan for about 30 seconds on high heat. Dump the marinated beef into the frying pan all at once. Spread the beef out on the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes until it browns.

Meanwhile, warm a bit more of the neutral oil in another pan and pan-fry the eggs sunny side up until the edges are crispy and yolk is cooked.



Divvy up the rice among 4 large bowls.

Top the rice with the beef, carrots, spinach and egg, arranging them so that you can see all of the colors.

When it’s time to eat, mix everything together and enjoy! If you like spice, drizzle the bowls with gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) sauce, which you can now find at most grocery stores. Or you can make your own, using the following recipe (more of a guide than a recipe):


4 parts gochujang
1 part rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
1 part water
1 part sugar (or honey, agave)
1 part sesame oil
Toasted sesame seeds

Mix all the ingredients together until they are smooth. Stir in the sesame seeds. Drizzle on bowls of bibimbap.

Joy Lin. Photo by Jerry Lin


“I learned to cook in my 20s from Julia Child cookbooks, but have only recently begun my journey to master Korean cuisine. My cooking style? These days it is harried, trying to get something edible on the table that the tiny humans in my house want to eat. I would also like to think that I am practical, nutrition-minded and yet not afraid to indulge. Other things about me: I have a PhD in developmental psychology somewhere in long-term storage, and appreciate precision with words. My current greatest talent, aside from cooking, is my ability to defuse sibling tension by belting out Christmas songs off-season.”

Comments are no longer available on this story