Kimbap is a Korean dish that looks a lot like a sushi roll. (“Kim” is the Korean word for the seaweed wrapper, and “bap” translates to rice.) And much like a sushi roll, the rice gets rolled with various fillings. But unlike its Japanese cousin, Korean kimbap managed to retain it’s humble roots. Because while you may occasionally come across kimbap topped with something fancy like salmon roe, it’s usually kept pretty simple. And you will certainly never find it with anything douche-y like wasabi mayonnaise. Kimbap, as far as I can tell, is the Korean cultural equivalent of the bologna sandwich.
1. rice it: make some rice. I made 1.5C rice, and it made enough kimbap for my wife and I plus some leftovers. Make sure it is sticky rice. But that should pretty much go without saying.
1. egg it: beat two eggs with 2T of milk. Whisk the eggs exactly 70 times, which is the precise number of times Cook Country insists that you beat an egg. I’m not kidding. Although the website recipe gives you an approximate number, the actual TV episode specified for 70 strokes – no more, no less.
Put the beaten egg into a hot non-stick skillet. Don’t stir the eggs though. Just let them cook in a single layer. When the eggs are no longer liquid-y, flip it over to let the other side cook. Remove to a cutting board and slice into strips.
2. krab it: take some imitation crab, or krab. If you get the Korean kind, you will notice that it is the exact same length and the kim, or seaweed, that you are going to wrap it in. And yes, krab is traditional, as far as I’m concerned. I don’t think I’ve ever had a kimbap that had real crab in it. I’ve never even heard of that.
3. slice it: dakwang is a neon yellow, pickled radish. Usually, it’s sliced into half moons. But that won’t work for kimbap. So you’ll have to find longer, uncut hunks of dakwang. Slice that into longer strips.
4. microwave it: usually, the hot dogs (yes, hot dogs) are not cooked and are just sliced up. But since my wife doesn’t particularly like hot dogs, I figured I would at least need to nuke them a little. Take two hot dogs and microwave them for two minutes to cook them. Then, slice them in half the long way.
5. roll it: take some sticky rice and spread it out in a thin layer across about 2/3 of a single piece of kim.
Put 1 piece of dakwang, 1 length of egg, and krab and/or hot dog. Start rolling it up tightly.
I put a little bit of rice at the top to make sure the roll stays rolled up. Sticky rice, when squished, acts like an adhesive. When I was very young, I had colored in a picture of Optimus Prime and wanted to hang it up on the wall in my room. My dad gave me four grains of cooked sticky rice and put one each of the back corners of that coloring book page. He then squished it against the wall, and it stuck. It was amazing.
6. slice it: you can pick up the kimbap roll and eat it like a burrito, but usually, it’s cut into slices about 1/2″ – 3/4″ thick. You’ll need a really sharp knife for this.
7. eat it: I served this up with a side of kimchi, a spicy pickled cabbage dish. My wife also requested a side of soy sauce for dipping.
My wife ate the krab kimbap, mostly. They were good and tasted much like I remember them tasting. It’s a simple flavor that I have had many times before. And it’s full of ingredients that are either cooked or pickled, so like a bologna sandwich, it travels well in both the lunch box or the lunch pail.
I like the kimbap with hot dogs the best. I don’t know when hot dogs became a common kimbap filling. I’ve seen them in kimbap for as long as I can remember. It must have been something that my parents were already familiar with from their childhoods, otherwise I never would have seen it. Because as far as culinary innovation goes, my parents, and Koreans in general, are fiercely xenophobic.
On this particular night, I was also planning on making a kimbap with spam, which is also a pretty common kimbap filling. I used to eat spam kimbap a lot as a kid. Then, at some point, my mom banned it from the house when she realized just how bad it was for you. About a decade later, I saw spam again while at a track meet in college. Our track team had two Hawaiians on it. They were the first Hawaiians I had ever met, and they ran middle distance. After their races, they would eat spam kimbap and hot dog kimbap. They weren’t Korean, but they apparently had a lot of Korean friends back on The Island.
Ultimately, I ran out of rice and couldn’t make the spam kimbap. But it’s not like the spam will go bad or anything. It will just have to wait for the next time.