This may look like sushi, but let me tell you that that’s about as far as the resemblence to Japanese maki sushi goes. The flavours and aromas that are a part of kimbap (a literal translation of the word – ‘kim’ = nori sheets, ‘bap’ = rice) are very very different, making this version from the Land of the Morning Calm quite different from it’s second cousin, twice removed, from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Since Korea and Japan are geographically so close to each other, they share a lot of similarities in parts of their culture as well as a lot of history. Land of the Morning Calm is a Western nickname for Korea, and Land of the Rising Sun is a Western nickname for Japan. Both names are based upon the loose translation of the country’s names in the native tongue.
This is the be-all and end-all of fast food in Korea. In snack food stores/cafes all over the country, little ahjumas (older women) stand or crouch behind counters, their nimble little fingers pumping out roll after roll of these delicious delights in just a few seconds. It is the Korean equivalent of the sandwich in that it’s the food of choice when going on a trip or a picnic – the difference is that while a sandwich contains the goodness of the filling between two (hopefully not bland) slices of bread, Koreans wrap their filling in a smooth, subtly flavoured rice roll that’s contained in a shiny sheet of nori.
Of course this stuff tastes great on its own, with the seasoned rice and the fillings, it’s full of flavour, but to have a really authentic instant meal, your best bet is to grab a packet of Korean spicy ramen (any fellow lovers of Shin ramyun out there?), boil it up, get some well fermented kimchi and pop yourself down with a friend to have an easy meal, the hot broth of the ramen washing down the rice roll and the fresh heat of the kimchi making your tastebuds tingle…
Damnit, just thinking about this ritual has me feeling hungry!
Even though it’s many, many years since I last saw the ‘homeland’ (as my mother says, since I’m the only one who hasn’t been back since I moved back to Australia when I turned 16), there are many memories that I cling to fondly, and kimbap is a part of quite a few of them. The number of times that I went to the little snack cafe outside the school with my friends to have a quick and easy fix of ddukboki and kimbap, sitting and rolling these with my mother late at night so the rest of the family could take them for lunch the next day. And, of course, the one morning when I sat on the ground with my mother and aunties, rolling kimbap as we prepared them for sustenance when we’d later take the long journey into the mountains to visit my grandmother’s shrine.
To most Koreans, kimbap is a food that has been a part of their lives for as long as they can remember. Unlike sush, it needs no wasabi and soy to be gussied up, but delivers it’s flavour in one neat, clean parcel, to be consumed and enjoyed with every bite.
So if you like your sushi but want to try something a little different, give kimbap a try and see if this roll from the Land of the Morning Calm helps to ease your hunger pangs 🙂
For the rice:
- 5 cups cooked rice
- 1 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- 1-2 tsp salt
- 2-3 tsp toasted sesame oil (just make sure you get the Asian stuff, it’ll be rich dark brown and smell powerfully of toasted sesame seeds)
Common filling variations:
- Finely julienned carrots, sauteed briefly
- Tinned tuna, with all the liquid squeezed out and mixed with a little mayo, salt and pepper
- Pickled burdock
- Sweet pickled daikon, cut into long strips
- Blanched spinach, wrung dry
- Crab sticks, cut into thin strips and lightly fried till cooked through
- Ham (a lightly spicy variety like strasburg ham works well) cut into long thin strips
- Egg omelette (lightly beat about 4 large eggs into a bowl, then season with salt and pepper and pour into a frying pan like a thick omlette. Once cooked on one side, carefully flip over and cook on opposite side for a minute before removing to a plate to cool. Once cool, cut into thin strips)
- Bulgogi mince (sweet soy seasoned beef mince)
- Cucumber, preferably a thin-skinned variety, seeds removed and cut into long strips. You can pickle this by leaving it overnight in the liquid of the sweet pickled daikon.
- Strips of kimchi, briefly sauteed and with the liquid squeezed out
- Nori sheets
- Toasted sesame oil
1. Once the rice is no longer letting off steam (but still warm), add the sesame seeds and sesame oil and 1 tsp of salt and mix it through. Taste a bit, and if it needs it, add the second tsp of salt and mix through again.
2. Prepare your fillings and have them ready – not only go on flavour but also on colour, your kimbap should be nice and colourful when cut into. As my mother says, we eat with our eyes before our mouths, so make sure it looks appetizing and colourful!
3. Once your fillings have all been prepared, set them out in front of you with the bowl of seasoned rice, and follow these steps:
- Lay down your sheet of laver in front of you
- Cover 2/3 the sheet with the seasoned rice in a thin layer, leaving both ends free from rice (this will prevent your kimbap having a big black streak through the rice when rolled).
- Put your filling into the centre, then grab the edge closest to you and fold it over, pulling it back tightly and squeezing to compact the rice and get it to stick. Continue to roll it up while squeezing from the ends to the centre to compact the rice.
- Once rolled, put a few drops of sesame oil into your hand and rub it all over the roll to make it gleam and to also help the ends to stick.
- Repeat with remaining ingredients till all done!
- Once they’re all rolled, heat up a sharp kitchen knife and lightly rub the blade with sesame oil. Cut the rolls into slices (as per the first few pictures) and store in an airtight container till you’re ready to eat 🙂
4. Enjoy with some spicy Korean ramen (or ramyun as we call it), the most authentic being Shin ramyun, or if you want less MSGs, try for a bowl of hearty Korean-style miso (dwaenjang guk or jjigae).
While these do taste best the same day that they’re made, if you’ve got some leftovers then just store them in the fridge. If they get a bit firm, the best thing to do is to lightly beat together some egg, dip each side of the kimbap into it then fry till cooked through – this will bring it back to life AND is another great way to enjoy your home-made kimbap!
Here’s a rather crap video of my mother’s nimble Asian fingers speed-rolling some kimbap! You’ll have to forgive the audio, as I was sitting with my kid brother (who was tormenting the dog with food) and ma and despite my desperate signaling to remind them that I was recording, they carried on a conversation about the kimbap regardless!
[tags]kimbap, Korean, Asian, food, sushi, recipes[/tags]